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South Carolina judge denies Alex Murdaugh’s request for new murder trial

A South Carolina judge on Monday denied Alex Murdaugh’s request for a new murder trial.

Justice Jean Toal ruled Monday that she did not believe a new trial was needed for Murdaugh, who was convicted in the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on his family hunting estate.

Murdaugh was back in court Monday for a hearing on jury tampering allegations surrounding Colleton County Court Clerk Becky Hill, accusations which Murdaugh’s defense team had argued warranted a new trial.

Toal said before her ruling Monday that while Hill was “attracted by the siren call of celebrity” and had made “fleeting and foolish comments,” the jurors took their assignments seriously in convicting Murdaugh.

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Dick Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s defense attorney, said Hill is “not credible” outside the courtroom after Toal’s decision on Monday evening and said his team is “planning to appeal.”

“We agree, and the court agrees, Becky Hill attempted to sway jurors. The only question is the law — not whether Hill influenced jurors,” Harpootlian said.

Hill was questioned Monday by Toal, prosecutors and Murdaugh’s lawyers about the tampering allegations. The jurors were also asked about her actions.

A juror who presided over Murdaugh’s double murder trial last year testified Monday that Hill’s comments influenced her guilty verdict.

The juror, referred to as Juror Z, said Hill told jurors to watch Murdaugh “closely” and watch his “actions,” adding that she reached a guilty verdict because of the clerk’s comments.

“To me…she made it seem like he was already guilty,” Juror Z, the first to testify Monday, said when asked how the clerk inspired her verdict.

The disgraced lawyer’s defense team argued that Hill allegedly pushed jurors to convict him in the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on his family hunting estate.

Juror Z also testified that other jurors also made her feel pressured to deliver a guilty verdict, as her affidavit stated.

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Of 12 total jurors who found Murdaugh guilty last spring, 11 said Hill did not influence their decisions. One said he heard the clerk make comments about watching Murdaugh’s body language but said her words did not influence his verdict. 

Following Juror Z’s testimony on Monday morning, Toal announced on the record that jurors’ cellphones had not been confiscated before proceedings began, and some of the jurors watched a live stream on their phones. The justice then called for a five-minute recess. 

Toal asked all jurors from that point forward whether they watched the livestream and if it influenced their testimony on Monday. None of the jurors said their testimonies were impacted. 

The justice questioned the first of 12 jurors, referred to as Juror X, who presided over Murdaugh’s trial on Friday about Hill’s conduct because the juror had a scheduling conflict with Monday’s proceedings.

ALEX MURDAUGH RETURNS TO COURT TO FIGHT FOR NEW MURDER TRIAL

Juror X said Hill’s comments did not influence her verdict.

When Toal asked the juror about issues with private meetings that Hill apparently held and whether they had anything to do with the Murdaugh murder case, Juror X said the meetings were about a “different matter” and had “nothing to do with the case.”

Toal made clear that Hill “is not on trial” heading of questioning Monday.

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Murdaugh’s lawyers, Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, alleged in their motion for a new trial that Hill advised jurors not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony, pressured the panel to reach a “quick guilty verdict” and lied to the trial judge in a campaign to remove a panelist who was sympathetic to the defense.

“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,” the filing says. “Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame.”

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened two investigations into Hill’s conduct during Murdaugh’s murder trial, including a probe into allegations Hill used her position as clerk to benefit financially from sales of her book about the case, which she later admitted included plagiarized writing, and another probe into the jury tampering allegations.

Murdaugh, 55, was sentenced in March to two life terms for the murders.

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The disgraced South Carolina lawyer was also sentenced to 27 years in November for his financial crimes. He agreed to plead guilty to 22 counts — including breach of trust, money laundering, forgery and tax evasion — out of about 100 counts totaling as much as $10 million in exchange for the 27-year prison sentence.

Murdaugh previously pleaded guilty to 22 counts of financial fraud and money laundering in federal court.

Fox News’ Chelsea Torres and Rebecca Rosenberg contributed to this report.

Source – https://www.foxnews.com/us/south-carolina-judge-denies-alex-murdaugh-request-new-murder-trial