When not guilty is not innocent

Aaron Hernandez died an innocent man. Technically.

The former New England Patriots star tight end, who apparently took his life early this morning in his cell at the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley, was acquitted of a double murder last week but was still serving a life sentence for the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd.

But because Hernandez was appealing his conviction in the Lloyd murder, his case is dismissed under what is termed an abatement. It stems from a 1993 federal appeals court ruling that says when a defendant dies before his appeal has been determined, the case is abated, meaning if he somehow miraculously comes back to life, the conviction can be reinstated and the appeal can move forward.

“It goes way back to the early days of common law: Until your conviction is final, you haven’t been considered convicted,” former Supreme Judicial Court justice John Greaney tells the Boston Herald. “If you die before you are brought to trial or before the appeal is concluded, the murder indictment is dismissed and the guilty verdict is vacated.”

It’s happened before in Massachusetts, about 20 years ago when Violet Amirault, one of the defendants in the notorious Fells Acre Day School child abuse case, died while awaiting an appeal.  It doesn’t change the jury verdict, either in Hernandez’s or Amirault’s case, nor does it mean much in the court of public opinion. But as victims and their families learn about it, it’s something that can cause anger because the books never close.

It’s the way the American system of justice works, with process often overruling results, even when all signs point to guilt. It’s happening in a different way in tens of thousands of other cases in Massachusetts with the Annie Dookhan state lab scandal.

On Tuesday, district attorneys across the state were required to file with the Supreme Judicial Court those cases related to Dookhan’s tainting of results that prosecutors would not move forward with. The tally came to more than 20,000 drug-related cases, nearly 8,000 in Suffolk County alone.

Defense attorneys hailed the move, focusing on the twisting of justice by Dookhan that they say gave prosecutors an unlawful leg up in coercing defendants to either plead guilty or present fraudulent evidence to juries as fact.

“The dismissal of thousands of tainted drug lab cases rightly puts justice over results,” Martin W. Healy, the Massachusetts Bar Association’s chief legal counsel, said in a statement. “It is a necessary and long-overdue outcome, given our criminal justice system’s responsibility to ensure a level playing field for all, regardless of the offense.”

But prosecutors, while acknowledging the process is important, were not that willing to grant exoneration even as they opted not to chase more convictions.

“We’re not talking about people who are actually innocent and who have been terribly wronged,” said Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefewho dismissed 1,067 cases, mostly minor and first-time offenses. “We are doing this because the integrity of our system is more important than any individual conviction.”

O’Keefe’s view was the ruling view of most prosecutors; they were abiding by a court mandate and honoring the system, but making sure to point out the people they were absolving were not completely innocent.

“We are dealing with drug defendants, the overwhelming majority of whom plead guilty, went through an exhaustive plea colloquy with a judge and testified under oath that they were ‘pleading guilty because they were guilty and for no other reason,’” O’Keefe said in his statement.

It is, though, the way the system is designed. Innocent until proven guilty. And even then not a final decision.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The state’s public records supervisor said Gov. Charlie Baker refused to comply with an administrative order to produce public records and referred the matter to Attorney General Maura Healey. Baker, citing a 1997 Supreme Judicial Court decision, says the Public Records Law doesn’t cover his office. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and Watertown developer Stephen Chapman are at loggerheads over Chapman’s proposal to build 20 oversized luxury storage units with garages built into them. Chapman says the units would allow owners to work on their cars in comfort, while the mayor says the “man caves” would be magnets for trouble. (Eagle-Tribune)

Mass MoCA in North Adams prepares to unveil a new 130,000-square-foot exhibition space. (Berkshire Eagle) Meanwhile, North Adams is also considering playing host to another museum — the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. (Berkshire Eagle)

The Dorchester Youth Collaborative continues to struggle to stay afloat. (Boston Globe)

State Rep. Carole Fiola of Fall River is planning to file a bill mandating certification for sober houses, which currently are only urged to obtain voluntary certification. Fiola’s move comes as Fall River city councilors consider a local ordinance requiring licensing regulation for the 14 to 20 sober houses believed to be operating in the city. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, in a forum in Washington (Boston Herald) and in a Globe op-ed, says the US is under sustained threat of terrorist attacks, with open FBI cases in all 50 states.

President Trump signed an executive order that could lead to new limits on the H-1B visa program that allows skilled workers to enter the country. (Boston Globe)

At the White House today — the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. (Boston Globe)  Defensive tackle Alan Branch, one of five players boycotting the visit because of Trump’s behavior or policies, says as the father of three daughters he won’t take time from his family to go shake the hand of someone who bragged about groping women. (Boston Globe) With their heavy Trump connections, the Pats are evidently a favorite of the alt-right and white supremacist Richard Spencer. (Politico) Fans of the team are split over whether the visit is a time for politics. (Greater Boston)

ELECTIONS

A special election for a traditionally Republican congressional seat in Georgia heads for a runoff as Democrat Jon Ossoff fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote. Ossoff will face Republican Karen Handel in the June final. (Atlanta Journal Constitution) The conservative National Review says the results were what was expected with such a crowded field and everything should return to normal (read: GOP victory) in the runoff.

Democrat Bob Massie, who said in February that he was considering entering the 2018 race for governor, says he’s in.

US Rep. Niki Tsongas says the Democratic Party has a “real shot” at winning control of the House in the 2018 elections. (Eagle-Tribune)

Former TV news reporter Joe Shortsleeve is considering running for the seat being vacated by Sen. James Timilty, who is leaving to become Norfolk County treasurer. (State House News Service)

State Rep. Chris Walsh is eyeing a run to become the first mayor of Framingham. (State House News Service)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

President Trump has signed an order that could curb the hiring of foreign workers in the United States, much to the chagrin of the tech industry. (New York Times)

The cash-strapped Rose Kennedy Greenway is bringing a beer garden to the public park. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Scot Lehigh says the Affordable Care Act is not imploding, contrary to President Trump’s pronouncements, but the president could cause it to fail if he wanted to put politics over sound policy and coverage for Americans. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Adrian Walker says the new state regulations for Uber and Lyft drivers are too stringent in locking out people with minor offenses from many years ago. (Boston Globe) Shirley Leung says so too. (Boston Globe)

The Steamship Authority is exploring options to operate freight shipments out of New Bedford to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in an effort to relieve truck traffic in Woods Hole. (Standard-Times)

CASINOS

Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville generated more than $14.1 million in revenue in March, its third-best month ever. (State House News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that veterans charged with driving under the influence may have their cases diverted under provisions of a 2012 law known as the Valor Act. (Boston Globe)

A Quincy man who was released from prison in 2015 after pleading guilty to manslaughter and serving 16 years for the murder of a 17-year-old girl in 1994 is back in jail after being charged with rape and domestic assault. (Patriot Ledger)

The Supreme Judicial Court sent back to a lower court the case of Boston police officer contesting a department decision to restrict him to desk duty because of fears that concussions from mixed martial arts bouts could impair his judgment in crisis situations. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Multiple news reports indicate Bill O’Reilly’s position at Fox News is in jeopardy. (Fortune)

WGBY in Springfield makes $57 million selling its UHF frequency in a government auction last week. WGBY is owned by WGBH in Boston, which made $161 million in the auction. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer pens a moving tribute to Joe Crowley, one of the first victims of clergy sexual abuse to come forward publicly in the paper’s Spotlight team reports on the Catholic church scandal. Crowley died on Sunday at age 58. (Boston Globe)