Sheff Law Fights to Eliminate Abatement Ab Initio Loophole

After Aaron Hernandez committed suicide on April 19, 2017, his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd was vacated by a little known and obscure legal doctrine known as “abatement ab initio.”  This rule vacates the conviction of a deceased defendant in large part based upon the premise that the state cannot exact punishment if a defendant is dead.

Recently, Attorney Douglas Sheff of Sheff Law appeared at the State House with Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, to testify before a legislative committee and request that they close the loophole created by this arcane law that permitted Hernandez’ conviction to be nullified.

The intent to avoid justice is suggested by Hernandez’ suicide note which he left for his girlfriend. In one passage, Hernandez wrote, “You’re rich,” inferring that it was his belief that his suicide might result in an overturn of his conviction would allow her unfettered access to his estate.

This behavior flies in the face of the protections and legal remedies available to family members of murder victims in Massachusetts. This is also not the first time a defendant has used suicide to vacate a conviction. John Salvi, who murdered two people and wounded five in a 1997 shooting rampage at two Boston-area abortion clinics, killed himself in prison while awaiting appeal. That suicide led to a bill in the Massachusetts Senate that would have eliminated abatement ab initio, but the bill failed to move through the House.

H 3835 is a bill introduced by State Representative Evandro Carvalho of Boston that would eliminate the availability of abatement ab initio in cases involving murder convictions where a defendant commits suicide.  In his testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, Attorney Douglas Sheff advocated for prompt enactment of the bill, saying:  “We believe the entire antiquated law of abatement should be eliminated and certainly in the case of suicide. The criminal should not be able to decide if his conviction should stand.”

Families of murder victims suffer when the courts fail to deliver justice. Winning a conviction or civil judgement provides challenge enough without loopholes that allow convicts to wipe the slate clean. No law is intended to incentivize suicide, but that is a direct consequence of Massachusetts’ abatement ab initio rule.

Sheff Law will continue to fight for passage of H 3825 so that no family sees a verdict vacated by a convict’s suicide. We welcome the support of our Massachusetts neighbors, and encourage you to contact your elected representatives and ask that they join Sheff Law in working to close this loophole.

Ursula Ward and Doug Sheff speak to reporters

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