COLUMBIA, SC — A South Carolina judge ruled Tuesday that all 12 jurors from Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial will have to testify at his coming jury tampering hearing.
The three-day evidentiary hearing to determine whether Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill tampered with the jury, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 29, could pave the way for Murdaugh — who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife, Maggie, and their son Paul — to get a new trial.
Murdaugh’s defense lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, alleged at the hearing that Hill was motivated to pressure jurors to deliver a guilty verdict to boost sales for a book she was planning to publish about the case.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal — who took over legal actions involving Murdaugh’s appeal last month after the trial’s judge, Clifton Newman, agreed to step down — ruled Tuesday that Hill would be required to testify but warned Harpootlian about the scope of the defense’s questioning.
“This is not the trial of Becky Hill,” Toal said.
Hill submitted a signed affidavit in November denying all claims made by the defense, but the defense will now have the opportunity to question her in open court.
“I did not tell the jury ‘not to be fooled’ by evidence presented by Mr. Murdaugh’s attorneys,” Hill said, defending her actions. “I did not instruct the jury to ‘watch him closely.’ I did not instruct the jury to ‘look at his actions.’ I did not instruct the jury to ‘look at his movements.’”
Hill is a co-author of the book “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” published in July. It details Hill’s experience overseeing such a major trial and her family’s history with the Murdaughs, whose family patriarchs had wielded power as the top prosecutor in South Carolina’s coastal Lowcountry.
Hill is under investigation in connection with ethics complaints, and last month she apologized for plagiarism in her book.
According to Murdaugh’s defense, Hill told jurors “not to believe” Murdaugh during his two days of testimony and pressured jurors to reach a quick verdict. The defense argues that that influenced the jurors’ verdict and that therefore Murdaugh should be granted a new trial.
Murdaugh looked at ease in the courtroom Tuesday, at times smiling and chatting with his attorneys, but his mood quickly turned very serious when Toal began laying out what she would and would not allow in her courtroom at the coming hearing.
At the hearing, Toal ruled that all 12 jurors who convicted Murdaugh of murder will be required to testify as part of witness testimony. She ruled that their faces will not be broadcast by the cameras in the room and that the court will take extra steps to ensure their identities remain anonymous. Toal said she would be the one conducting the questioning for the jurors.
Toal also ruled that the juror known as the “Egg Lady” would not be allowed to testify for the defense. The “Egg Lady” juror was dismissed days before the end of the trial for improper conversations outside the courtroom, but she asked the court whether she could first retrieve the dozen eggs a fellow juror had brought in for the group.
That might be considered a major setback for Murdaugh’s team, because a key piece of evidence it presented was a written affidavit from the “Egg Lady” juror saying Hill engaged in inappropriate conversations.
Toal also denied the defense’s request to potentially interview Newman, the retired judge, and attorneys involved in the trial.
Regardless of what happens with his appeal, Murdaugh will remain in prison: In November, he was given a 27-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to 22 counts of financial crimes against his clients; it will run at the same time as his federal sentence for similar financial crimes that he pleaded guilty to in September.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
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