SOUTH CAROLINA (AP) — Attorneys for convicted murder Alex Murdaugh want a new trial, accusing the court clerk of improperly influencing the jury.
They’re accusing the court clerk at his double murder trial of telling jurors not to trust him when he testified in his own defense. They say she also had private conversations with the jury foreperson, and pressured jurors to come to a quick verdict.
The request filed by Murdaugh’s lawyers on Tuesday also accuses Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill of giving jury members business cards from reporters. After the verdict, she traveled to New York City with three of the jurors to do interviews. She also wrote a book after the trial called “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders.”
“Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame,” wrote Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, who planned a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
Hill and prosecutors did not immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press.
Murdaugh is asking the appellate judges to order an evidentiary hearing on their allegations where jurors would be questioned under oath, and once they have more information on the record, to grant Murdaugh a new trial. The 55-year-old disbarred attorney is serving life without parole after being convicted in the shooting deaths of his wife and son.
The request for the new trial centers around Hill, the clerk of court elected in 2020.
Hill had private conversations with the jury foreperson, both inside the courthouse and when jurors visited the crime scene at the Murdaugh’s property, according to sworn statements from three jurors included in Murdaugh’s appeal. The filing didn’t include any statement from the foreperson.
The jurors told Murdaugh’s lawyers that Hill told them “not to be fooled” by the evidence presented by the defense, and to watch Murdaugh closely as he testified and to “look at his actions,” and “look at his movements.” One juror said they understood it to mean Murdaugh was guilty.
The appeal also says Hill lied to the judge during the six-week trial about a Facebook post that led to the dismissal of a juror. Hill said the juror’s ex-husband posted that she was talking about the case and about what the verdict would be.
Hill never presented the post, only showing the judge an apology from what she said was the ex-husband’s account. But the apology post did not come from the ex-husband’s account, and the defense said an analysis of his Facebook account shows he made no post that day, the attorneys wrote.
Murdaugh’s lawyers filed a transcript from a closed door meeting over the juror, where Judge Clifton Newman said “I’m not too pleased about the clerk interrogating a juror as opposed to coming to me and bringing it to me.”
Other jurors said Hill told the jury, which started deliberating late in the afternoon on March 2, that they would be taken to a hotel if they didn’t reach a verdict by 11 p.m., which upset the jurors who didn’t pack for a possible overnight stay. Hill also refused to let jurors to take a smoke break until they reached a verdict, according to the appeal.
“I had questions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt but voted guilty because I felt pressured by other jurors,” Juror 630 wrote in a sworn statement, adding that Hill pressured the jurors to talk to reporters after the trial. The appeal redacts their names, identifying jurors only by their numbers from the trial.
The final pages of the 65-page appeal cite a contract between Hill and a production company, with a handwritten note supposedly from Hill saying that in exchange for her appearance, they had to show the cover of her book in their production.
South Carolina law sets a high bar to overturn a jury verdict. Murdaugh’s lawyers said Hill’s conduct was so egregious, it tainted the entire trial.
“She asked jurors about their opinions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence. She instructed them not to believe evidence presented in Mr. Murdaugh’s defense, including his own testimony. She lied to the judge to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty. And she pressured jurors to reach a guilty verdict quickly so she could profit from it,” they wrote.
Murdaugh’s lawyers also sent a letter to federal prosecutors asking them to have the FBI step in to investigate, because the State Law Enforcement Division, which was the lead agency for Murdaugh’s prosecution, has a vested interest in maintaining his conviction.
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