By DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Questions abound after a judge erased ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction in a 2013 killing.
Chief among them: What, if any, wealth did the former New England Patriots tight end leave behind when he hanged himself in prison on April 19? And could the team be back on the hook for nearly $6 million it withheld from Hernandez after he was charged in the killing and the team released him?
There are no clear answers.
Lawyer Doug Sheff, who represents the family of Odin Lloyd, the man Hernandez was convicted of killing, said he’s seeking copies of Hernandez’s contract with the Patriots and grievances he filed after the team withheld a $3.25 million deferred signing bonus payment and base salary of $2.46 million.
It’s unclear how much money Hernandez spent on his defense in the Lloyd trial and in a trial this year in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two Boston men. Hernandez was acquitted in the double slaying last month. Five days later, he was found hanging from a bed sheet in his prison cell.
Sheff said the only Hernandez assets he has been able to identify are his house in North Attleborough and a Hummer sport utility vehicle. The house has been on the market for more than a year with a current asking price of $1.3 million.
Attorney George Leontire, who represents Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, said last month there’s a pending offer to buy the house. In an affidavit filed in probate court, Jenkins Hernandez and Leontire said Hernandez’s estate is worth “$0.00,” with “no monies available and no identifiable personal assets.”
Two words included in a suicide note Hernandez wrote to his fiancee have fueled speculation he left other assets to her. “You’re rich,” he wrote, according to an excerpt released by prosecutors who opposed his lawyers’ request to vacate his murder conviction under a longstanding legal doctrine in Massachusetts.
The legal principle of abatement holds that defendants who die before their direct appeals are heard should have their convictions erased.
Jenkins Hernandez’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Department of Correction investigative report on Hernandez’s death said Hernandez told another inmate he heard a “rumor” that if an inmate has an open appeal and dies in prison he will be acquitted.
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III has said he plans to appeal the decision erasing Hernandez’s conviction to the state’s highest court.
Hernandez’s lead attorney in his recent double-murder trial, Jose Baez, scoffed at speculation that Hernandez could have taken his own life to take advantage of the abatement doctrine and force the Patriots to pay his fiancee money they withheld after his arrest.
Baez said Hernandez’s legal team has spoken with Hernandez’s agents to explore the issue of whether the Patriots owe him any money under his contract.
“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.”
The Patriots and the NFL players’ association declined to comment.
Sports and entertainment attorney Ricardo Cestero, who’s based in Los Angeles, said he’s doubtful the Patriots would be required to pay Hernandez’s estate anything as a result of the abatement of his conviction.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that given the NFL personal conduct policy that the mere abatement because of his death pending appeal would obligate the Patriots to pay,” Cestero said.
He said the mere arrest for a violent crime “is sufficient cause for discipline.”
Hernandez grew up in Bristol, Connecticut. His suicide left friends, family and his legal team in disbelief as many searched for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills earned him a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the NFL’s top franchise.
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