Suffolk prosecutors Friday moved closer to obtaining a cellphone owned by convicted killer Aaron Hernandez that law enforcement believes has information about a double murder in Boston that the former New England Patriot is accused of committing.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke ordered the Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray, which once represented Hernandez, to hand the cellphone over to his current attorneys, James L. Sultan and Charles Rankin.
Sultan and Rankin then have 14 days to examine the phone and discuss its legal implications with Hernandez. They must then put the phone into an envelope and await further orders from the court.
For months, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office and the two law firms have battled over the cellphone, a legal struggle that has taken them to the state Supreme Judicial Court and back again.
The first step for prosecutors was getting the cellphone from Ropes & Gray, which Locke has now allowed. But Locke refused to take the next step that prosecutors wanted: to issue a search warrant for the phone. He said prosecutors could make the same request later, however.
Ropes & Gray and a former partner at the firm represented Hernandez during his 2015 trial in Bristol Superior Court for the murder of Odin L. Lloyd, a Dorchester man shot to death in North Attleborough.
Hernandez was convicted and was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction will be reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court. Hernandez, 26, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and weapons charges in the July 2012 fatal drive-by shootings of Daniel de Abreu, 28, and Safiro Furtado, 29, in Boston’s South End.
He has also pleaded not guilty to a witness intimidation charge for allegedly shooting an associate, Alexander Bradley, in Florida in February 2013 because he feared Bradley would implicate him in the murders, according to court records.
Locke, in earlier orders, wrote that Hernandez and Bradley communicated via phone between February 2013 and June 2013, and that Hernandez acknowledged “rocking” Bradley, which Bradley interpreted as an admission to shooting him in Florida.
Locke also wrote that there is probable cause to suggest that information on the phone is “undoubtedly relevant” to the witness intimidation charge that Hernandez faces.
Hernandez got a new phone in June 2013 and delivered his other phone that contained text messages to Bradley to Ropes & Gray, Locke wrote.
John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.