(Fall River, MA) -- A Massachusetts judge is vacating a murder conviction against former NFL player Aaron Hernandez.

Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh today granted a defense request to vacate the conviction and return his status to a person only accused of a crime because he died before his appeals process was completed. In her explanation, Garsh said there was no direct evidence that Hernandez took his own life simply to financially benefit his family.

The former New England Patriot was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd, but his appeals process was just starting. He was found dead in prison cell last month of an apparent suicide.

Under a legal principal called "abatement ab initio," or abatement by death, first-degree murder convictions have been voided when the defendant dies before their appeals can be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Prosecutors argued Hernandez killed himself because he understood that his family could benefit financially from the rest of his NFL contract if his conviction was vacated. Lloyd's mother and girlfriend were in the courtroom when the judge issued her ruling. A note found in his cell to his fiancee had the words "you're rich" underlined and that his death is "almightys plan."

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