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.

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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