COLUMBIA, S.C. (Court TV) — Alex Murdaugh was in court Tuesday to iron out details ahead of an evidentiary hearing set to begin in two weeks. That hearing will determine whether Murdaugh will be granted a new murder trial over allegations of jury tampering.
Murdaugh, 55, is currently serving life without the possibility of parole for the June 7, 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and youngest son, Paul Murdaugh.
Former Chief Justice Jean Toal is presiding over Murdaugh’s case after Judge Clifton Newman recused himself from any future proceedings related to the defense motion.
Tuesday’s hearing began with whether or not an evidentiary hearing is even necessary, which Murdaugh’s defense attorney Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian said, “Yes!”
The jury tampering issues boil down to a handful of jurors who reportedly testified to Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill’s concerning behavior, including going into a bathroom with the forewoman and instructing the jury “not to be fooled” by Alex Murdaugh’s defense.
According to Harpootlian and Griffin, Hill was trying to secure herself “a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial.”
Juror testimony comes from a series of defense affidavits and taped interviews conducted during a SLED investigation that prosecutor Creighton Waters said the State requested as soon as they learned of the jury tampering allegations.
At Tuesday’s pre-hearing, Waters said that not only was the defense’s complaint untimely, but unnecessary as well. Waters claimed that SLED’s investigation did not indicate any improper conduct or any influence over the verdict.
While Waters acknowledged one of the deliberating jurors who allegedly said she felt pressure to vote guilty, he said it was pressure from other jurors, not Mrs. Hill.
Attorneys representing some of the jurors involved in the case had an opportunity to address the court. Among them were Eric Bland and his partner, Ronnie Richter, who are representing four of the jurors, and Joe McCollough, who is representing two jurors, one being the famous “egg lady,” who earned her nickname when she was dismissed on the last day of trial and made sure to take home her eggs another juror brought in.
Bland, who is a regular guest on Court TV, told the court that his main concern was the anonymity of his clients. Should Murdaugh get a new trial over one of his client’s testimony, Bland and Richter said they want to make sure those jurors don’t face public scrutiny.
Other rulings made at Tuesday’s pre-trial hearing include:
- Becky Hill will be subpoenaed
- Alternate jurors are not a concern in this matter, only voting jurors
- Each juror will only be required to attend for their testimony, which Justice Toal predicted could be done in one day.
- Everything will be done in open court and televised, except juror names and faces
- Proffers will be written
- Attorneys can’t be contacted by the press
- Alex Murdaugh will be unable to review discovery ahead of the hearing
- SLED agents will likely not testify unless the judge requests it based on any witness testimony that could be inconsistent with SLED’s investigation.
While the judge had said the Murdaugh Court of Clerk would be subpoenaed and ordered to testify, she made it very clear that the purpose should not be to nitpick every comment lodged by Mrs. Hill, but rather to determine what she may or may not have said the jurors.
Hill had denied any wrongdoing, and an affidavit filed with the state’s response to the defense motion for a new trial said she never made any comments to jurors about Murdaugh that could be construed as inappropriate.
Hills’s attorney, Richard Lewis, confirmed that his client will be present to testify. When asked by Murdaugh’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian whether Mrs. Hill would meet beforehand with the defense team, Lewis said they would consider it.
The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to take place January 29 through 31, depending on the length.
Court TV was selected by the court to film the proceedings and will provide LIVE coverage in this case to the public and other media entities.
While the state’s Court of Appeals has granted Murdaugh’s motion to suspend his convictions for the murders and remanded the case to the circuit court for the evidentiary hearing, it appears other investigations into Hill’s behavior, including the publication of her book later said to include plagiarized portions, is ongoing.
Hill’s son, Jeffrey Hill, has separately been arrested and charged with wiretapping after allegedly illegally recording conversations involving a deputy county administrator during Murdaugh’s murder trial. Sources close to the investigation told FITSNews that the wiretapping charges were tied to an effort to keep his mother informed about the investigations into her.