In a South Carolina courtroom, Judge Jean Toal rejected Alex Murdaugh’s plea for a new trial on Monday, dismissing defense claims of jury tampering by court clerk Becky Hill. The defense argued that Hill’s alleged remarks influenced jurors to convict Murdaugh for the murder of his wife and son.
Toal ruled that the defense failed to establish a direct link between Hill’s comments and the guilty verdict. While some jurors reported Hill advising them to closely observe Murdaugh, others denied hearing any such statements. Notably, a bailiff revealed that some jurors had watched a live feed during the proceedings, potentially affecting their perception.
The hearing, prompted by the defense’s tampering allegations, took an unexpected turn as jurors were summoned to testify. One juror claimed Hill made Murdaugh seem “already guilty,” impacting her decision. However, others maintained that external influences did not affect their verdicts.
The defense sought to broaden the inquiry, arguing that subtle influences could still compromise a fair trial, but Toal limited the scope, preventing questions about Hill’s alleged misconduct outside the trial. Hill, facing a separate criminal investigation, denied any jury tampering in a sworn statement.
The hearing provided a rare glimpse into juror testimonies, with CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman describing the situation as unusual. Attorney Eric Bland, representing five jurors, expressed confidence in their just verdict.
Despite the setback, the judge emphasized the focus on potential impacts on the verdict, not a trial of the court clerk. Murdaugh, serving a life sentence and concurrently facing a 27-year term for embezzlement, has yet to begin standard appeals challenging the fairness of his murder trial.
As the legal saga continues, the South Carolina Attorney General, Alan Wilson, urged closure, emphasizing that the convictions rested solely on the case’s facts and evidence.