Criminal Justice

Judge denies Alex Murdaugh request for new trial after jury tampering claims

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Alex Murdaugh in court

A judge on Monday denied a request for a new trial for disbarred lawyer Alex Murdaugh (center), shown here in a March 2023 file photo. (Photo by Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier via the Associated Press)

A judge has denied a request for a new trial from convicted killer Alex Murdaugh, whose defense team had argued that a county clerk tampered with the jury.

Murdaugh, 55, was sentenced in March to two life sentences after a double-murder verdict for killing his wife and son in 2021 in South Carolina. The case of a prominent (and now disbarred) South Carolina lawyer who killed his family to prevent his financial crimes from being exposed captivated the nation and the true-crime saga was documented on Netflix and HBO, while thousands watched the six-week trial live.

Judge Jean Toal said Monday that a motion for a retrial filed by Murdaugh’s attorneys in September that claimed clerk Rebecca Hill had improperly influenced a jury was not enough to overturn the guilty verdict.

Toal said her review of the trial transcript showed “some fleeting and foolish comments by a publicity-seeking clerk of court” did not actively change the jurors’ minds, the Associated Press reported.

Murdaugh’s attorneys had alleged that Hill, the clerk of court in Colleton County, S.C., told jurors not to be “fooled” by defense testimony and instructed them to “watch out” for Murdaugh’s body language during the March trial. They had argued these comments may have influenced the jurors’ decisions. In South Carolina, county clerks are tasked with jury instruction and related duties.

Murdaugh, who was in the courtroom Monday, has denied that he killed his family members.

Hill testified that she never spoke about the case or about Murdaugh with any jurors. “I never talked to any jurors about anything like that,” Hill said. However, she acknowledged that she had used some “literary license” for her book about the trial, “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders.”

The judge said she was unsure if Hill was telling the truth, noting she had likely been “attracted by the siren call of celebrity,” but added that 12 jurors had testified that Hill’s comments had not directly influenced their decision to find Murdaugh guilty.

“We respectfully disagree with the ruling that Mrs. Hill’s misconduct did not prejudice Alex’s constitutional right to a fair trial. We intend to appeal,” Murdaugh’s attorney, Jim Griffin, said Tuesday.

The now disbarred Murdaugh pleaded guilty in November to financial crimes, including the theft of millions of dollars from his clients, to fund his family’s extravagant lifestyle and his addiction to opioid pills, which put him in dire financial shape before the June 2021 murders. That verdict included a 27-year prison sentence, which will run concurrently with his life sentences. He will not be eligible for parole.

Murdaugh, was part of a well-known legal dynasty in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Three generations of Murdaughs served as elected prosecutors for a century and were a widely respected and powerful family.

The prosecution in Murdaugh’s case argued that he killed his wife, Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, to shift the focus from himself and to prevent his financial crimes from being uncovered.

The pair were killed on June 7, 2021, on the family’s 1,772-acre rural Islandton hunting estate known to locals as Moselle - about 50 miles from Charleston. It took jurors less than three hours to deliver their guilty verdict.

Ben Brasch contributed to this report.

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