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Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers want a new trial. They say the clerk told the jurors not to trust him


COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Lawyers for convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh want a new trial, accusing the court clerk of improperly influencing the jury and betraying his oath of office for money and glory.

They accused the court clerk at his double murder trial to tell jurors not to trust him when he testified in his own defense, to have private conversations with the foreman of the jury, and to pressure jurors to reach a speedy verdict.

The motion filed Tuesday by Murdaugh’s attorneys also accuses Colleton County Clerk Rebecca Hill of giving jury members business cards from reporters during the trial. After the verdict, she traveled to New York with three of the jurors. do interviews. She also wrote a book after the trial titled “Behind the Gates of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders.”

The trial court clerks “are not even someone who should tell them about the case. I’ve never heard of that,” said Murdaugh’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, a state senator and attorney for 50 years.

Hill did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press on the filing on Tuesday. Prosecutors said they are reviewing the motion and will respond in court.

Murdaugh wants the appeals judges to order a hearing of evidence and, once they have more information in the case, grant him a new trial. The 55-year-old disbarred lawyer serves to life without parole after being convicted of the shooting deaths of his wife and son.

Murdaugh’s attorney, Jim Griffin, said everyone the defense tried to speak to refused to answer until Hill’s self-published book came out. It was only then that a few reluctant jurors opened the door as the Harpootlian team made another round of in-person visits over the weekend.

The hearing would allow defense attorneys to force other jurors, witnesses and potentially even the trial judge to testify under oath. The defense could also obtain phone records, emails and text messages. For now, they only have what Harpootlian’s team gathered from visiting jurors’ homes.

“We’ve got nothing but Dick’s Mercedes and dirt roads in Colleton County,” Griffin said at a press conference outside the state Court of Appeals.

The defense spoke to four jurors and included affidavits from two of them. The lawyer for those jurors, Joe McCullough, was present at the press conference and said they came forward reluctantly and did not want to talk about their motivation or what they thought of Murdaugh.

The request for the new trial focuses on Hill, who was elected clerk of the court in 2020.

Hill had private conversations with the foreman, both inside the courthouse and when jurors visited the crime scene at the Murdaugh property, according to affidavits from three jurors included in Murdaugh’s appeal. The record did not include any statement from the foreman.

Jurors told Murdaugh’s attorneys that Hill told them to “not be fooled” by the evidence presented by the defense and to watch Murdaugh closely for his entire duration. he testified and to “watch his actions” and “watch his movements”. A juror said he understood that to mean Murdaugh was guilty.

The appeal also says Hill lied to the judge during the six-week trial about a Facebook post that led to a juror’s dismissal. Hill said the juror’s ex-husband posted that she spoke about the case and the verdict.

Hill never presented the message, merely apologizing to the judge for what she said was the ex-husband’s account. But the apology message did not come from the ex-husband’s account, and the defense said an analysis of his Facebook account showed he had not posted any messages that day, the lawyers wrote. .

Lawyers for Murdaugh filed a transcript of a closed meeting regarding the juror, in which Judge Clifton Newman said: ‘I’m not very happy about the clerk questioning a juror instead of coming to see me and telling me. bring it.”

As the jury began deliberating late in the afternoon of March 2, Hill said they would be taken to a hotel if they did not reach a verdict by 11 p.m., upsetting the jurors who had not packed up for the night. said. Some jurors said Hill also told the smokers on the jury that they couldn’t take a smoke break until they reached a verdict: “You want nicotine, you’re going to have to turn in a verdict form,” said Harpootlian.

After less than three hours in the jury room following the six-week trial, they were unanimous in finding Murdaugh guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

“I had questions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt, but voted guilty because I felt pressured by the other jurors,” Juror 630 wrote in an affidavit, adding that Hill had pressed on jurors to talk to reporters after the trial. The appeal redacts their names, identifying the jurors only by their trial numbers.

The final pages of the 65-page appeal cite a contract between Hill and a production company, with a handwritten note purportedly from Hill saying that in exchange for her appearing, they had to show her book cover in their production.

South Carolina law sets the bar high for overturning a jury’s verdict. Lawyers for Murdaugh said Hill’s conduct was so egregious that it tainted the entire trial and they had no chance to defend themselves.

“She asked the jurors for their opinions on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Murdaugh. She asked them not to believe the evidence presented in Mr Murdaugh’s defence, including his own testimony. She lied to the judge to dismiss a juror who she thinks might not vote guilty. And she pressured jurors to quickly reach a guilty verdict so she could profit from it,” they wrote.

Murdaugh’s attorneys also sent a letter to federal prosecutors asking them to ask the FBI to step in to investigate because the state’s Law Enforcement Division, which was lead agency for Murdaugh’s indictment, has every interest in upholding his conviction.

Even if Murdaugh’s murder conviction is overturned, he will likely remain in jail. He filed documents in federal court saying he plans to plead guilty to stealing from clients and his law firm later this month — charges that would likely mean years, if not decades, behind bars.

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