A judge on Monday denied the motion of Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred former South Carolina attorney convicted last year of killing his wife and son, to receive a new trial amid allegations of jury tampering.
Attorneys for Murdaugh claimed that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca “Becky” Hill tampered with the jury, telling them not to trust Murdaugh’s testimony and pressuring them to come to a quick verdict, according to The Associated Press.
Judge denies motion for new trial
Update 5:18 p.m. EST Jan. 29: A judge denied Alex Murdaugh’s request for a new trial on Monday.
The decision was handed down by retired South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal. The judge said that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca “Becky” Hill made improper comments to the jury but ruled the comments did not influence the verdict reached by the jury.
“I simply do not believe that we require a new trial,” Toal said.
Murdaugh had sought a new trial based on allegations that the jury that found him guilty was improperly influenced by Hill, The State reported. Murdaugh and his attorneys claimed that Hill’s alleged improper comments were made to jurors during Murdaugh’s trial in early 2023.
In a Richland County courtroom, Toal questioned each juror individually about their verdict and any role Hill played in their decision, according to The State. All but one of the 12 jurors testified that their guilty verdict had not been influenced by Hill.
“They (jurors) obeyed the instructions of the court,” Toal said in rendering the decision. “They obeyed their oath.”
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Murdaugh’s attorney: ‘Whole scheme was about ... selling books’
Update 2:15 p.m. EST Jan. 19: Murdaugh’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, focused his questioning on a self-published book that Hill released after his client’s trial, telling the court at one point, “That’s what this whole scheme was about — selling books.”
Hill published “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders” in August 2023 with co-author Neil R. Gordon, according to testimony and CNN.
During questioning, Hill admitted that she told people before the verdict was reached that the jury would not be out long, but she denied that it was because she had spoken to the jury itself.
“I had not communicated with jurors about anything related to this trial at all,” she said. “I’ve been a court reporter for at least 14 years, I was clerk of court for three, and you just get to where you kind of see things happen as they progress, and it’s a guess. It’s a gut feeling, and that’s all that I meant by that.”
She denied that she made inappropriate comments to the jury.
Hill denies wrongdoing
Update 1:40 p.m. EST Jan. 29: On the stand Monday, Hill denied having told the jury anything inappropriate during Murdaugh’s trial.
She testified that she spoke to a bailiff about Murdaugh taking the stand before he testified last year.
“I told (the bailiff) that Judge (Clifton) Newman was allowing more of the financial evidence in which would prolong the testimony and the trial a little bit and also that the defendant had decided that he was going to testify,” she said. She added that she typically gives “a little pep talk to the jurors.”
“It’s sometimes hard sitting for a long time,” she said. “I do remember saying, ‘Pay attention, it’s a big day today.’”
She denied that her comments were “for one side or the other.”
After the jury came down with its verdict, Hill said she spoke to jurors about outlets that wanted to interview them. She stressed that she did not pressure anyone to speak with reporters.
Hill to take stand after lunch
Update 12:30 p.m. EST Jan. 29: Court proceedings have been paused Monday to allow for a lunch break with Hill expected to testify after 1:15 p.m., according to The Post and Courier.
The break came after two jurors, identified by the letters K and Q, took the stand to say that they didn’t hear Hill make any comments before they delivered their verdict last year and that their decision was not influenced by her, the newspaper reported.
One juror has testified that she heard Hill make comments about the case which influenced her testimony. One other juror said he heard Hill say to “watch his body language,” but he said the comment did not influence his verdict, according to The Post and Courier.
Juror says she was influenced by comments made by Hill
Update 11:45 a.m. EST Jan. 29: A juror on Monday testified that she heard Hill say “to watch (Murdaugh’s) actions” and “to watch him closely,” and other things that influenced her decision to convict Murdaugh on murder charges in the 2021 deaths of his wife and son, according to The Post and Courier.
“To me it felt like she made it seem like he was already guilty,” said the juror, identified only as Juror Z, the newspaper reported.
Another juror, identified as Juror P, testified that he heard Hill tell the jury to “watch his body language,” but he said the comment didn’t influence his verdict, according to The Post and Courier.
Seven other jurors, identified with the letters C, F, L, E, O, Y and W, said that they did not hear Hill make any comments about the case and that she did not influence their verdicts, the newspaper reported.
Original report: Attorneys for Murdaugh allege that Hill wanted “to secure for herself a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial,” CNN reported.
Hill published her insider memoir of the trial, “Behind the Doors of Justice,” in August, according to The State.
In a sworn statement filed last year in court, Hill denied tampering with the jury, the AP reported. She is expected to give testimony at Monday’s evidentiary hearing alongside 11 of the 12 jurors who heard the original murder trial, according to CNN.
One juror gave testimony on Friday due to a scheduling conflict, The State reported. Their comments were not immediately shared after Judge Jean Toal asked reporters not to publicize them to protect the testimony of the other jurors, according to the newspaper.
The hearing starting Monday is scheduled to last for as long as three days, although Toal said she hopes to wrap up the proceeding in one day, CNN reported.
If attorneys for Murdaugh can prove that there was jury tampering, he will get a new trial, according to The State. If his attorneys fail to prove jury tampering, Murdaugh is expected to begin regular appeals of his sentence, the AP reported. His appeal has been suspended pending the outcome of Monday’s hearing, according to CNN.
Last spring, a jury in South Carolina convicted Murdaugh of killing his wife, 52-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and his son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. The pair were found shot dead at the family’s home in Colleton County on the night of June 7, 2021.
He was sentenced to serve two life terms for the murders.
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