By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday approved a request by lawyers for Aaron Hernandez to question a woman they said tipped them off to a juror who should have been disqualified, a move that could upend the former NFL star's murder conviction.
The former New England Patriots tight end in April was sentenced to life in prison for murdering semiprofessional football player Odin Lloyd in June 2013, in the first of two murder trials before him this year.
Following his conviction in the first case, defense lawyers said a woman who gave her name as "Katy" repeatedly called them, claiming to have evidence that one of the jurors had known that Hernandez was also charged with murdering two other men outside a Boston nightclub in 2012. But prosecutors have questioned her relationship with the former player.
Superior Court Justice Susan Garsh had previously ruled that jurors on the Lloyd case would not be told about the other murder, and lawyers had tried to eliminate potential jurors who had followed the Hernandez saga from serving.
Such knowledge could be grounds for Hernandez' conviction to be overturned.
On Wednesday, Garsh ruled that the court would allow defense lawyers to question the woman under oath in court in September, in a closed-door hearing.
"This court is simply ruling on whether to permit an examination under oath of the caller so that the parties can assess her credibility and decide whether to request that further action be taken by the court," Garsh said in a written order.
Prosecutors earlier this month said "Katy" had a sexually explicit relationship with Hernandez, and had believed that their relationship would continue if he were found innocent.
"The noted inconsistencies in the caller's reported statements do not render her accusations inherently implausible or compel a conclusion that the caller's accusations are false," Garsh wrote.
Hernandez had been a rising NFL star with a $41 million contract when he was arrested on June 26, 2013, nine days after a teenage jogger discovered Lloyd's bullet-riddled body in an industrial part near the player's North Attleboro, Massachusetts, home. The Patriots cut him within hours of his arrest.
He is due to stand trial in Boston later this year in the other case on charges of fatally shooting Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safirdo Furtado outside a nightclub after one of them spilled a drink.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Susan Heavey)