Murdaughs

Alex Murdaugh Retrial: The Status Conference

Prelude to the retrial hearing …

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Our media outlet is pleased to offer live coverage of today’s status conference involving convicted killer Alex Murdaugh – a proceeding which is being held two weeks ahead of Murdaugh’s big retrial hearing in Columbia, South Carolina.

For our landing page recapping everything that’s happened so far with retrial hearing, click here.

For our founding editor Will Folks‘ recap of today’s conference, click here.

While you watch these proceedings, our intrepid researcher Jenn Wood will be updating our live feed below …

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LIVE FEED

12:24 p.m. EST – Toal states the Court is grateful for materials, the amount of work done and thanks Harpootlian for not imposing legislative immunity. Court is adjourned.

12:22 p.m. EST – Waters is addressing SLED agents as witnesses. They are unlikely to be called as witnesses.

12:15 p.m. EST – Harpootlian to Toal, “If she (Hill) did this, it’s a crime.” Toal responds this is not a criminal trial of Becky Hill, it is about her contacting any of the jurors and what she said. She will be treading carefully. According to Harpootlian, Murdaugh has not been able to review discovery because of confidentiality. Would like to ensure he has access to review discovery. Toal states she cannot control the limitations of the Department of Correction or the limitations of confidential material and will not rule in abstract.

12:13 p.m. EST – Toal states the witnesses will be the jurors and Becky Hill. No attorneys will be called to testify. She is unsure about SLED agents. Harpootlian tells the Court that he is unsure who they are are going to call to impeach Becky Hill because they don’t know what she’s going to say under oath. He mentions the book sales again. Toal hits back directly and tells Harpootlian, “I hope that’s the last time you’re going to repeat that until I ask for it again. If it goes to anything I’m asked to consider, it will go to her credibility. Let’s move on.”

12:10 p.m. EST – Will Lewis speaking as Becky Hill’s attorney. States he is happy to accept service and has nothing else to add. Becky Hill should be there on Monday as court convenes.

12:09 p.m. EST – Toal states the jurors will be called the first day to testify (January 29, 2024) and will not be required to stay for the remainder of the proceedings.

12:05 p.m. EST – McCulloch states needless exposure of the jurors can only serve to discourage citizens from this civic duty. He is delighted chief justice Toal will be asking questions. He would like the Court to take judicial notice of excessive public comments including some that have called his client dishonest. He asks the Court to admonish those making comments. Toal says she is not aware of comments and is not inclined to do so.

12:02 p.m. EST – Joe McCulloch has been called to speak to the Court. McCulloch represents jurors 785 and 630. Only 630 is a deliberating juror. Juror 785 is the egg lady juror who did not testify. Toal reminds McCulloch that at this time she has ruled at this time the Court will not hear testimony from juror 785.

12:00 p.m. EST – Richter says that he is concerned this process will make it more difficult to seat a jury. Toal has said the suggestion to re-number the jurors was good. Prior jury tampering proceedings in every case where juror is questioned have been in open court. She doesn’t feel it appropriate to have questioning in camera. Bland states he will accept service on behalf of the four jurors he represents.

11:56 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal has invited attorneys for witnesses to the bench. Ronnie Richter, Eric Bland, Joe McCulloch and Will Lewis are in the courtroom representing various witnesses. Will Lewis is representing Becky Hill. The others are representing jurors. Eric Bland asks the court to renumber jurors 1-12 to protect their identities. They are comfortable with Toal questioning the jurors. Richter asks the court to reconsider questioning in open court. He is concerned that people will “back trace” the jurors and identify them.

11:54 a.m. EST – Waters offers to add chief justice Toal to the discovery upload so she can see what has been shared with the defense. She specifically mentions having access to the recorded interviews.

11:51 a.m. EST – Harpootlian tells the Court that they have not had the opportunity to question Becky Hill and is unsure what exhibits they will need until they know what her testimony will be. He says there are about 5 emails out of thousands that he would likely submit. He asks if alternate jurors can be called to impeach Becky Hill. Harpootlian already mentioning what will be needed for appellate court.

11:49 a.m. EST – Waters discusses logistics and tells the Court that SLED has offered to transport witnesses from Colleton if necessary. Toal agrees this is a good solution, but states that a party from the defense and State should accompany the witnesses or the drivers should sign a sworn statement that nothing relating to the case will be discussed. Jurors will be transported and escorted in through a private entrance upon arrival.

11:45 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal says now she will ask the attorneys to provide clarity on witness testimony. Harpootlian asks her to clarify if the “egg lady” juror or alternate juror to corroborate the testimony of deliberating jurors. Toal responds she believes there is no reason to do so as she has not seen evidence that corroborating testimony is necessary as the individuals who reported the inappropriate conduct will be testifying to it directly.

11:42 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal tells the court when the jurors report, they will be taken to a room and called individually to recite their testimony. Jurors will sit in jury box until all have been questioned. The State and defense will be required to develop joint way to subpoena. The courtroom utilized today will be used for press overflow. The hearing will be in the adjacent courtroom.

11:39 a.m. EST – Alternate jurors will not be questioned in this matter. If they did not participate in deliberations, they will not be questioned. The parties should subpoena witnesses, it is not the court’s job. All jurors who deliberated on this case should be called to testify according to the court. This is a win for the State as the defense wanted to limit jurors to those alleging inappropriate contact.

11:37 a.m. EST – Court has resumed. Chief justice Toal tells the court the jurors will be questioned in open court. They will be referred to by their juror numbers and their faces will be obscured from camera. Measures will be taken to protect the privacy of the jurors.

11:15 a.m. EST – Court will be on a break until 11:25 a.m. Upon return, the Court will ask for specifics on who will be called and at that time, she will ask those who represent potential witnesses to come forward to discuss testimony. She states, “I’ve never heard a situation where a witness can have their lawyer actively participate in the examination of the witness in a proceeding.”

11:11 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal tells the court questions of Becky Hill will focus on her conduct at time of trial, not afterward.

11:03 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal states she will be questioning the jurors. She will notify the parties promptly what she plans to ask. She intends to ask the jurors whether contact was made with them, and if so, whether it affected their verdict. She is very reluctant to turn a hearing about juror contact into a “wholesale exploration of every piece of conduct by the clerk alleged to have been improper on its own.” She further says, “This is not the time to explore every mistake, incorrect statement, or false statement than ever has been made by this witness (Hill).”

11:00 a.m. EST – Harpootlian tells the Court one of the assistants that worked for Hill during this trial was told by Hill during the trial that a guilty verdict would be good for sales in the book. This shows she had a motive for a guilty verdict.

10:56 a.m. EST – Waters tells the Court that any allegations that they have not been providing information is inaccurate. He states the State has been very diligent about providing any and all information to the defense and if any additional information arises, will continue to do so. The State would like to limit inquiry of Becky Hill to relevant factors. The State will try to exclude the ethics allegations and emails and limit findings to juror statements.

10:50 a.m. EST – Waters tells the court, “When the state first became aware of these allegations, the first thing that we did was have SLED do an independent investigation and the goal was to get to the bottom of what, if anything, happened.” Waters argues the affidavit juror 630 she originally voted guilty because she felt pressured by the other jurors and did not mention any external influence.

10:48 a.m. EST – Another huge win for the State as she will VERY tightly narrow her questioning of jurors as to whether the prejudice impacted the verdict. Toal also indicates she has not made up her mind yet about the admissibility or relevance of the SLED interviews.

10:43 a.m. EST – Harpootlian states chief justice Toal told the attorneys in chambers that she does not want so read the defense’s “Memoranda of Interviews” of the jurors because she wants to interview them herself.

10:40 a.m. EST – Harpootlian drops a bombshell stating Hill got a communication with a screen shot of someone accusing a juror of saying they were going to vote “guilty” because she hated men.

10:37 a.m. EST – Harpootlian says he believes they should be able to question Hill as a hostile witness and questioning and impeachment of her character should be “wide open.”

10:34 a.m. EST – Harpootlian tells the court he’d like to address what questions she will ask and how they will handle any additional questions that come out of the initial questioning.

10:32 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal says it’s time to get to the “heart of the matter” of this status conference, the witnesses. The jurors and Becky Hill are the primary witnesses and she would like to determine how those witnesses should be presented, who should present them and how they should be questioned.

10:30 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal states she does not regard the State vs. Cameron as the guidance that needs to be used in making a determination about this case. She states all those cases state prejudice must be proved, not presumed. This is a huge win for the State.

10:28 a.m. EST – Griffin argues the law is “crystal clear” that if there is a presumption of prejudice, the State has the burden of proving it was harmless.

10:24 a.m. EST – Waters argues case law in South Carolina, both from our state supreme court as well as our state court of appeals, clearly states it is the defendant’s burden to show prejudice. And that is only after there’s a determination that extraneous influence occurred.

10:16 a.m. EST – Griffin argues that once the timing of the discovery is established, the burden shifts to the State to prove the contact with the jurors was harmless.

10:14 a.m. EST – Griffin assures the court they were not aware of the issue 10 days after the trail as Waters indicated. Waters responds that the defense has agreed to go through their notes and provide them. Chief justice Toal interrupts and explains she is not relying on Remmer as case law as it is a case from 1954. She will be relying on the SC supreme court decision in Green as to who bears the burden of proof.

10:12 a.m. EST – Creighton Waters begins addressing the court stating that the evidence is not after discovered. Waters argues the defense had conversations with juror 785 prior to her obtaining representation which was only a couple of days after trial.

10:09 a.m. EST – She has asked Dick Harpootlian to address the court. He has turned the floor over to Jim Griffin who argues that an evidentiary hearing is necessary as established by case law under Remmer. Griffin argues where there has been credible information that there’s been improper third party contact with the jury prior to their deliberations, a Remmer hearing is necessary.

10:06 a.m. EST – The things chief justice Toal plans to discuss today are: 1) if there is enough to warrant an evidentiary hearing despite it being scheduled, 2) the burden of proof, 3) the timing of when all the jury tampering allegations were discovered, and 4) witnesses.

10:04 a.m. EST – Court is in session. Chief justice Toal is reviewing the facts of the case in court. She thanks attorney Jay Bender for agreeing to be the voluntary media coordinator serving in the same capacity as he did during the trial last year. She asks all media members to ensure the sound is turned off on all their devices.

9:58 a.m. EST – Prior to gaveling the status conference to order, chief justice Toal instructs correctional officers to unshackle Alex Murdaugh so that “he can use his hands.”

9:54 a.m. EST – The attorneys are finally emerging from their meeting with chief justice Toal.

9:42 a.m. EST – Attorneys are still meeting behind closed doors with former chief justice Jean Toal.

9:40 a.m. EST – One of Becky Hill’s two attorneys, Will Lewis, is attending today’s conference. Lewis is seated in the next-to-last row of the courtroom.

9:30 a.m. EST – Decked out in an orange, SCDC-issued jumpsuit, Alex Murdaugh has entered the Richland County courtroom for today’s status conference.

9:25 a.m. EST – With five minutes to go before the scheduled start of the hearing, prosecutors and defense attorneys just headed behind closed doors to speak with former chief justice Jean Toal.

9:22 a.m. EST – Attorney Lori Murray – who has sparred with Bland in the past – is also in attendance at today’s hearing. Murray is chatting with former S.C. attorney general Charlie Condon.

9:21 a.m. EST – Palpable tension amongst several of the attorneys in the gallery. Most notably, absolutely no one is speaking to attorney Eric Bland except his law partner, Ronnie Richter. Bland is seated three rows behind prosecutors

9:19 a.m. EST – Attorney Dick Harpootlian and lead prosecutor Creighton Waters are chatting ahead of the hearing. Doesn’t appear as though they are discussing anything related to the case.

9:02 a.m. EST – South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson has just arrived for today’s hearing.

8:59 a.m. EST – Our founding editor Will Folks will be attending this morning’s hearing, although press has been prohibited from transmitting during the proceedings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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