Massachusetts' highest court ruled Friday that lawyers for former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez must turn over a cellphone that prosecutors believe has evidence in his upcoming double murder trial.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Hernandez's legal team "no longer requires possession of [the defendant's cell phone, which may contain evidence in his pending prosecution] for the provision of legal advice to the defendant."
The ruling said the continued retention of the phone by Hernandez's lawyers "can only be understood as having the effect of concealing or removing it from the observation of others, namely the Commonwealth."
"The SJC's decision is grounded in the lawn and in common sense," Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said. "No court or legislature ever intended that critical evidence could be placed beyond the reach of investigators, in perpetuity, simply by providing it to an attorney."
Conley said his office has already begun the process of seeking a search warrant to obtain the phone for analysis by his computer crime lab.
The phone was last known to be in the possession of Rankin & Sultan, the Boston firm that had been representing Hernandez. That firm is no longer representing Hernandez in the double murder case. He is now being defended by Jose Baez, the attorney who represented Casey Anthony, the Florida mother charged with killing her toddler daughter.
Prosecutors have said that they believe the cellphone contains evidence in the alleged shooting of Hernandez's associate Alexander Bradley. Hernandez reportedly feared Bradley would implicate him in the 2012 fatal shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston’s South End.
Authorities say de Abreu accidentally bumped into Hernandez at a Boston nightclub and Hernandez then followed the men and opened fire on their car.
Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence in the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd. He has pleaded not guilty to the double murder and his trial is scheduled to get underway in February of 2017.