On the same day their client appeared in federal court to plead guilty to nearly two dozen financial crimes, attorneys for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh dropped their latest motion on Thursday in connection with seismic jury tampering allegations made earlier this month before the South Carolina court of appeals.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – state senator Dick Harpootlian, veteran Columbia, S.C. lawyer Jim Griffin and attorney Phillip Barber – dropped a bombshell on September 5, 2023 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) – which Harpootlian has hinted is less interested in uncovering the facts surrounding the claims and more interested in propping up Murdaugh’s guilty verdicts.
SLED was the lead investigatory agency on the double homicide case – which was tried in Walterboro, S.C. between January 27 – March 3, 2023. At that trial, Murdaugh was found guilty of savagely killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh at Moselle – at the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.
Now Hill has been accused of putting her thumb on the scales of justice – in favor of the state. Murdaugh’s attorneys are asking the appellate court – the second highest court in the Palmetto State – to suspend Murdaugh’s appeal of his convictions so the trial judge in this case, Clifton Newman, can consider the merits of the jury tampering allegations.
Or, so another judge can consider the allegations should Newman be identified as a witness to the current investigation or an impartial arbiter of fact based on his previous extrajudicial comments about Murdaugh.
The new filing (.pdf) – which reiterates that Hill allegedly “engaged in deliberate jury tampering for money and publicity” – comes less than 48 hours after streaming provider Netflix debuted the latest installment of its expansive documentary, ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’
Hill is one of the stars of the latest Netflix offering.
“The very serious allegations against Ms. Hill are not mere speculation but have sworn evidentiary support,” the new filing noted.
Referencing last week’s response from the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – which focused on alleged procedural deficiencies in the original Murdaugh filing – this document accused the state of responding “in bad faith to these serious allegations.”
“(The state) wants Mr. Murdaugh to spend weeks jumping through preposterous procedural hoops invented only for him,” the filing alleged.
Specifically, the pleading accused Wilson’s office of deliberately delaying the matter based on “its desire to conduct unsupervised factual discovery.”
That’s a reference to the ongoing SLED probe – which Harpootlian argued should “stand down” earlier this month. Instead of SLED, Harpootlian requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs to handle the case.
So far, though, the feds are staying out of the jury tampering drama …
AFFIDAVIT DRAMA …
As for the alleged procedural defect in the original filing, Murdaugh’s lawyers were aggressive in refuting that their client needed to submit an affidavit accompanying their motion for a new trial. Harpootlian, Griffin and Barber accused state prosecutors of relying “exclusively on an out-of-context, cherry-picked quote” from a 52-year-old court ruling (State v. DeAngelis) to justify their position that Murdaugh must submit such a sworn statement.
“Mr. Murdaugh does not need to provide an affidavit to make a prima facie case that he did not know the Clerk of Court was surreptitiously talking to jurors about his case while he was sitting at the defendant’s table in the courtroom, or in a holding cell in the courthouse, or in a cell in the Colleton County jail,” they wrote. “The circumstances make the prima facie case — he did not know because there was no possible way he could know.”
Nonetheless, they included the affidavit …
(Click to view)
As for the debate over a new trial, Murdaugh’s lawyers made it abundantly clear they believe Wilson’s office was stalling with its response to their motion.
“If the Attorney General wishes to argue a new trial should not be granted because Mr. Murdaugh knew of the jury tampering during trial or because he could have learned about it during trial through due diligence, he must make that fact-based argument in the trial court in the first instance,” the filing noted. “But it is highly unlikely the Attorney General would make such an absurd argument in front of television cameras in a courtroom. He suggests it now on paper only for purposes of delay.”
It is now up to the appeals court to decide whether to stay Murdaugh’s appeal so that the trial court can review the jury tampering allegations. Frankly, that shouldn’t be a stretch as both sides agree in principle the matter should be referred back to the circuit court.
The only question is whether Newman will – or should – be the judge to hear the discussion.
Stay tuned for much more on that …
THE FILING …
(Via: S.C. Court of Appeals)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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