If there was any doubt as to where the parties in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga stood on the recent allegations of jury tampering, the latest filing on behalf of the state of South Carolina positions its prosecutors solidly on the side of accused Colleton County clerk of court, Becky Hill. In fact, the response filed today included a three-page sworn statement from Hill – along with written responses from ten jurors and statements from court staff.
The assembled evidence makes the case there was no jury tampering – and that plenty of witnesses are prepared to swear to that in an evidentiary hearing.
Prosecutors took aim at both contentions in their response …
“Only Alex Murdaugh could conceive of such a confounded gambit as (being) even remotely plausible,” the filing noted. “He is projecting his own calculating, manipulative psyche onto a dedicated public servant in an effort to save himself.”
According to the filing, Murdaugh did receive a fair trial earlier this year. It further asserts Newman did not err in statements made at Murdaugh’s sentencing – and thereafter.
Bottom line? The battle lines are clearly drawn as this case moves forward.
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 the evening of June 7, 2021 on the family’s former hunting property, known locally as Moselle. The following day – March 3, 2023 – Newman sentenced the 55-year-old disbarred lawyer to consecutive life terms.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin, Phillip Barber and Margaret Fox – dropped a bombshell on September 5, 2023 when they accused Hill of jury tampering, allegations which are currently being investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
An order (.pdf) was issued on October 17, 2023 by the S.C. court of appeals to hold Murdaugh’s appeal “in abeyance” while the lower court considered his motion for a new trial in Colleton County. Last week, Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a separate motion with the supreme court asking its five justices to appoint a new judge in the case – and grant that individual authority to oversee all future proceedings tied to his double homicide conviction.
THE STATE’S RESPONSE …
The state’s response took direct aim at the defense’s impugning of the Murdaugh jury – arguing it amounted to the convicted killer putting the panel on trial.
“Never does the law permit highly motivated convicts to put their own jury on trial,” the filing noted.
The state further noted Murdaugh’s attorneys are required to prove the alleged improper communications occurred and that jurors were biased as a result of those communications.
The established practice when considering allegations of inappropriate communications is for the court to individually voir dire the complaining juror – along with the rest of the jury and the individual accused of improper communication. Citing the defense team’s investigation and affidavits submitted from some members of the jury, the response advises the court not to “permit interrogation of the jurors by the parties or their attorneys.”
“Jury duty is a cornerstone of civic duty, and needless exposure of jurors to litigative stress and impeachment by zealous attorneys, particularly in a case with this level of public exposure, can only serve to further discourage citizens from willingly participating in this duty,” the state’s response noted.
The response also cited the voluminous 5,895-page transcript from the six-week trial – recalling the daily admonishment of judge Newman to jurors “not (to) discuss the case.” They also noted that before deliberations, Newman further instructed jurors “they were to accept only the evidence presented, and that they were the sole judges of credibility.”
RELATED | INSIDE THE POST-TRIAL CHESS MOVES
The response also delved into the now-infamous egg juror saga – and whether her removal from the jury was necessary. Interestingly, Murdaugh’s attorneys suggested at the time an email received by the court alleging outside discussion of the trial was a ploy to get a favorable juror removed. In those in camera conversations, the defense team was given many opportunities to question the juror or the process – yet they did not.
“Your honor, I’m not going to argue with whatever you do,” Harpootlian said when Newman decided to remove the juror.
Did the defense see the removal of this juror as their ultimate means to a new trial even then?
The intrigue over the egg juror continued as the filing dismissed the oft-repeated notion that her dismissal had something to do with a fabricated Facebook post.
The attached affidavits went into detail about the defense’s post-trial investigatory tactics. Two jurors said they were “warned” they would be subpoenaed by the defense if they declined to speak. The contents of the individual juror affidavits were summarized in a makeshift table included within the filing.
Take a look …
(Click to view)
One of the two jurors who said they were “warned” of a subpoena was juror No. 544. This juror added a wrinkle when they revealed “juror No. 630 is a tenant of Juror 785, who is upset.”
In the days following the trial, attorney Joe McCullough came to represent both of these jurors – No. 785 and No. 630. Juror No. 630 is the only deliberating juror to have provided the defense with an affidavit in support of the jury tampering allegations.
According to that affidavit, Hill told jurors “not to be fooled” by the evidence presented by Murdaugh’s attorneys and to “watch (Murdaugh) closely” immediately before he testified.
As this filing points out, of the four jurors cited in the allegations against Hill, 630 and 785 are the only jurors who provided affidavits. The other two were affidavits from Holli Miller, Harpootlian’s clerk, memorializing conversations with two other jurors – which according to the state amounted to little more than hearsay.
Given the landlord-tenant relationship between these two jurors, it will be interesting to hear what potential conflict concerns the state may choose to raise in the event the defense’s motion for an evidentiary hearing is granted.
Most significantly, the state’s filing asserted definitively that no juror has come forward alleging that anything said or done by Hill swayed their opinion – or influenced the verdict.
Which, of course, is the legal standard for a new trial …
As for the “outlandish theory” that Hill fabricated Facebook posts and tampered with the jury for the purpose of scoring a book deal, the state is asking the court to strike all such references as “immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous.”
Hill’s attorneys were pleased with the state’s filing.
“You can put to bed any allegation that she tampered,” attorney Justin Bamberg told this media outlet. “You can put to bed any allegation that she’s going to be charged criminally.”
The state is asking the court to deny Murdaugh’ motion for a new trial – and to let the verdict stand.
Yet, what will happen next is anyone’s guess …
Should the motion for a new trial be denied, the case would be back in the hands of the court of appeals. The state supreme court still needs to decide how to handle the defense motion for the removal of Judge Newman.
THE FILING …
(Via: S.C. Fourteenth Judicial Circuit)
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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