Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers filed a motion in Colleton County, South Carolina this week formally requesting a new trial – the next procedural step in their ongoing bid to have his murder convictions overturned due to allegations of jury tampering.
The motion was filed in Colleton County – the same venue where Murdaugh’s double homicide trial was held earlier this year. It is also the same venue where the sitting clerk of court, Becky Hill, has been accused of jury tampering. The filing (.pdf) asks the court to hold an “evidentiary hearing to receive proof” of this alleged tampering.
“When those facts are proven, the court must grant a new trial,” it stated.
While the defense filing is new – having been received (by Hill, ironically) at 10:12 a.m. EDT this morning – it regurgitates a draft filing submitted to the S.C. court of appeals nearly two months ago. Before Murdaugh’s attorneys could request a new trial, they first had to receive permission from the higher court to suspend the appeal pending a resolution of the jury tampering claims.
The appeals court issued its notice of suspension and remanded the case back to Colleton County earlier this month. If Murdaugh’s team should fail in their quest for a new trial over jury tampering, the appeals process would resume.
On September 5, 2023 attorneys Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin and Phillip Barber held a press conference to make their bombshell allegation – namely that Hill tried to influence the jury during the six-week trial held in Walterboro, S.C. from January 23, 2023 – March 3, 2023.
(Click to view)
Murdaugh, 55, a disbarred attorney and accused/ admitted fraudster from Hampton, S.C., was found guilty by a Colleton County jury of the graphic 2021 murders of his wife – 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh – and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman handed down a pair of life sentences in the case.
Murdaugh’s trial garnered international attention given the gruesomeness of the crime – as well as his status as a member of the once-powerful “House of Murdaugh,” a family which ran the Palmetto Lowcountry like a fiefdom for nearly a century. Three Murdaughs held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006 – and Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor at the time of the murders.
The lower court will likely schedule an evidentiary hearing to review and evaluate the claims of jury tampering against Hill. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will determine whether the allegations rise to the level of necessitating a new trial.
The defense has alleged that Hill attempted to sway the jury with her words and actions. Jurors claim she made comments questioning the testimony and credibility of Murdaugh. They also claim that during deliberations jury members were not allowed to take smoke breaks and that they were warned that if a decision took too long they would be put up in a hotel for the night instead of being able to go home. Murdaugh’s attorneys claim these actions were intended to pressure the jury to hurry up and delivery a verdict.
The allegations of jury tampering surfaced after Hill released a book on August 1, 2023 about her experiences during the trial. Excerpts from the book have been used to make the case against her. One passage describing the jury’s field trip to Moselle describes how during this outing to the scene of the crime the group became solidly convinced of Murdaugh’s guilt – a message communicated “with their eyes.”
As the process of requesting a new murder trial for Murdaugh plods forward, some of the particulars are unclear at this point. A date for the hearing has yet to be set and Murdaugh’s attorneys have suggested that judge Newman is a witness – hinting that he may not be able to continue to oversee the case. Also, the defense claims that statements made by Newman following Murdaugh’s sentencing indicate the judge believes Murdaugh to be guilty of the murders. These statements from the defense seem to be calling into question Newman’s objectivity and his fitness to remain on the bench during the next phase of proceedings.
The original filing that raised the allegations against Hill included affidavits from two jurors – including the “egg juror” who was replaced as attorneys were presenting their closing arguments and just before jury deliberations began. Since that time, several of the jurors have “lawyered up” – and so has Hill – in preparation for a hearing that could last for several days.
A trial for Murdaugh’s financial crimes is scheduled to begin in Beaufort County on November 27, 2023 with Newman on the bench. Jury questionnaires have been mailed to potential candidates – and there are indications that jury may be sequestered. The first round of financial crimes set for trial has to do with the Estate of Gloria Satterfield – the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper who fell at Moselle and died a short time later. At her funeral, Alex Murdaugh told her sons he would help them sue him so they could obtain a settlement from his insurance companies and he enlisted the assistance of Cory Fleming to act as their attorney in the matter. However, when insurance companies paid out $4.3 million on the claims, Murdaugh made off with that money and the Satterfiled heirs never received a dime of it. It was a situation Alex Murdaugh knew would put them in peril of being homeless – and they were evicted – while he callously made off with millions of dollars that rightfully belonged to them.
Murdaugh confessed to the crime in a judgment entered with the court. However, following his murder convictions he asked the court for relief from the confession – or in other words he asked for permission to take it back. The motion for relief was twice denied by the court. In September, Murdaugh filed an appeal with the state court – essentially appealing the decision to deny his request for relief from the confession. However, this week Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss in that appeal.
On a separate track, victims of Murdaugh’s financial crimes have an opportunity to file a claim with the court in Hampton County prior to October 29, 2023 in order to be eligible to receive a portion of the funds due them from a receivership established to preserve his assets for victims’ recovery.
THE FILING …
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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