As of Tuesday afternoon, Aaron Hernandez is an innocent man in the eyes of the law. And that could have implications for his former employer, the New England Patriots.
When Hernandez was arrested in 2013 for the murder of Odin Lloyd, the Patriots promptly released him and refused to pay him the $5.91 million in guaranteed money remaining on the five-year, $39.8 million contract he signed less than a year earlier. He later was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But since Hernandez, who committed suicide last month in his jail cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, died before the appeals process could be completed, Judge E. Susan Garth ruled Tuesday his conviction must be vacated under a Massachusetts legal principle known as “abatement ab initio.”
And now that Hernandez technically no longer is guilty of murder, the question becomes whether the Patriots now owe the former tight end’s family the money they withheld from him. Hernandez also qualified for an NFL pension by playing three full seasons in the league.
Hernandez’s attorney, Jose Baez, told TMZ Sports on Tuesday the family has yet to decide whether it will seek to recoup the remainder of that guaranteed money. Baez did say, however, that he and his team have discussed the matter with Hernandez’s former agents.
“How the NFL treats him from this point forward remains to be seen,” Baez said. “We’re in discussions with his agents to see where he stands. They’re better equipped as it relates to the (NFL) Players Association and things like that. I’m not exactly certain this makes a difference. My understanding is, if he had a pension, that this would not have disqualified him from that. But I have to defer to those who know that area of law better than myself.”
Ben Volin of The Boston Globe broke down Hernandez’s contract situation last month. After examining the contract and speaking with attorney and former NFL agent Joel Corry, Volin concluded that “(e)ven without a conviction on the books, Hernandez almost certainly was in breach of his contract” and thus would not be entitled to the remaining unpaid balance.
Hernandez’s suicide note to his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, included the line “YOU’RE RICH.” It’s unclear whether those words had any connection to his Patriots contract.
Thumbnail photo via The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports