The suicide of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday may have opened up an opportunity to dismiss his life sentence conviction for murder. A legal rule called "abatement" might be invoked because Hernandez's appeal was still pending at the time of his death, CNN reported Thursday.

"The idea is that if an appeal hasn't happened, there's a chance the conviction has an error in it," Rosanna Cavallaro, a professor at Suffolk University, told CNN. "Rather than have someone with that incomplete decision that they're guilty, the state chooses instead to say the convicted is abated as if it had never happened."

Abatement would essentially posthumously declare Hernandez an innocent man.

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RTS12XHC New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is arraigned on charges of murder and weapons violations in Attleborough, Massachusetts, after being arrested, Jun. 26, 2013. Photo: Reuters

"If you die before that part of the process, it's as if we're saying you didn't get the full process," Cavallaro told CNN. "We'd rather err on the side of erasing convictions than allow convictions to stand that have not been reviewed."

Just days before his death, Hernandez, 27, was acquitted of the 2012 murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. He had already been convicted and was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

Officials at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Massachusetts found Hernandez hanged in his prison cell by a bedsheet early Wednesday morning. A spokesperson said that while no suicide note had been found, the investigation into Hernandez's death was still ongoing. 

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The former football star's lawyer, Jose Baez, expressed his doubts about his client's death. 

"The family and legal team is shocked and surprised at the news of Aaron's death. There were no conversations or correspondences from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible," Baez said Wednesday. "Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation." 

RTS12Y76 A prison vehicle drives past the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, where former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his jail cell Apr. 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters