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Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction could be tossed

MILFORD, Mass. —  Aaron Hernandez's death means his murder conviction is likely to disappear. Under Massachusetts law, defense attorneys can seek to have convictions vacated when a defendant dies before an appeal is heard.

Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of Odin Lloyd.

"I admired his grit and determination and thought he was capable of warmth, a complete human being," said New Haven criminal defense attorney Norm Pattis, who met with Hernandez after his murder conviction.

So, why the suicide?

"I think it maybe that it all just closed in on him," said Pattis.

Pattis said he liked Hernandez, describing his demeanor as that of a fighter. But, despite last week's not guilty verdict in a double murder case, "I think he probably felt powerless as though there was nothing he could do to change his situation," added Pattis.

A West Hartford psychiatrist, who treated inmates as patients, said it's far from simple to see something like this coming.

"Sometimes, one could say that people that are suicidal, in the sense that they have a plan in place, they know what they're going to be doing, are, in a way, at peace with themselves," said Dr. Allan Jacobs.

Hernandez's suicide was not so surprising to Dr. Jacobs, given an inmate's plight.

"You don't make many choices for yourself," he said. "You know, one could argue that,  in some way, taking your own life, you've determined your own length of life."

Authorities say Hernandez was found hanging in his Massachusetts prison cell early Wednesday and was pronounced dead at a hospital. Removing a conviction after the death of a high profile defendant has precedent in the state.

"I doubt very much that Mr. Hernandez had his legacy in mind, but, by quirky operation of law, he would die an innocent man," said Pattis.

Because his death occurred while appealing his murder conviction, his lawyers can start the process for the court to vacate Hernandez's murder conviction. It's due to a legal principle called Abatement Ab Initio. "Ab Initio" is a Latin term meaning "from the beginning."

Former Roman Catholic priest John Geoghan's child molestation conviction was vacated after he was beaten to death in his prison cell in 2003. John Salvi, who was convicted of killing two abortion clinic workers in Brookline in 1994, also had his convictions dismissed after he killed himself in prison.

This measure is not currently applicable in Connecticut, according to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney.

Hernandez's lawyer Jose Baez released a statement late Wednesday morning.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.