The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office finally responded Friday to allegations that a court clerk tampered with the jury that convicted Alex Murdaugh of murder, saying state investigators have found “significant factual disputes” with the claims.
The response was filed just before the Friday deadline to respond to the motion for a new trial filed by Murdaugh’s defense team on Sept. 5. In their searing 65-page motion, Murdaugh’s attorneys accused Colleton clerk of court Rebecca Hill of advising the jury “not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and even misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense.”
Friday’s reply from the AG’s office shot down Murdaugh’s hopes, with prosecutors asserting that a fresh trial cannot be requested while the previous case is still on appeal, as Murdaugh’s is. Still, prosecutors said they’d already asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate claims against Hill and the agency hadn’t found any evidence to support the claims to date.
“Objective investigation by SLED remains ongoing, but the inquiry has already revealed significant factual disputes as to claims in [Murdaugh’s] motion,” the filing said. “If no credible evidence can be found to support the claims brought by [Murdaugh], the State will be prepared to argue against the motion.”
In their Sept. 5 motion, Murdaugh’s attorney wrote, “Ms. Hill had frequent private conversations with the jury foreperson, a Court-appointed substitution for the foreperson the jury elected for itself at the request of Ms. Hill.”
“During the trial, Ms. Hill asked jurors for their opinions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence,” the motion continued. “Ms. Hill invented a story about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty. Ms. Hill pressured the jurors to reach a quick verdict, telling them from the outset of their deliberations that it ‘shouldn’t take them long.’ Ms. Hill did these things to secure for herself a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial. Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame.”
Murdaugh’s defense team also sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Adair Boroughs to request a federal investigation into whether Murdaugh’s civil rights were violated during the trial.
In order to be considered for a new trial, prosecutors indicated Friday that Murdaugh’s team would have to prove five things: That the evidence they bring forward would “probably” change the results of a new trial; that the evidence was learned since the trial ended; that the evidence couldn’t have been easily missed during trial; that the evidence is “material to the issue” of guilt or innocence; and that the evidence is not “merely cumulative or impeaching.”
Proving each of those points could prove to be a challenge for Murdaugh’s team. Prosecutors claimed in their Friday filing that defense lawyers told reporters in a press conference on Sept. 5 that they spotted jury tampering in real time during the trial—a fact that would disqualify them from being granted a new one.
At the end of the six-week trial, jurors took just three hours to convict Murdaugh, who is now facing two life sentences for killing his wife and son. He is also separately facing about 100 state and federal charges for a litany of other crimes. He is set to plead guilty to federal fraud crimes next week and will face his first white-collar crime trial in November.
Hill, who is an elected state official, previously denied tampering allegations to The Daily Beast, calling them “totally not true.” “This is crazy,” she added.
In their motion, defense lawyers detailed several allegations of jury tampering, accusing Hill of talking to the jury foreman in private and making statements about the case during the latter half of the trial. Hill also allegedly warned jurors not to “be fooled” by Murdaugh before he testified in his own defense, the motion claimed.
“Y’all are going to hear things that will throw you all off. Don’t let this distract you or mislead you,” Hill told the jury, according to the motion.
In another example, the motion alleged that Hill invented a Facebook post from the ex-husband of a juror who seemed to be on the fence about Murdaugh’s guilt. Hill informed Judge Clifton Newman about the post, which ultimately led to the juror being removed from the trial. After the trial, the motion alleged, Hill traveled with several jurors to New York City to appear on the Today show.
“Mr. Murdaugh may be the most unpopular man in South Carolina right now,” Murdaugh’s defense attorneys said in the Boroughs letter. “He has become the symbol of the Lowcountry judicial corruption. Disgust at his frauds unfortunately has created in some minds a ‘but not Alex Murdaugh’ exception to the due process rights enjoyed by all Americans, regardless [of] guilt or innocence. Those minds may delight in the irony that he may very well be a victim of the corruption he symbolizes.”