Alex Murdaugh’s Bid For New Murder Trial Is Denied

Although the Colleton County court clerk made inappropriate comments to jurors, the judge ruled that they did not have an effect on their guilty verdict.

A South Carolina judge on Monday denied the request of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh for a new murder trial, ruling that a clerk of court made improper comments to jurors but that they did not have any effect on their guilty verdict.

After Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina attorney, was convicted in March 2023 of gunning down his wife and son in 2021, his attorneys requested a new trial, alleging in September that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca “Becky” Hill made references to Murdaugh’s guilt to members of the jury and pressured them to reach a verdict quickly.

As a result of the allegations, the jurors were called back to court to answer specific questions from Judge Jean Toal, the retired chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

One of the jurors, identified by the judge as “Juror Z,” who initially found Murdaugh guilty, testified Monday that her decision had been influenced by Hill. In a previous affidavit, however, she said that the pressure she felt came from other jurors.

Toal characterized Juror Z’s testimony as “ambivalent” and said that any pressure from fellow jurors is a “normal give-and-take of jury deliberations.”

Hill, who testified after the jurors, was unequivocal when questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters.

“I did not have a conversation with any juror about anything related to this case,” she stated.

Toal said that she didn’t find Hill’s account “completely credible” but didn’t believe “fleeting and foolish comments” warranted a new trial.

“Miss Hill was attracted by the siren call of celebrity,” Toal said, suggesting that Hill’s judgment might have been clouded by her plans to write a book about the case.

Toal was appointed to oversee the hearings after Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over Murdaugh’s murder trial and sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, recused himself. Hill, in her elected role of clerk of court, had read aloud the jurors’ verdicts on March 2, 2023, as people around the world watched the livestream for what was sometimes called “the trial of the century.” Interest in the case involving the wealthy family was further heightened by television series and podcasts.

Toal’s patience was tested early in the proceedings when she learned from the bailiff that some jurors were playing a livestream of the proceedings on their cellphones in the jury room and could hear Juror Z’s testimony. She addressed it in her brief questions to each juror, who all said it did not affect their testimony.

Murdaugh, wearing a white T-shirt under an orange prison uniform, took notes and consulted with his lawyers, sometimes smiling and laughing with them. He was expressionless as Toal delivered her ruling.

Alex Murdaugh confers Monday with lawyer Phil Barber during a judicial hearing at the Richland County Judicial Center in Columbia, South Carolina.
Alex Murdaugh confers Monday with lawyer Phil Barber during a judicial hearing at the Richland County Judicial Center in Columbia, South Carolina.
Tracy Glantz/The State/Pool photo via Associated Press

In addition to the jury tampering allegations that Hill denied, she is being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for potentially using her office for personal gain, The Hampton County Guardian reported.

She also admitted to plagiarizing part of the post-trial book, “Behind the Doors of Justice,” excerpts of which were included along with juror affidavits in Murdaugh’s September 2023 court filing.

In December, Hill said she was “deeply remorseful” for what she called an “unfortunate lapse of judgment” when she used a BBC reporter’s work in her preface for “Behind the Doors of Justice,” and its sales were halted. The Post and Courier in Charleston reported that the BBC reporter had accidentally emailed a draft of a story to Hill instead of her editor.

Hill’s son, Colleton County’s former information technology director, was arrested by SLED in November and charged with wiretapping for using his position to intercept and listen to a July phone call between two people who said they did not know about it and had not given him permission to do so. The South Carolina attorney general said in December that his office would be taking over the case. It is unclear if the wiretapping was connected in any way to the Murdaugh case, according to The Post and Courier.

Speaking after Monday’s hearing, Murdaugh’s lawyer Dick Harpootlian said that the defense met its “factual burden” and that the law in this area is “unsettled at best” and “ripe for appeal.”

“Becky Hill’s not credible,” Harpootlian said, adding that the judge affirmed Murdaugh’s allegations that Hill made improper statements to jurors even if the defense attorneys “couldn’t show prejudice.”

“We go from here to the court of appeals to the South Carolina Supreme Court if necessary,” Harpootlian said.

Regardless of the outcome of any appeals to his double murder conviction, Murdaugh is facing decades in prison after pleading guilty to numerous financial crimes.

In a statement shared with HuffPost after the ruling, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said, “It is time to move on from Alex Murdaugh.”

“After [a] thorough investigation and a fair, public hearing, it is clear that Alex Murdaugh’s convictions for the murders of Maggie and Paul are based solely on the facts and evidence in the case,” Wilson said. “He will spend the rest of his life behind bars because he was found guilty.”

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