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LIVE: Alex Murdaugh Retrial Hearing

Day of decision for convicted killer …

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Welcome to FITSNews’ coverage of the highly anticipated hearing in convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s bid for a new trial. The once-prominent South Carolina lawyer – scion of one of the Palmetto State’s most influential legal dynasties – was convicted last winter of murdering his wife and younger son in connection with a maze of multifaceted criminality.

Very few people have been held accountable for their roles in these institutionally enabled criminal enterprises, but a Colleton County jury found Murdaugh guilty on March 2, 2023 of the graphic murders of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son – 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh – on the family’s hunting property near Islandton, S.C. on the evening of June 7, 2021.

The verdicts were announced to a waiting world by Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill, who has since come under fire for allegedly tampering with the jury which found Murdaugh guilty (and, in fact, allegedly conspiring to rig the jury mid-trial).

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

For last night’s Q&A with our news team, 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

9:03 a.m. EST – The FITSNews team is in position and ready to commence our coverate.

9:12 a.m. EST – The courtroom is packed.

9:21 a.m. EST – The rules do not allow for live updates while court is in session. I will be typing and will update the post at each recess.

9:27 a.m. EST – Sitting near author Jason Ryan. His upcoming book on the Murdaugh saga – Swamp Kings will be out on April 2, 2024. I read an advance copy over the weekend and couldn’t put it down. If you’ve been following this saga, you don’t want to miss this one.

9:31 a.m. EST – Alex Murdaugh has entered the courtroom. His shackles are being removed. He was escorted by eight officers from SCDOT and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The courtroom has gone from a buzz to a quiet murmur as we await former S.C. chief justice Jean Hoefer Toal to emerge from her chambers.

9:40 a.m. EST – Attorney Joe McCulloch has entered the courtroom with Jack Swerling.

9:44 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal’s law clerk entered the courtroom and asked to speak with McCulloch in her chambers.

9:46 a.m. EST – Court appears to be beginning. Stay tuned for more updates at the recess!

9:50 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal has entered the courtroom. She is addressing the press. While she said the press has not been completely in accord with her request, she is appreciative of the effort made. Jurors should be identified by the letters given to them and no photos should be taken of them.

9:52 a.m. – The jurors are being brought in after a question by Dick Harpootlian. Harpootlian states he does not believe juror X — who was questioned Friday — understood the word “merit” when asked. Toal disagrees and points out he has used the word “merit” in a number of his motions to the Court.

9:55 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal is reviewing the transcript and reads the part back about asking an additional question. According to the transcript, she asked the juror about hearing Becky Hill make a statement, “Looks like the defendant is going to testify. This is an important day.” or “This is an epic day.” She has made a note for the record about a discrepancy between the statement and what Hill allegedly said.

9:59 a.m. EST – The jury is being brought into the courtroom now. 11 men and women are walking into the courtroom. All appear to have very serious looks on their faces. Toal is making remarks to the jurors. She assures the jurors, “You have done absolutely nothing wrong.” Toal continues, “This was an unusually difficult trial because 6 weeks is almost unheard of for a trial.” Toal explains that usually if improper contact between a juror and someone, it is addressed immediately so this is extremely unusual for it to come up with almost a year after the alleged incident occurred.

10:04 a.m. EST – The sound system is acting up and Toal remarks, “This is the funkiest sound system in the world.” The courtroom erupts into laughter. Toal continues to remind the jurors that the questions she is asking them relate to how they felt at the time of the trial and not now. She thanks them in advance for coming in to court. The jurors are returning to the jury room. Toal will call them out one by one and address them by a new letter and not their initial juror number.

10:07 a.m. EST Juror Z has been brought in to testify. As she walks in, attorney Eric Bland mouths to Dick Harpootlian, “mother fu**er.” Juror Z has been sworn in.

10:09 a.m. EST – Toal’s first question to juror Z is if her statement during the poll of the jury immediately following the verdict was accurate at the time. The juror responds, “Yes, ma’am.” When asked if juror Z heard Hill make any statements during the trial, the juror responds prior to Alex Murdaugh taking the stand, she heard Hill instruct the jurors to watch his actions” and “watch him closely.” Toal asks if the juror’s verdict was in any way influenced by Hill. The juror responds, “Yes.” Toal asks how and the juror responds, “To me, it made it seem like he was already guilty.” The juror has been brought back to the jury room.

10:15 a.m. EST – The court is reviewing the juror’s affidavit sworn before Harpootlian’s paralegal, Holli Miller. Harpootlian asks the court to bring the juror back in and have her read her affidavit. Toal has agreed, but declines a request by Harpootlian not to ask her questions about her affidavit. Harpootlian has asked that the objection be noted for the record. Toal tells Harpootlian, “I don’t see how in the world I can question a juror and not admit it into evidence. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Denied.”

10:19 a.m. EST – Juror Z has been brought back in to read their affidavit. The juror is quietly reviewing it on the stand. Juror X states quietly, “I’m done.”

10:23 a.m. EST – Toal reads back the second paragraph to the juror which contains details regarding what Hill stated to them and how they interpreted it. The juror states this is correct and accurate. Toal reads back the part of the affidavit where the juror stated the jury foreperson chastised another juror for handing Murdaugh a box of tissues. The juror confirms that is correct and accurate. The juror confirms the statement that the jury frequently discussed the trial prior to deliberations. The juror confirms the statement that the foreperson and Hill had private conversations in the bathroom. The juror confirms the statement that they made about the jury going to a hotel if they did not reach a verdict and that there were no smoke breaks allowed. The juror confirms the statement that Hill pressured the jurors to speak to the press after the verdict was delivered and that they declined to do that.

10:28 a.m. EST – Toal repeats her question regarding if she felt pressured by the verdict and asks if after reading the affidavit if her response still stands. Harpootlian objects to the form of the question. Toal quickly and firmly states, “Overruled.”

10:30 a.m. EST – Toal has asked her clerk to take off the juror numbers and replace them with the jurors’ new identifiers. Harpootlian asks Toal to bring the juror back in as he believes the way she asked the juror the question about the affidavit gave the juror the impression that only one of the affidavit or her testimony was correct.

10:33 a.m. EST – The bailiff came in and said something to Toal. She said, “God da**it.” She then abruptly left the courtroom. When she returned she tells the court that in the jury room the jurors had their phones and had been watching the proceedings live during testimony. She is very angry. She has taken a 5 minute recess ostensibly to calm down. It appears the hearing will continue, but it’s unsure what the implications of this will be.

10:43 a.m. EST– Court has resumed. Toal has returned the courtroom and quickly admonished attorney Joe McCulloch for conferring with the defense. Toal left the room after another attorney spoke with her. One spectator overheard Toal state, “This is a security issue.”

10:47 a.m. EST – Toal is speaking after returning. She states she has made certain a bailiff will be in the room with the jurors. She has also asked the bailiff to tell the jurors they are not to discuss the testimony any of them give. When she asked juror Z if they wanted to be in another room, Toal reports the juror smiled and said she is just fine where she is sitting. Toal clarifies to Harpootlian that she will be asking the jurors about what the heard about juror Z’s examination.

10:50 a.m. EST – Juror C has been brought into the courtroom. He tells Toal he was not on his cell phone listening to testimony. Toal asks him if his answer to the poll was accurate. He says it was. He states he never heard Hill make any comment regarding the case to the jurors. He confirms his verdict was not influenced by Hill. Juror C has been excused.

10:54 a.m. EST – Toal has called juror F to the stand. She asks the juror if she was on her phone watching the questioning of the first juror. She states she watched it on another juror’s phone and tells Toal that what she saw will not affect her testimony. Toal asks juror F if her answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate. She states, “yes, ma’am.” She confirms her verdict was based entirely on the law presented in the case. She testifies she did not hear Hill make any statements about the case to the jurors and her verdict was not influenced by Hill. She has been excused.

11:01 a.m. EST – Harpootlian states that in interviewing the clerk of court from Varnville and an alternate, they were told that Becky Hill transported juror F in her personal vehicle. The would like juror F questioned about this. Juror F has been called to return to the stand. Toal asks juror F, “During the trial, did Becky Hill either drive or ride with you in a vehicle either before or after court.” She replies, “No ma’am.”

11:03 a.m. EST – Juror L has been called to the stand. Toal asks juror L if he was on the phone watching the questioning of the first juror. He replies people had their phones out, but that he did not look at any of it. Toal asks if his answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate. He replies, “Yes, madam justice, yes.” He confirms his decision was made entirely on the evidence presented in the case. He states he did not hear Hill make any statements to the jurors and his verdict was not influenced by Hill. She has dismissed him from the stand. He shakes Eric Bland’s hand on his way out of the courtroom.

11:09 a.m. EST – Juror E has been called to the stand. She asks juror E if he was on the phone watching the questioning of the first juror. He states he was not watching it on his phone or anyone else’s. Toal asks if his answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate. He confirms it was by replying, “It was.” She asks if his verdict was based entirely upon the testimony, evidence and law about the case and he replies, “Yes.” He states he did not hear Hill make any statements to the jurors and that Hill did not influence his verdict. He has been excused by Toal and nods at Eric Bland on his way out of the courtroom.

11:12 a.m. EST – Juror P has been called to the stand and asked if he was on the phone watching the questioning of the first juror. He states he did not have his cell phone and noted a couple people on their phones, but he had no clue what they were viewing. Toal asks if his answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate at the time. He confirms it was stating, “Yes, ma’am.” She asks if his verdict was based entirely upon the testimony, evidence and law about the case and he replies, “It was.” He says he heard Hill say “watch his body language” the day Murdaugh took the stand. He states Hill did not influence his verdict. He has been dismissed from the stand.

11:18 a.m. EST – Juror O has been called to the stand. Juror O is asked if he was on the phone watching the questioning of the first juror. He replies he was not. Toal asks if his answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate at the time. He confirms it was stating, “Yes, ma’am, it was.” He states he did not hear Hill make any comment about the case to the jurors. He confirms his verdict was not influenced by Hill.

11:21 a.m. EST – Juror Y will be taking the stand next. He is sworn in and Toal asks him if he was on the phone watching the questioning of the first juror and he replies, “No ma’am.” He was aware after the fact that some cell phones had been activated, but did not hear anything that would affect his testimony. Toal proceeds to ask him if his answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate at the time. He responds, “Yes, ma’am.” His testimony was based on the testimony, evidence and law of the trial. He pauses when he is asked if he heard Hill speak to any of the jurors about the case and then replies no. He states his verdict was not influenced by Becky Hill.

11:26 a.m. EST – Juror W is next to take the stand. Juror W is sworn in and Toal begins by asking her if she was on her phone watching the questioning of the first juror and she replies, “No, ma’am. I left my phone in the car.” She did hear testimony on another juror’s phone but stated it would not have any impact on her testimony today. Toal asks juror W if her answer to the poll after the verdict was read was accurate at the time. She says very convincingly, “Yes ma’am.” She confirms her verdict was based on the testimony, evidence and law of the trial. She did not hear Hill speak to any jurors about the case and her verdict was not influenced by Hill.

11:30 a.m. EST – Juror Q has been called next to testify. He tells Toal his response when polled after the verdict was accurate at the time by responding, “Yes, ma’am. It was.” He confirms his verdict was based on the testimony, evidence and law presented. He did not hear Hill make any statements to the jurors and Hill did not influence his verdict. Harpootlian asks Toal to question juror Q if he activated his cell phone. He states he was one of the jurors who did that, but nothing he heard would influence his testimony.

11:35 a.m. EST – Toal has called juror K to the stand. It was.”she was watching the first juror’s testimony on Facebook but it would not influence her testimony. Juror K tells Toal her response when polled after the verdict was accurate at the time by responding, “Yes, ma’am. She confirms her verdict was based on the testimony, evidence and law presented. She testifies she did not hear Hill make any statements to the jury and her verdict was not influenced by Hill.

11:40 a.m. EST – Questioning of the jurors has been completed. No further questions from the State. The defense team is conferring. Harpootlian states he would like it clear on the record he wanted to question juror C further. Toal states, “Very well. I deny the request.” The entire jury is being brought back into the courtroom for dismissal. She deeply apologizes to the jurors and tells them she appreciates her candor. She tells the jurors they do not have to speak to anyone further about this matter and if there are any issues, to let her know and she will take care of it personally. The jury has been excused.

11:43 a.m. EST – Chief justice Toal asks if the clerk of court is available. Creighton Waters confirms she is, but would need to take a recess prior to her taking the stand. Toal has agreed to take an early lunch recess. Court will resume at 1:15 p.m. EST.

1:01 p.m. EST – Back from a wonderful lunch a block from the court house. Court will resume at 1:15 p.m. EST when Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill takes the stand. Unlike the jurors who were questioned by former S.C. chief justice Toal, Hill will be questioned by the prosecution and defense. We have heard there may be one additional witness besides Hill, but have been unable to confirm if that is true and if so, who has been added to the list.

1:14 p.m. EST – Court has resumed. Officers are unshackling Murdaugh. Harpootlian addresses the court regarding the jurors and that they were not afforded the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. He would like to call an additional witness or two to verify the juror testimony. Creighton Waters argues the inquiry is very directed and the State is comfortable with the manner in which the Court is handling this hearing. Harpootlian states that if the burden of proof lies with the defense, they should be able to provide additional witnesses to meet that burden of proof.

1:18 p.m. EST – Toal states the pre-trial was the time to figure out exactly what they were going to do and it is not right to come into court and argue at the last minute they need additional witnesses. She believes it is too late to add witnesses. She will allow the State to present Hill as a witness and the defense to cross examine her. She would like to see what Hill has to say before determining if they need additional witnesses.

1:20 p.m. EST – Harpootlian tells Toal they believed she would rely on Remmer for case law. She responds that she doesn’t know why he believed that as she clearly stated she would be relying on the State v. Green. She tells Harpootlian they will discuss after Hill’s testimony.

1:21 p.m. EST – Toal takes a moment to confer with her clerk and announces she would like to put an email on the record. The communication is an email from Joe McCulloch that juror Z would like to enhance her testimony with an additional affidavit. Toal states she would like to confer with the state and the defense, but she is not inclined to hear additional information regarding juror Z’s “inaccuracies.” Harpootlian argues this process is an “effort to seek the truth.” Toal agrees to give some thought as to whether she will make the affidavit a part of the record. Witnesses do not have an opportunity to add additional testimony to close a loop of consistency. Harpootlian argues that the way Toal questioned juror Z put her in the position to state, “Yes. That was my verdict then.” Toal says she heard his original argument and declined that. She is going to do some additional research on adding the affidavit and decide by today.

1:26 p.m. EST – The State has called Rebecca Hill to the stand and she is sworn in. Creighton Waters begins the questioning. Hill states she was elected as the Colleton County clerk of court at the end of 2020. Prior to that she was a South Carolina court reporter serving primarily the 14th circuit, but occasionally traveled all over the state.

1:28 p.m. EST – Waters jumps right in and asks Hill if she was familiar with the rules governing how court staff interact with jurors. Hill states she is and clarifies the clerk of court and court staff is there primarily to take care of everyone. Hill says it is common for the clerk of court to have interactions with jurors during a trial and this did happen during the course of Murdaugh’s trial. Some of the things done for the jurors on Murdaugh’s trial were to provide Tylenol or Advil, blankets for the cold courtroom, and take lunch orders.

1:31 p.m. EST – Hill denies instructing the jury to watch Murdaugh closely during his testimony or to keep an eye on his body language. When asked if she had any conversation with any of the jurors regarding Murdaugh’s testimony. She states that she told “Mr. Bill” — the bailiff — that the judge had decided to allow additional testimony about the financial crimes into the trial and that Murdaugh would be testifying. There were jurors nearby when she made this comment. Hill states prior to Murdaugh’s testimony she told the jurors to “Pay attention, it’s a big day today.” She did not believe the information stated favored one side or the other.

1:35 p.m. EST – Hill states she had a conversation with the foreperson of the jury while at Moselle about how beautiful it was. Hill states Mr. Bill Polk was the bailiff who served as the jury coordinator during the trial. She denies having any interactions with the jurors about having smoke breaks.

1:36 p.m. EST – Waters asks Hill if she had any discussions with the jurors during the trial about speaking with the media. Hill says she did not have any discussions with the jurors before the verdict about speaking to the press. She did ask the jurors after if they were willing admitting they were totally unprepared for that happening. She did not ever pressure the jurors about speaking to the media.

1:38 p.m. EST – Waters has completed questioning. Harpootlian begins cross examination stating, “Ms. Hill, we spent six weeks together. And during that six weeks, you were rather helpful to me as well as others.” Hill affirms this statement and adds, “It was a long six weeks.” Harpootlian states Hill often let him use the private restroom and they got along well – there was no animosity between them. Then he tells her that the questioning might be contentious. He questions Hill regarding emails she sent to her co-author asking her to confirm the drafts she sent him weren’t the final drafts and she agrees with that. Harpootlian asks when Hill started considering writing a book. She says it had been an idea for a long time. When asked if she consulted with any journalists or authors about writing a book, she says she did consult with a few.

1:44 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks Hill if she had any assistance during the trial and she states Rhonda McElveen — the Barnwell County clerk of court – assisted her during the trial. She states McElveen was a friend and when Harpootlian questioned her use of “was”, Hill clarified she was still a friend. Hill denies ever giving a juror a ride during the trial.

1:47 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks about Hill’s daughter — Aubrey Hill — being in the jury pool and Hill confirms she was. Harpootlian states he recalls Becky telling them Aubrey would make a good juror and Hill corrects him stating she recalls Harpootlian asking her if Aubrey would make a good juror.

1:49 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks about her preparing with the SCAG’s office for her testimony and she confirms she did so last week at SLED’s Walterboro office. When he asks if that session lasted 4 hours, Hill states it was closer to 2 hours.

1:51 p.m. EST – Harpootlian stated during the car ride to Moselle, the four people riding in the car with her all discussed how they felt about the case. Becky clarifies that none of the people in the vehicle with her were jurors. Harpootlian asks Hill if she “stole part of her book.” Hill states she admitted to plagiarizing and she has apologized for that. Harpootlian responds plagiarizing is stealing. Creighton Waters has made several objections regarding the relevance and form of the questioning. Toal has overruled them all.

1:55 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks about the Facebook post relating to the dismissal of the egg juror. Waters objects, but Toal states she will allow limited questioning to go to credibility but doesn’t want it to go too far. Hill testifies she recalls reading a post from the Facebook group Walterboro Word of Mouth, but didn’t think to say anything until she heard the attorneys talking about a potential issue with a juror. She assumed them to be related. She testifies when judge Newman asked her to produce the post, her staff found it and she presented it to the judge.

1:59 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks about some of the communications between Hill and the jurors. Hill states many of the communications were relating to things like bandaids or medications. She said one juror complained about other jurors being too loud. Hill states she told this juror if it kept happening, to write a note and she’d get it to the judge.

2:00 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks Hill why she felt so confident the verdict would come the same day. She states she did not have conversations with the jurors, but due to her years of experience as a court reporter she was able to generally get a good idea of how long a verdict would take.

2:02 p.m. EST – Hill tells Harpootlian she made roughly $100,000 from her book in six months. This was the total amount between her and her co-author.

2:04 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks Hill about her claims that Alex’s grandfather was a criminal with her grandfather. She states this claim was simply “literary-ese” to make the book more interesting. He then asks what she meant in the book when she claimed Harpootlian neutered his co-counsel Jim Griffin. She waffles on answering and Waters objects. Toal overrules. Harpootlian asks if she lied in the book and Hill states she was going by old news reports and what she knew.

2:08 p.m. EST – Hill testifies she does not know if the egg juror had any additional ex-husbands. She then testifies she did not tell the jurors not to be fooled by his testimony. She testifies she did not tell the jurors to watch Murdaugh’s actions while testifying. She testifies she did tell the jurors to pay attention generally, but it wasn’t in reference to a specific testimony. Hill states she never told the jurors not to let the defense confuse them.

2:11 p.m. EST – When Harpootlian asks if Hill told the jurors Murdaugh was about to testify, Hill replies she did not tell the jurors that adding emphasis to the word juror. Harpootlian has completed his cross examination.

2:12 p.m. EST – Waters has begun his redirect. He asks Hill if she is technically capable of manufacturing a Facebook post. She replies she is not. When she asked a co-worker to locate the Facebook post, Hill wasn’t there as she was searching. The co-worker handed her the post and said she couldn’t find the original post, but found the apology post she ended up presenting to judge Newman.

2:14 p.m. EST – Waters asks Hill if she had such a good sense of how long deliberations would take because she asked them. Waters asks about Hill testifying she was lying in the book. Harpootlian objects to the question as leading. Toal agrees.

2:16 p.m. EST – Before completing the redirect, Hill states she did not have any conversation with the jury about the case. Waters is done questioning Hill. Harpootlian has no additional questions.

2:17 p.m. EST – Toal begins questioning of Hill. She asks Hill about the transcript from the in-camera hearing regarding the egg juror where Newman states he was not happy about a clerk interrogating a juror. Hill responds strongly that she did not question any juror. Many eyebrows in the court gallery raised…

2:19 p.m. EST – Toal asks Hill about the in-camera testimony of the egg juror where the juror stated she gave Hill full access to her Facebook. Toal asks Hill if she recalls the conversation the egg juror claims she had with her about her ex-husband. She claims she did and Toal asks now that her memory is refreshed, does she wish to clarify. Hill states despite the juror’s claims, she did not question her. Toal does not back down and asks if they discussed restraining orders with the juror. Hill states on the way from the jury room to the chambers, the juror was very scared and talking about these restraining orders with Hill. Toal asks if Hill recalls the egg juror discussing the restraining order. Toal asks if she did not talk to the juror about the Facebook post, who did Hill talk to about it.

2:26 p.m. EST – Toal is continuing questioning Hill about the inconsistencies in the court transcripts and her testimony. She keeps returning to Newman’s statement that he wasn’t happy with the clerk interrogating a juror.

2:28 p.m. EST – Toal asks Hill about sealed photographs as exhibits that were under her control that got out into public view during a post-trial hearing. Hill agrees they did and the exhibits were taken during testimony.

2:31 p.m. EST – Hill states she wasn’t involved in the exhibits much and that the Post and Courier photographed the exhibits. She states the exhibits stayed sealed. Hill admits she is aware of the photos that made their way to the public and that she believes it was photos taken of the exhibits on CourtTV.

2:34 p.m. EST – Toal asks Hill if she stated in an email or verbally that she wanted a guilty verdict. She states she did not. She asks Hill if she said in her book that she believed Murdaugh was guilty. Hill states she did say that. She tells Toal that the part in her book about making eye contact with the jurors at Moselle was exaggerated and nothing was communicated between her and the jurors.

2:37 p.m. EST – Toal asks Hill if she had definite opinions and feelings about what the verdict should be and Hill agrees she did but didn’t state them. Toal has completed her questioning of Hill.

2:38 p.m. EST – Waters asks Hill if she was in the room for the full in-camera conference. She states she was only in the room for her questioning. Harpootlian asks about Netflix receiving sealed exhibits and she states they were accidentally released and returned. She denies NBC receiving access to them. Questioning has completed. Hill’s attorney asks if Hill has completed her subpoena. Toal states she has not until they discuss her testimony.

2:42 p.m. EST – Harpootlian brings up an email between Hill and a Japanese production company regarding sealed videos. Toal agrees to admit it as an exhibit.

2:44 p.m. EST – Clerk of court for Barnwell County — Rhonda McElveen — will be brought in to testify. Toal has agreed to allow it in light of Hill’s testimony.

2:47 p.m. EST – Toal indicates she is inclined to allow the egg juror to testify as it relates to Hill’s testimony. Waters states going back to the sealed exhibits, there was a release of exhibits and at the time, two body cam exhibits were released that should have been sealed. Those were returned successfully.

2:56 p.m. EST – Court will be adjourned for a brief recess. After the recess we will hear from Rhonda McElveen. Harpootlian states the egg lady is across the street, but Toal states she has gotten what she needs from that line of questioning.

3:15 p.m. EST – Court has resumed. Barnwell County clerk of court Rhonda McElveen was spotted entering the courtroom with Murdaugh’s defense team.

3:16 p.m. EST – McElveen has been sworn in. Harpootlian begins direct examination. McElveen tells Harpootlian she has been the clerk of court in Barnwell County for 16 years and she plans to run again.

3:18 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks McElveen about the training requirements for the clerk of courts in SC. McElveen provides a list of training materials used by the S.C. clerk of courts. Harpootlian asks McElveen about the jury selection process. Harpootlian asks McElveen what the role of the clerk of court’s role is after the jury is sworn in. McElveen states she never converses with jurors about the merits of the case. Bailiffs are stationed outside of the jury room and sometimes one will be posted inside the jury room in case one of the jurors needs anything.

3:22 p.m. EST – McElveen offered to come help Hill with the Murdaugh trial due to Hill being relatively new to the role of clerk. They spoke to judge Newman who agreed this would be a good plan. McElveen states prior to the trial, Hill told her they should write a book together because “she needed a lake house” and Rhonda needed to retire. Hill told McElveen she thought a guilty verdict would help her sell more books.

3:27 p.m. EST – McElveen testifies she showed up to Colleton County one day and someone told her Hill had given a juror a ride home. When she confronted Hill about it, Hill admitted she did (contradicting her earlier testimony), but assured McElveen did not discuss the case with her.

3:28 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks McElveen if she heard Hill say, “Don’t be fooled by the evidence presented by the defense.” McElveen states she did hear Hill say that, but did not hear her say it to the jurors.

3:30 p.m. EST – McElveen did not hear Hill say the defense was trying to confuse the jurors. McElveen testifies during the trial there was a screen for the jurors to see the sealed exhibits. Harpootlian asks about an author who came to court named Rhonda Rich and McElveen states she recalls Rich. Rich sat next to Doug who was in charge of the audio and visual aspects of the trial — and in charge of the sealed exhibits. Rich sat frequently in the “well” of the court. One day, McElveen caught Rich looking at her notes and when she asked Rich about it, she claimed to be a “Sunday school teacher.” Rich was eventually moved to the gallery with the rest of the audience.

3:35 p.m. EST – Waters has begun his cross examination of Rhonda McElveen. He asks about the first time Hill spoke to McElveen about writing a book. McElveen tells Waters she isn’t crazy enough to write a book. Water clarifies he is not waiving his objections by cross examination and Toal assures him he is not.

3:37 p.m. EST – McElveen testifies to Waters that it is not uncommon for the staff of the clerk of court’s office to have conversations behind the scenes about trials. McElveen then states if she had any indication there was inappropriate discussions between the court staff and jury, she would have informed the judge. Waters asks McElveen if she was aware of images being put into a publication and she is not. She confirms if she saw anything improper, she would have reported it to the judge. She did not report anything to the judge.

3:41 p.m. EST – McElveen filled in for Hill as clerk of court when Hill was diagnosed with COVID during the trial. She confirms during the entirety of the trial, she did not report any improper behavior to Newman. Waters has completed his cross examination. Harpootlian asks McElveen about Hill giving a juror a ride, it was Hill who brought up the fact she didn’t discuss the case during the car ride.

3:44 p.m. EST – Juror 741 has been called to the stand. 741 was an alternate juror. She has been sworn in. She is testifying regarding juror 826 walking with Becky. She testifies what was in her affidavit is truthful. She clarifies the jurors typically were split between two rooms. She testifies that right before the defense began presenting their case, Hill told the jurors in her room “Y’all are going to hear things that will throw you all off. Don’t let this distract or mislead you.”

4:04 p.m. EST Toal admonishes John Meadors for continually speaking over the witness. She testifies when the left the courtroom to go to deliberate, all the jurors and alternates were in one room. This is when they were told if they did not reach a verdict, they would go to a hotel. The deliberating jurors then went to a separate room.

4:07 p.m. EST – Harpootlian is questioning juror 741 again. Hill approached her the same day as the bomb threat in the lunch room and told her she had several reporters who reached out to her and wanted to speak with her. Hill did not indicate why the media wanted to speak specifically to her. After the verdict, she handed out cards of media people to the jurors. Questioning of this witness has completed.

4:10 p.m. EST – Toal has told Harpootlian she will accept a proffer of the affidavit of the juror Z received from attorney Joe McCulloch after her testimony. While she has received as a proffer, it will not be admitted into evidence.

4:14 p.m. EST – Waters is closing for the State. He goes back to the standard of the case — Was there any misconduct and if so, did it affect the verdict? Waters states it doesn’t matter what was said or what was intended. It matters if the jurors heard it and it affected their verdict. He states 11 out of 12 of the jurors stated nothing affected their verdict. Waters states the mere fact something is stated, doesn’t mean the verdict was affected. It’s not uncommon for a juror to have second thoughts, but the law is clear that is not okay or else every verdict would be in jeopardy.

4:21 p.m. EST – Waters states the testimony from Hill, McElveen and the alternate juror do not go to what matters, was the verdict affected by anything said to the jurors.

4:25 p.m. EST – The court should not care about the clerk of court testifying about plagiarizing her book. It does not affect the facts of this case. The only juror whose testimony matters is Juror Z.

4:28 p.m. EST – Jim Griffin will be providing closing for the defense. Griffin states the State v. Green clearly states the Supreme Court has held any private communication with a juror needs to be proven prejudicial. The law does not say the verdict would be different, but that the jurors were prejudiced by the comment. He argues if you prove the comments are made to the jurors, the Remmer presumed prejudice should be applied.

4:34 p.m. EST – Juror P confirmed Ms. Hill told the jurors to watch Murdaugh’s body language while he was on the stand. Three of the 12 jurors testified they heard this. Griffin tells Toal there is no way she can find Hill credible. The discrepancies between her testimony and the transcript when on the stand are concerning. Griffin states they have met our burden of proving there was extraneous contact with a juror and respectfully requests a new trial be granted.

4:41 p.m. EST – Toal is reviewing her notes and will rule from the bench before 5:00 p.m.

5:01 p.m. EST – Court has resumed. Chief justice Toal states this case is unique in her 25 years experience and 35 years as a judge. Usually matters of contact with a juror arise during or shortly after trial. In this case, Toal states she was appointed almost 9 months after the trial to replace the trial judge who was recused. The defendant moved to suspend his appeal which had been filed in March of 2023. Toal is reviewing all the actions, motions and hearings she has conducted and considered since being appointed to preside over this matter.

5:06 p.m. EST – Per State v. Green, it must be shown that the an improper comment was made to a juror and that the comment influenced the verdict. The defendant has the burden of proving both the improper conduct between Hill and the juror and prejudice that the comment influenced the juror to vote to convict Murdaugh. Hill denies the improper conduct. Toal has found Hill is not completely credible as a witness. She was enticed by the siren of celebrity. Hill stated to Rhonda McElveen her desire to write a book and that she believed a guilty verdict would be more profitable. But Toal finds that Hill’s statements did not prejudice a juror. Juror Z said under oath following the trial her verdict was not influenced. Toal denies the motion for a new trial.

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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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12 comments

Goody3 Top fan January 29, 2024 at 10:48 am

Less than an hour in – this proceeding is going to the dogs IMHO. Thanks to Will & Jenn explaining Rule 606 yesterday!!

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Watch Out, Parked Cars! January 29, 2024 at 11:35 am

“She has taken a 5 minute recess ostensibly to calm down.”

“I just drank a fifth of vodka, dare me to drive?”

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Alyn January 29, 2024 at 1:12 pm

Oooo good one. Still cursing like a sailor and man-handling DH.
Post hit and run, answers the door of her home in a nightgown holding a highball, ? tinkling in the glass. Graciously invites police in for a chat.
Anyone else- cuffed and tanked on the spot.
Fwiw, I absolutely love how she’s performing in this one.

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The Colonel Top fan January 29, 2024 at 12:26 pm

What’s the point in even interviewing Hill, not a single juror says they were influenced by her?

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Goody3 Top fan January 29, 2024 at 1:12 pm

Well, it got better as it went along I think. Herronor mixed up a couple of the newly-minted ‘alphabet soup’ of juror names – and forgot to ask Question #2 about 3 jurors in….aside from those instances, she handled it pretty well. There was a good cadence to her questions and straight answers from the jurors. CANNOT believe the jurors had cell fone access early on!!! That’s on SLED = courtroom security.

Toal 8 or 10 …….. Poot 1 (maybe 2, if you count her request that EB move seats :-)) and put him right beside Jay Bender!!! tHere’s some sweet irony there.

Back to the live-stream shortly. I have a friend @ NC watching the Live 5 CHS feed – FITSNews is actually LIVE – about 5 or 6 minutes ahead of Live 5 AND Court TV !! Good job FITS!!

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The Colonel Top fan January 29, 2024 at 1:54 pm

Pooty Poot is making Becky look worthy of pity by his bombastic style and he still isn’t showing any evidence of tampering.

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The Colonel Top fan January 29, 2024 at 2:27 pm

Wait, wasn’t Ol’Buster Senior indicted is some scheme and freed on the basis of irregularities?

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The Colonel Top fan January 29, 2024 at 2:42 pm

Good lawd – is that all Pooty Poot has!?!

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The Colonel Top fan January 29, 2024 at 3:55 pm

Funny – not one of the 12 jurors heard that…

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Goody3 Top fan January 29, 2024 at 4:51 pm

T(oal) minus 5 mins and counting ……. Herronor will rule from the bench at 4:55 PM!!!!!!!!

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Bye Felicia January 29, 2024 at 5:15 pm

No retrial. Keep a good grip on that soap Alec!

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Goody3 Top fan January 29, 2024 at 5:29 pm

“The siren call of profits ……..”

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL!!! What a ruling from Herronor Toal …. well-reasoned, concise and cogent. Whatta jurist.

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