Former South Carolina supreme court chief justice Jean Toal decisively shot down convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s bid for a new trial on Monday, determining improper conduct with jurors was made by Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill – but that Hill’s contacts did not rise to the level of necessitating a new trial for Murdaugh.
As a result, Murdaugh’s March 2, 2023 convictions for the murder of his wife and younger son remain standing … for now.
A fourth generation scion of one of the Palmetto State’s most influential legal dynasties, Murdaugh was found guilty last winter 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.
He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison on those charges on March 3, 2023. Murdaugh has appealed those convictions, although his appeal has put been on hold for the last few months as the jury tampering allegations against Hill were investigated.
Or, covered up … depending on your perspective.
The killings of Maggie and Paul were part of an institutionally enabled maze of multifaceted criminality collectively referred to as the ‘Murdaugh Murders’crime and corruption saga. These crimes captured international audiences and turned Murdaugh’s double homicide trial in Walterboro, S.C. last year into the Palmetto State’s ‘Trial of the Century.’
Toal’s decision to deny Murdaugh a new trial came two weeks after she controversially narrowed the scope of this inquiry – and was reached despite the absolute evisceration of Hill on the stand, an implosion reminiscent of the way Murdaugh himself imploded after he took the stand in his murder trial last year.
It also came after one of the Murdaugh jurors – rechristened “Juror Z” – testified under oath that Hill tampered with the jury and that her tampering influenced the juror’s guilty verdict. This testimony certainly appeared to not only meet – but exceed – the high bar set by Toal for granting Murdaugh a new trial under the state supreme court case she chose to use as her guide.
Another juror corroborated Juror Z’s testimony about Hill making these remarks – although they indicated the comments did not impact their decision to find Murdaugh guilty.
Nonetheless, Toal determined Hill’s tampering did not cross the line into impacting the verdict.
“I find that the answer to this question is ‘no,’” she said.
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Still, Toal chided Hill for succumbing to the “siren call of celebrity” and making “fleeting and foolish comments” to jurors – remarks Hill’s attorneys moved quickly to cast in the best possible light.
“We respect today’s ruling by Justice Toal denying Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial,” a statement attributed to Justin Bamberg and Will Lewis. “Justice Toal described Becky Hill’s alleged comments at the center of Murdaugh’s defense counsel’s argument as ‘fleeting’ and that any interaction she had with jurors in no way influenced their collective decision on the facts of the case. We agree with Justice Toal’s finding that the Colleton County jurors selected for this very complicated and lengthy trial were consummate professionals and operated within the instructions of the court. We thank them for their service.”
The outcome of this chapter of this crime and corruption saga felt preordained, with Toal delivering a ruling less than fifteen minutes after Murdaugh’s attorneys – and prosecutors in the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – gave their closing arguments.
Wilson’s office clearly considers the matter closed – despite the massive, unresolved conflicts of interest this jury tampering investigation has exposed.
“As with all cases, the attorney general’s office and SLED’s only mission is to seek the truth and deliver justice, wherever the facts lead,” Wilson said in a statement following Toal’s decision. “It does not matter your name, position, or status, no one is above the law. We take very seriously the allegations in this situation and immediately requested an investigation, committed to discovering the truth, regardless of what it might find. After that thorough investigation, and a fair public hearing, it is clear that Alex Murdaugh’s convictions for the murders of Maggie and Paul are based solely upon the facts and evidence of the case. It is time to move on and forward.”
Wilson may want this chapter closed, but Murdaugh’s lawyers – who scored some significant points during Monday’s hearing for their appeal – clearly have no intention of going gently into that brisk, midwinter South Carolina night.
Stay tuned for much more on this case as the fallout from justice Toal’s decision reverberates across the Palmetto State and the broader true crime universe …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
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 seven (soon to be eight) children.
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