Motion for a New Trial:
Defense attorneys for Alex Murdaugh, a disgraced South Carolina attorney who was convicted in March 2023 of murdering his wife and son back in June 2021, have recently filed a motion for a new trial over allegations of jury tampering. The motion is supported by affidavits obtained by Murdaugh’s defense team signed by a dismissed juror and an alternate juror who indicated the court clerk, Becky Hill, coaxed the jury into to rendering a guilty verdict.
One anonymous juror, designated as Juror Z, affirmed “to me … she made it seem like he was already guilty.” The allegations are even more troublesome because Ms. Hill penned a book titled, “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” which has yet to be published.
In the September 2023 motion, Murdaugh’s defense team accused Mr. Hill of violating her oath of office by placing her own personal financial gain over the sanctity of the jury system. The theory being, that Ms. Hill’s book would be much more profitable if Murdaugh was convicted than if the case ended with a mistrial.
In response to the motion for a new trial, former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal was brought out of retirement to conduct an evidentiary inquiry of the jurors who presided over the Murdaugh murder case. Also, in November 2023, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened an investigation of Ms. Hill for criminal jury tampering charges and breach of ethics violations. She is scheduled to testify at the evidentiary hearing but may claim Fifth Amendment privilege and decline to answer questions that would incriminate herself.
While many people are outraged by the prospect that Murdaugh might get a second bite at the apple, there are two safeguards that will likely ensure that justice will be done.
The first safeguard is that Justice Jean Toal has already ruled that only the jurors who actually deliberated will be questioned. The dismissed juror and the alternate juror who signed the affidavits detailing Ms. Hill’s inappropriate behavior will not be questioned. That is because Justice Teal is bound by the 2020 South Carolina Supreme Court decision, South Carolina v. Green, which stands for the proposition that Murdaugh’s defense team must prove that not only was there an inappropriate communication with the jury, but that communication influenced their verdict. If none of the 12 jurors who convicted Murdaugh testify at the hearing that Ms. Hill’s communications influenced their verdict, the conviction will stand.
Also, in November 2023, Murdaugh pled guilty to a number of financial crimes in federal court and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. These charges included breach of trust, money laundering, and tax evasion associated with Murdaugh’s inappropriate use of client funds while he was still practicing law. At his murder trial, the prosecutor’s theorized that these spiraling financial circumstances are what caused Murdaugh to murder members of his own family.
Thus, I think it is safe to conclude that Murdaugh will not receive a mistrial and will remain in prison for the rest of his life. But, given importance of the jury system, not to mention the massive amount of work, time, and expense that goes into a trial, it is imperative that all parties handle themselves appropriately to ensure fairness and impartiality.
Fill out the form or call us at (603) 883-4100 to schedule your free consultation.