Alex Murdaugh appears in court for hearing on new trial request
Alex Murdaugh appeared in a Richland County, South Carolina, courtroom Tuesday morning to discuss his request for a new murder trial.
Alex Murdaugh’s push for a new trial could depend entirely on one juror “who doesn’t want to talk,” attorney Eric Bland, who represents multiple victims of Murdaugh’s financial crimes, told Fox News Digital.
“There’s a juror out there that nobody has spoken to,” Bland said. “(Murdaugh defense lawyer Dick) Harpootlian has spoken to probably six [or] seven of those jurors remaining, but there’s one no one has spoken to, including the state, because that person doesn’t want to talk.”
Murdaugh’s defense team is asking for a retrial based on allegations Collecton County Court Clerk Becky Hill engaged in jury tampering ahead of last year’s verdict by pushing jurors to find the disgraced South Carolina lawyer guilty of murdering his wife and son in 2021.
Bland’s comments come after South Carolina Justice Jean Toal determined Tuesday that the 12 jurors who deliberated over Murdaugh’s double murder trial last year can be questioned in open court about Hill’s alleged misconduct and whether it impacted their verdicts.
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Alex Murdaugh reacts as he addresses the court during his sentencing for stealing from 18 clients Nov. 28, 2023, at the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort, S.C. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)
The decision may have come as a surprise to the defense team, which wanted all jurors who deliberated, as well as all alternate jurors, to testify.
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“The defense — you can’t say it any other way — they just got trucked yesterday,” Bland said of Tuesday’s hearing. “They walked into court obviously with their filings, and a lot of what the media was covering was Becky Hill and some of her alleged transgressions that have occurred since the trial. They came in bullish, but they left like lambs, because what they didn’t anticipate was Justice Toal not entertaining a circus.”
Alex Murdaugh talks with his attorneys Dick Harpootlian, left, and Jim Griffin during his sentencing for stealing from 18 clients Nov. 28, 2023, at the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort, S.C. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)
Under South Carolina law, Bland explained, “the burden of proof stays with the party who’s alleging juror interference,” meaning Murdaugh’s defense will have to “show that what was said was prejudicial” and that “the jurors were impacted, and their deliberations and verdict were impacted by what was said.”
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Justice Toal made clear Tuesday that she plans to ask jurors what Hill may have said to them and how her statements may have impacted how they determined a verdict, if at all. She also made clear that Hill “is not on trial,” and the court clerk will only have to answer relevant questions.
“Our justice system is built to preserve jury verdicts.”
The one juror who has not spoken to either the defense or the prosecution since Murdaugh’s guilty verdict in March “may be enough to move the needle,” Bland said.
Rebecca Hill arrives to the “Today” show studio in New York City March 6, 2023. She was the court clerk in the double-murder trial of Alex Murdaugh. (Jennifer Mitchell for Fox News Digital)
“But right now, the defense has a very tall order because they’re going to have to spend the next two weeks preparing for a hearing that they didn’t think they’d have to prepare,” he said.
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The jurors Bland has spoken with are “certainly anxious” to testify because they thought the Murdaugh saga “was in the rearview mirror.”
“They gave up six weeks of their lives. It was highly stressful.”
“They sacrificed their jobs, their families and they rendered a very serious decision,” Bland explained. “They haven’t said it to me, but I believe they’re going to be offended when it’s suggested that one statement or two that Becky Hill may have said caused them to render a verdict that they otherwise may not have rendered or it was completely in opposite of the six weeks of 70 witnesses they listened to and over 400 pieces of evidence that they saw.”
Colleton County Court Clerk Rebecca Hill walks past her daughter, who is singing at a party in Walterboro, S.C., March 1, 2023. Becky Hill is at the center of a motion for a retrial in the Alex Murdaugh double-murder case. (Mark Sims for Fox News Digital)
Murdaugh’s lawyers, Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, alleged in their motion for a new trial that Hill advised jurors not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony, pressured the panel to reach a “quick guilty verdict” and lied to the trial judge in a campaign to remove a panelist who was sympathetic to the defense.
“Ms. Hill did these things to secure for herself a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial,” the filing says. “Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame.”
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The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has opened two investigations into Hill’s conduct during Murdaugh’s murder trial, including a probe into allegations Hill used her position as clerk to benefit financially from sales of her book about the case, which she later admitted included plagiarized writing, and another probe into the jury tampering allegations.
A photo of the Murdaugh family taken days before Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were shot to death. From left, Buster, Paul, Maggie and Alex Murdaugh. (Defense exhibit)
Murdaugh, 55, was sentenced in March to two life terms for fatally shooting his 52-year-old wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and their son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, in June 2021.
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The disgraced South Carolina lawyer was also sentenced to 27 years in November for his financial crimes. He agreed to plead guilty to 22 counts — including breach of trust, money laundering, forgery and tax evasion — out of about 100 counts totaling as much as $10 million in exchange for the 27-year prison sentence.
Murdaugh previously pleaded guilty to 22 counts of financial fraud and money laundering in federal court.
Fox News’ Chelsea Torres and Rebecca Rosenberg contributed to this report.
Audrey Conklin is a digital reporter for Fox News Digital and FOX Business. Email tips to [email protected] or on Twitter at @audpants.