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Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh will not be granted a new trial based on allegations that the jury that found him guilty was improperly influenced by Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill, S.C. Judge Jean Toal ruled Monday following a day-long hearing in which each juror was questioned and Hill herself testified.
Murdaugh and his attorneys claimed that Hill made improper comments to jurors during Murdaugh’s trial in early 2023.
Murdaugh was convicted last March of killing his wife and son in June 2021 at Moselle, the family’s Colleton County estate. Prosecutors argued during the trial that Murdaugh committed the murders to divert attention from his widespread financial problems.
Hill oversaw the care and feeding of jurors at the Murdaugh murder trial. But in September, six months after the trial’s completion, Murdaugh’s lawyers accused her of using her behind-the-scenes access to influence jurors to bring back a quick guilty verdict to hype sales of her insider memoir of the trial, “Behind the doors of Justice,” published in August. Since then, she has admitted plagiarizing part of the book and halted its sales. She’s also the subject of various ethics and criminal investigations.
Toal, a former chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court, questioned 11 of the original Murdaugh jurors Monday — and one the previous Friday because of a scheduling conflict for that juror.
In a Richland County courtroom, Toal questioned each juror individually about their verdict and any role Hill played in their decision.
All but one of the 12 jurors testified that their guilty verdict had not been influenced by Hill.
One juror, the first to be questioned Monday and identified as Juror Z, told the judge she heard Hill make comments about Murdaugh ahead of his testimony at the 2023 trial and it influenced her decision to find Murdaugh guilty. “She made it seem like he was already guilty,” the juror said.
The juror said she heard Becky Hill tell jurors “not to be fooled” ahead of Murdaugh’s testimony, which she took to mean Murdaugh would lie during his testimony.
The juror also said the foreperson of the jury said after Murdaugh’s testimony that the defendant was “crying on cue” and the foreperson criticized another juror for handing Murdaugh a box of tissues during his testimony. The foreperson said the jurors should not interact with Murdaugh because “that’s what the defense attorneys want,” Juror Z said.
Juror Z testified she had questions about Murdaugh’s guilt but voted “guilty” out of pressure by the other jurors.
A wrench was thrown into Monday’s hearing when it was discovered that some jurors, while waiting for their turn to be questioned in the courtroom, were watching the proceedings being live streamed by CourtTV on their cellphones from the break room. This was revealed after the testimony of Juror Z.
Toal went forward with questioning the jurors, although she said she was “not happy about it.”
The jurors were supposed to be sequestered during each other’s testimony and should not have had access to the proceedings while waiting to be called to testify.
In previous statements to the court, Toal said that she intended to rely on a 2020 case known as South Carolina v. Green as precedent for her decision on whether to grant Murdaugh a retrial. In the Green case, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that communications alone between court officials and members of the jury were not presumed to have prejudiced the jury’s verdict. Instead, it was the defense’s obligation to prove that the contact was harmful.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated with more details.