Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s appeal of his murder convictions is officially on hold pending an evidentiary hearing into allegations of jury tampering raised by the defense team in early September.
Thanks to an order (.pdf) issued on Tuesday morning (October 17, 2023) by the S.C. court of appeals, Murdaugh’s appeal is being held “in abeyance” so he can submit his motion for a new trial.
The order means the case has temporarily been remanded back to the circuit court level – to Colleton County. There, judge Clifton Newman is expected to review motions and schedule a hearing so that evidence can be gathered – and a determination made – regarding the validity of claims by two jurors that Colleton County clerk of courts Becky Hill made comments and implemented administrative actions with the intent of influencing the jury’s verdict.
After a six-week trial earlier this year, it took less than three hours for jurors to find Murdaugh guilty of the murders of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son Paul Murdaugh. On March 3, 2023, Newman sentenced Murdaugh to life in prison – prompting a near immediate notification from the defense team (consisting of Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin, Phillip Barber and Margaret Fox) that Murdaugh would be filing an appeal of his convictions.
This appeal – which is expected to focus on controversial admissibility rulings – has been awaiting the delivery of court transcripts. The most recent extension request from the court reporter was filed on Sept 19, 2023. It extended the deadline for the completion of the transcripts to October 17, 2023.
On August 1, 2023, Hill released a book about her experiences during the trial. In it, she documented some of her interactions with the jury – including a field trip to the Murdaugh hunting property where Maggie and Paul were murdered on the evening of June 7, 2021. According to Hill, this visit was pivotal to the verdict.
On September 5, 2023, Murdaugh’s legal team held a press conference asking the court to suspend the appeal so that they could file a motion for a new trial. The motion outlined the basis for their claims of jury tampering and includes affidavits from two jurors.
Now that the appeals court has agreed to suspend the matter, the first step will be to determine whether or not S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson has the right to appeal the decision – and then to discover whether or not he will ask the court to reconsider its decision to remand the case.
“We will respond to the legal process at the appropriate time,” said a spokesperson for Wilson’s office.
A response to the defense allegations of jury tampering filed September 15, 2023 seemed to indicate that the prosecution was ready for the fight.
“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 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.”
Assuming the attorney general waives a motion to reconsider, the next step in this process would be the filing of a formal motion in Colleton County requesting a new trial. That could happen as soon as the end of this week, according to our sources.
Such a filing would prompt judge Newman to schedule a hearing on the motion to review the evidence. While the defense has publicly suggested Newman is a witness to these allegations, it will be up to him to set the date and time for the evidentiary hearing before questions regarding his status can be raised.
“The recent ruling to stay the appeal and remand the case for a hearing on Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial is welcomed news,” Harpootlian and Griffin said in a statement. “We intend to proceed expeditiously and will seek a full-blown evidentiary hearing addressing the serious allegations pertaining to improper jury communications by the Clerk of Court.”
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.
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