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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

Alex Murdaugh accuses ‘fame seeking’ court clerk of jury tampering at his murder trial


Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh has accused a South Carolina court clerk of tampering with the jury at his high-profile double murder trial – because she was driven by fame and a desire to secure a book deal.

The disgraced legal scion and double murderer filed a motion on Tuesday requesting a new trial on the basis that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill allegedly pressured jurors on the case to return a guilty verdict against him.

In the motion, Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin claim that Ms Hill “tampered with the jury by advising them not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and even misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense”.

Specifically, they claim that the clerk instructed jurors not to be “misled” by evidence presented by the defence and told jurors not to be “fooled by” Murdaugh’s testimony when he took the stand.

She allegedly instructed the jury to “watch him closely,” to “look at his actions,” and to “look at his movements” on the stand – something at least one juror said they understood to mean that Murdaugh was guilty.

The motion also claims that Ms Hill had frequent private conversations with the jury foreperson – with the pair often disappearing to private rooms for five to 10 minutes at a time.

“During the trial, Ms Hill asked jurors for their opinions about Mr Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence,” the motion reads.

“Ms Hill invented a story about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty.

“Ms Hill pressured the jurors to reach a quick verdict, telling them from the outset of their deliberations that it ‘shouldn’t take them long.’”

Murdaugh’s attorneys claim that Ms Hill “betrayed her oath of office for money and fame” and, off the back of her work on the case, secured a deal for a book titled “Behind the Doors of Justice”.

“She did these things to secure for herself a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial,” the motion claims.

Alex Murdaugh at sentencing
— (AP)

Much of the motion centres around juror number 785 – who became infamous when she was dismissed from the panel just hours before jury deliberations began.

Judge Clifton Newman removed the female juror from the panel for allegedly discussing the case with at least three other people outside of the court. The woman then prompted some light-hearted – and widely-reported – relief when she asked to pick up her “dozen eggs” from the jury room before she left.

According to the motion, Ms Hill had gone to Judge Newman on 27 February – the day after Murdaugh testified – claiming that she had seen a post in local Facebook group “Walterboro Word of Mouth” from juror 785’s former husband Tim Stone.

The post purportedly claimed that the juror was drinking with her ex-husband and, when she became drunk, she expressed her views on whether Murdaugh was innocent or guilty.

A follow-up post from an account called Timothy Stone apologised for the post saying that he was driven by “Satan”.

When Ms Hill confronted the juror about the posts, the juror said she hadn’t seen her ex-husband in 10 years, the motion states.

Ms Hill allegedly told the juror that SLED and Colleton County Sheriff’s Office personnel had gone to Mr Stone’s house and that he had confirmed he made the post.

She then allegedly asked juror 785 whether she was inclined to vote guilty or not guilty – to which she said she had not made up her mind.

Murdaugh’s attorneys claim that the original post was “fictitous” and that a download of Mr Stone’s Facebook shows he did not make either post.

After the prosecution’s closing argument on the morning of 1 March, juror 785 said that the court clerk asked her again about what her verdict would be.

The Facebook post which was said to have been posted by a juror’s ex-husband
— (THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA In the Court of Appeals)

When the juror said she thought prosecutor Creighton Waters’ closing statement was good but that she had questions because the murder weapons have never been found, Ms Hill allegedly told her “that everything Mr Murdaugh has said has been lies and that I should forget about the guns, they will never be seen again”.

The juror said that around 10 minutes later, she was dismissed from the jury.

During her dismissal, she was accused of having spoken to at least three people about the case.

Outside of the Facebook post and her ex-husband, the court was contacted by a co-worker of the juror’s tenant who said that the tenant said her landlord was a juror and had expressed an opinion when delivering a fridge to the property.

The motion from Murdaugh’s attorneys includes affidavits from juror 785 and her former husband Tim Stone, who has denied ever making the posts.

Sworn statements and information has also been provided by jurors 630, 741 and 326.

The motion goes on to claim that, during deliberations, Ms Hill refused to let jurors take a smoke break until they reached a verdict.

Then, just hours after the jurors returned a guilty verdict, Ms Hill allegedly flew with some of the panel to New York to appear on NBC’s Today show.

In conclusion, they claim that the court clerk’s actions violated “Murdaugh’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury” and that the judge must grant a new trial.

The Independent has reached out to Ms Hill for comment.

Speaking at a press conference outside the appeals court on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Harpootlian said that they had filed the petition based on “newly-discovered evidence” with the South Carolina Court of Appeals to grant a stay on Murdaugh’s appeal while the motion is heard for a new trial.

He said that he also sent a request to the South Carolina Attorney’s office calling for a federal investigation to be opened into what he said was the violation of Murdaugh’s civil rights.

The evidence in the motion “speaks for themselves,” he said.

He also said that they were calling for SLED – the agency which led the investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul – to stand down on any investigation into the allegations against the clerk court because the agency is heavily-invested in Murdaugh’s conviction.

When asked if they think the court clerk should be hit with criminal charges, Mr Harpootlian quickly dismissed the question. “No comment,” he fired back.

Mr Griffin said that they are “very optimistic” that Murdaugh will be granted a new trial over the matter but that it was a matter of time.

“I am very optimistic that ultimately we will get a new trial. How long that will take, I don’t know,” he said.

Despite the allegations, the attorneys admitted that they did not reach out to Ms Hill about the allegations, with Mr Griffin saying that they “thought it would be pointless”.

Jurors at Alex Murdaugh's trial visit murder scene in South Caroline

The duo – who are longtime friends of the killer and represented him at his high-profile murder trial – had announced on Monday that new evidence had come to light since his March conviction over the brutal 7 June 2021 slayings.

Murdaugh is currently behind bars at the McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina where he is serving two life sentences for his wife and son’s murders.

Last week, it emerged that Murdaugh had lost some of his prison privileges after he fed information to a Fox Nation documentary without permission.

South Carolina Corrections Department officials said on Wednesday that, during a jailhouse phone call on 10 June, Mr Griffin had recorded him reading aloud entries from the journal he had kept during his double murder trial.

Mr Griffin had then handed over the recordings to producers working on the new Fox Nation documentary about his high-profile case titled “The Fall of the House of Murdaugh”.

Prison policy prohibits inmates from talking to the media without permission because the agency “believes that victims of crime should not have to see or hear the person who victimized them or their family member on the news,” state prisons spokesperson Chrysti Shain said in a statement.

The media interview violation, along with another violation for using a different inmate’s password to make a telephone call, are prison discipline issues and not a crime, Ms Shain said.

Alex Murdaugh in mug shot

As a result, the disgraced legal scion has had his phone privileges revoked and his prison tablet computer confiscated.

Murdaugh also lost his ability to buy items in the prison canteen for a month.

He will now have to get permission from prison officials to get another tablet, which can be used to make monitored phone calls, watch approved entertainment, read books or take video classes, the prison spokesperson said.

Mr Griffin was also issued a warning from prison officials that if he knowingly or unknowingly helps Murdaugh violate rules again, he could lose his ability to talk to his client.

Phone calls between lawyers and prisoners are not recorded or reviewed because their conversations are considered confidential.

But prison officials said they began investigating Murdaugh after a warden reviewing other phone calls heard Murdaugh’s voice on a call made in a different inmate’s account.

Murdaugh claimed that his phone password had not been working. He also told the prison investigators about the recorded journal entries, according to prison records.

Murdaugh’s use of a jailhouse tablet previously hit headlines when selfie images he took on the device were obtained in a Freedom of Information request by FITS News.

In many of the images, the convicted family killer appeared topless.

South Carolina prison officials later clarified that the photos are automatically taken as an inmate uses their tablet that is individually assigned to them – as part of inmate monitoring.

Alex Murdaugh stands in the courtroom at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, during his murder trial
— (AP)

Now, Murdaugh has lost the use of his tablet indefinitely due to his unauthorised communication with the documentarymakers – which marks his first media interview of sorts since his conviction.

His eldest – and now only surviving – son Buster Murdaugh also broke his silence speaking out in his first TV interview as part of the three-part series.

In the interview, Buster insisted that he still believes his father is innocent of the murders of his mother and brother – but admitted that he may be a psychopath.

Maggie and Paul were found shot dead on the family’s 1,700-acre Moselle estate back on 7 June 2021. Alex Murdaugh had called 911 claiming to have found their bodies.

During his high-profile murder trial, jurors heard how Paul was shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun while he stood in the feed room of the dog kennels on the affluent family’s 1,700-acre Moselle estate. The second shot to his head blew his brain almost entirely out of his skull.

After killing Paul, prosecutors said Murdaugh then grabbed a .300 Blackout semiautomatic rifle and opened fire on Maggie as she tried to flee from her husband.

During the dramatic six-week trial, Murdaugh confessed to lying about his alibi on the night of the murders but continued to claim his innocence of the killings.

The jury didn’t agree and the disgraced legal scion was convicted in March of the brutal murders.

Beyond the murder charges, Murdaugh, 55, is also facing a slew of financial fraud charges for stealing millions of dollars from his law firm clients and his dead housekeeper’s family.

Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh
— (Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook)

He is expected to plead guilty on 21 September to federal charges – marking the first time he has pleaded guilty to a crime in court.

Murdaugh is also facing around 100 financial charges in state court as well as charges over a botched hitman plot where he claims he paid an accomplice to shoot him dead.

Murdaugh’s high-profile conviction also shone a spotlight on some other mystery deaths tied to the South Carolina legal dynasty.

Following Maggie and Paul’s murders, investigations were reopened into the 2018 death of the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield and the 2015 homicide of gay teenager Stephen Smith.

Meanwhile, at the time of his murder, Paul was also awaiting trial for the 2019 boat crash death of Mallory Beach.

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