Aug 19, 12:33 PM EDT

Massachusetts' highest court has ruled that prosecutors can examine a cellphone owned by former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez for possible evidence in his upcoming double murder trial



BOSTON (AP) -- Prosecutors can examine a cellphone owned by former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez for possible evidence in his upcoming double murder trial, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Friday, ending a long-running legal battle.

Hernandez gave the phone to his former attorney in 2013 when he was being investigated in the killing of Odin Lloyd. The former tight end was convicted in that case and is serving a life sentence.

Hernandez is now awaiting trial in the 2012 killings of two men he encountered at a Boston nightclub. Prosecutors say Hernandez was angry that one of the men accidentally bumped into him at the club and caused him to spill his drink. Hernandez is also accused of shooting and wounding a friend, Alexander Bradley, to keep him from talking about the killings.

Bradley was with Hernandez the night of the killings and is expected to be the star prosecution witness at his trial, scheduled to begin in February.

Hernandez's former attorneys had argued that they had the right to keep the phone because Hernandez had given it to them at a time when he was seeking legal advice while under investigation in Lloyd's killing.

In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court found that once Hernandez's attorneys downloaded the contents of the phone, they had "no legitimate purpose" for keeping it.

"In such circumstances, the continued retention of this device can only be understood as having the effect of concealing or removing it from the observation of others, namely the Commonwealth," Justice Francis Spina wrote for the court.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said prosecutors have already begun the process of seeking a search warrant for the phone.

"The SJC's decision is grounded in the law and in common sense," 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."

Hernandez recently hired a new defense team, led by Jose Baez, a Florida attorney who won an acquittal for Casey Anthony in the killing of her daughter. Baez did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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