As the investigation into allegations of jury tampering in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial continues, state prosecutors filed their first formal response to the accusatory motion submitted earlier this month by Murdaugh’s attorneys. The motion – released late Friday just hours before it was due in the S.C. court of appeals – encouraged the hearing process instigated by the defense and signaled that the office of attorney general Alan Wilson is ready for the fight.
While drawing attention to a procedural flaw in the defense motion, the state’s response agreed with the defense on the path forward – at least in part.
To recap: Murdaugh was convicted on March 2, 2023 of murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021 on the family’s former hunting property, known locally as Moselle. The following day – March 3, 2023 – he was sentenced to consecutive life terms for those crimes by circuit court judge Clifton Newman.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – state senator Dick Harpootlian and veteran Columbia, S.C. defense attorney Jim Griffin – dropped a bombshell last week when they alleged jury tampering on the part of Colleton County clerk of court, Becky Hill. Those allegations are currently being investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
“It may well be that suspension of the appeal and a remand for an evidentiary hearing will be necessary to properly resolve some of the serious claims raised by (Murdaugh) in the motion he intends to file,” the state’s response (.pdf) noted. “Objective investigation by SLED remains ongoing, but the inquiry has already revealed significant factual disputes as to claims (Murdaugh)’s motion. If no credible evidence can be found to support the claims brought by Appellant, the state will be prepared to argue against the motion before the Honorable Clifton B. Newman on remand.”
As previously reported, the defense wants to suspend Murdaugh’s appeal process and start over with a new trial based on allegations of jury tampering which they claim robbed Murdaugh of fair treatment.
(Click to view)
In a press conference on September 5, 2023, Harpootlian and Griffin announced they had new evidence they believe provides proof of jury tampering on the part of Hill. Citing fame and fortune as Hill’s motive, the defense team raised a number of allegations against the first-term popularly elected clerk – who wrote a book about the Murdaugh trial that was released August 1, 2023.
Prosecutors said before a hearing can be scheduled, though, the defense will need to clear up a procedural defect – the lack of an affidavit from the accused, Alex Murdaugh – as required by state law. To this end, the prosecution is recommending a ten-day grace period so that the matter can be remedied. Assuming that happens, the state says its attorneys will be ready to argue the merits of the allegations.
In short, “bring it on!”
A footnote to the filing explained that SLED agents who are now investigating the allegations of jury tampering are not the same agents who have investigated Murdaugh’s crimes. Specifically, it noted these SLED agents are “separate and distinct from those who have otherwise investigated (Murdaugh)’s numerous alleged crimes.”
The filing further indicated in no uncertain terms that the investigation is not confirming the allegations stated by Harpootlian and Griffin.
WHAT DID THEY KNOW … AND WHEN?
According to prosecutors, the defense will have to provide information about when their “new evidence” was discovered. While this question has been asked by the media repeatedly over the past ten days, the defense reply has varied from “we observed it” to “as soon as the verdict was rendered”.
In a hearing on Thursday in Beaufort County to establish a trial date for some of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, Harpootlian told Newman he was aware of statements made by the judge after the murder trial indicating Newman believed the accused was guilty of the crimes – a sentiment the defense hopes to overcome or perhaps sidestep.
”I would ask you to put those feelings aside and give us a chance to litigate those jury tampering issues,” Harpootlian said.
In light of today’s filing, it appears both sides are looking forward to that opportunity …
THE RESPONSE …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.