For the victims of crime, justice comes in two ways — taking away the perpetrator’s liberty via the criminal justice system, and taking away their money via the civil justice system.
And while no amount of money ever will alter the pain and despair felt by those who lost a loved one due to murder, the healing process includes making sure the person who committed the crime pays, in every way possible.
It’s usually an irrelevant exercise to sue a killer. Most are what lawyers call “judgment-proof.” The victim’s family ends up with a piece of paper that is worth nothing, unless and until the defendant is worth something. (It’s still worth the time; while practicing law I heard a story from another lawyer about a child molester who had been sued and had no money to pay the seven-figure verdict — until he won the lottery.)
For Hernandez, it’s not irrelevant. His August 2012 contract already has paid him nearly $10 million, with another $3.25 million due on March 31, 2014. With at least a pair of high-powered (and high-priced) lawyers working hard in the coming months to cobble together an if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit reasonable-doubt defense , the money is going to go quickly.
Especially if both of the high-powered (and high-priced) lawyers show up at every hearing, as they did on Thursday.
As a result, the families of Odin Lloyd, Safiro Furtado, and Daniel Abreu should move quickly to get lawsuits filed. And they should ask that the $3.25 million to be paid to Hernandez on March 31, 2014 be held in escrow pending the outcome of the civil claims. In fact, the existence of civil lawsuits with an understanding that the money would be held in escrow for the benefit of the victims could prompt the Patriots to abandon their expected plan to stiff Hernandez.
Keep in mind that the standard of proof is much lower in a civil case. Hernandez could be acquitted in criminal court (like O.J. Simpson was) and then found responsible in civil court (like O.J. Simpson was).
With three victims, a verdict easily could more than wipe out Hernandez’s fortune, or whatever of it is left after his criminal trial. The sooner that restrictions are placed on the ability of Hernandez and his family to spend that money, the more money will be available to compensate the families of the men who may have been killed by him.