Judge tosses out Aaron Hernandez's 2013 murder conviction

BOSTON, May 9 (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge on Tuesday overturned former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez's conviction on charges of murdering an acquaintance in 2013, granting his attorneys' request since the athlete died before exhausting the appeal process.

Prosecutors had argued Hernandez's prison suicide should have prevented the judge from overturning the conviction following his death, which is routinely allowed by Massachusetts state law when the conviction in question has not been fully appealed.

The 27-year-old Hernandez hanged himself last month in a prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd. The suicide stunned his family because it came just days after Hernandez been found not guilty of a 2012 double murder.

"This court cannot know why Hernandez chose to end his life," said Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh, who handled the 2015 trial in which a jury found the former tight end guilty of fatally shooting Lloyd in an industrial park near his home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

"There being no reason to recognize any exception in this case in the interest of justice the court has no choice" but to vacate Hernandez's conviction, Garsh said.

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Aaron Hernandez's football career
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez runs after a catch against the Washington Redskins during the first half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland December 11, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (L) scores a touchdown as he is tackled by Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea in the second quarter of their NFL football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots poses for his 2010 NFL headshot circa 2010 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez talks on a phone during media day for the NFL Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis January 31, 2012. The New York Giants will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on February 5. REUTERS/Brent Smith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the first half of their NFL football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
19 September 2010: New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (85) makes a catch over the middle as New York Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery (26) defends during the first half the New England Patriots vs New York Jets game at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (Photo by Rich Kane/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
ATLANTA - AUGUST 19: Tight end Aaron Hernandez #85 of the New England Patriots jogs off of the field during halftime during the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on August 19, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 27 : Tight end Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 27, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 38 to 20. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 27: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots looks up after he was tackled by the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 27, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots answers questions from the media during Media Day ahead of Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 31, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 27: New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after practice. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 13: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez didn't take part in the workout, but it didn't stop him from enjoying himself as the New England Patriots held a training camp workout this afternoon outside of Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 27: The New England Patriots held practice at the practice fields at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady, left, and Aaron Hernandez take a break. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 28: The New England Patriots held practice at the practice fields at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady, left, and Aaron Hernandez chat on the sidelines. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 10: New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on the sidelines as the clock winds down in his team's 42-14 victory over the Houston Texans. The New England Patriots hosted the Houston Texans in an NFL Monday Night Football game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 21: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots leaves the field during a game with New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
SEATTLE - OCTOBER 14: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, right, returned to the lineup, and on New England's first play from scrimmage, he caught a pass from Tom Brady, not pictured, and stiff armed Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright, left, as he picked up some yardage after the catch. The New England Patriots visited the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL regular season game at CenturyLink Field. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 23: New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez makes a catch during warm up before they play the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Hernandez had a $41 million National Football League contract when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with murder. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies.

Hernandez's attorneys in the matter praised the judge's decision and declined to answer reporters' questions on whether it would have any influence on civil suits filed against his estate by the families of the men he was accused of murdering.

Prosecutors could appeal the judge's decision.

Hernandez was cleared last month of killing two Cape Verdean nationals, Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, outside a Boston nightclub in 2012.

Defense lawyer Jose Baez, known for successfully defending Florida mother Casey Anthony in the 2011 trial in which she was charged with murdering her daughter, relentlessly hammered the credibility of a key prosecution witness during the double-murder trial, suggesting the witness had killed the men and pinned it on Hernandez in exchange for immunity.

Baez pointed out holes in the prosecution's case, including the absence of forensic evidence tyingHernandez to the shootings. No fingerprints or DNA were found on the gun used in the killing or in the vehicle from which he allegedly fired.

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