WATCH LIVE: Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh back in court as he seeks new trial
Attorneys allege jury tampering in Murdaugh’s original trial that convicted him of killing his wife and son.
A South Carolina judge on Monday denied Alex Murdaugh’s request for a new murder trial.
Justice Jean Toal ruled Monday that she did not believe a new trial was needed for Murdaugh, who was convicted in the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on his family hunting estate.
Murdaugh was back in court Monday for a hearing on jury tampering allegations surrounding Colleton County Court Clerk Becky Hill, accusations which Murdaugh’s defense team had argued warranted a new trial.
Toal said before her ruling Monday that while Hill was “attracted by the siren call of celebrity” and had made “fleeting and foolish comments,” the jurors took their assignments seriously in convicting Murdaugh.
A juror who presided over Murdaugh’s double murder trial last year testified Monday that Hill’s comments influenced her guilty verdict.
The juror, referred to as Juror Z, said Hill told jurors to watch Murdaugh “closely” and watch his “actions,” adding that she reached a guilty verdict because of the clerk’s comments.
“To me…she made it seem like he was already guilty,” Juror Z, the first to testify Monday, said when asked how the clerk inspired her verdict.
Murdaugh’s defense team and South Carolina prosecutors will be able to question Hill, who was accused of jury tampering, in the convicted killer’s bid for a new trial, Toal ruled Friday as Murdaugh fights for a new trial.
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Justice Jean Toal decided that jurors who presided over Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial may testify about alleged jury tampering during Murdaugh’s hearing for a new trial. (Gavin McIntyre/The Post and Courier via AP, Pool)
The disgraced lawyer’s defense team argued that Hill allegedly pushed jurors to convict him in the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on his family hunting estate.
Juror Z also testified that other jurors also made her feel pressured to deliver a guilty verdict, as her affidavit stated.
Of 12 total jurors who found Murdaugh guilty last spring, 11 said Hill did not influence their decisions. One said he heard the clerk make comments about watching Murdaugh’s body language but said her words did not influence his verdict.
Following Juror Z’s testimony on Monday morning, Toal announced on the record that jurors’ cellphones had not been confiscated before proceedings began, and some of the jurors watched a live stream on their phones. The justice then called for a five-minute recess.
“Murphy’s law. What can go wrong will go wrong, at the worst possible time. And Murphy was an optimist.”
Toal asked all jurors from that point forward whether they watched the livestream and if it influenced their testimony on Monday. None of the jurors said their testimonies were impacted.
The justice questioned the first of 12 jurors, referred to as Juror X, who presided over Murdaugh’s trial on Friday about Hill’s conduct because the juror had a scheduling conflict with Monday’s proceedings.
Alex Murdaugh’s handcuffs are removed as he addresses the court during his sentencing for stealing from 18 clients, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort, South Carolina. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)
Juror X said Hill’s comments did not influence her verdict.
When Toal asked the juror about issues with private meetings that Hill apparently held and whether they had anything to do with the Murdaugh murder case, Juror X said the meetings were about a “different matter” and had “nothing to do with the case.”
ALEX MURDAUGH RETURNS TO COURT TO FIGHT FOR NEW MURDER TRIAL
After juror questioning, prosecutors and Murdaugh’s defense attorneys will be allowed to question Hill. Toal has made clear that Hill “is not on trial,” and the court clerk will only have to answer relevant questions.
Alex Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian, left, and Jim Griffin talk during Alex Murdaugh’s sentencing for stealing from 18 clients, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort, South Carolina. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)
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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.
Rebecca Hill arrives to the “Today” 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)
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.