Convicted Killer Alex Murdaugh Demands New Trial, Alleges Court Clerk Tampered With Jury

(Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool)

The sordid tale of South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh continues. The once-powerful attorney was convicted in March of murdering his wife and son, and he was sentenced to life in prison. The trial took six weeks, but the jury took only three hours to reach a verdict.

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But perhaps jurors reached a conclusion so quickly because they were advised by a court clerk not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony? That’s exactly what his lawyers alleged in a bombshell filing Tuesday at the South Carolina Court of Appeals.

Murdaugh’s defense team wants a new trial and an FBI investigation because they claim the clerk attempted to influence the jury’s thought process:

Among the claims are that the clerk, Rebecca Hill, told jurors not to be “fooled by” Mr. Murdaugh’s tearful testimony; that she had private conversations with the jury forewoman, including one in a courthouse restroom; and that she fabricated a story about a Facebook post by another juror’s ex-husband in an effort to have that juror removed.

There were other serious accusations, and one juror claimed they felt "pressured" to go along with the others:

When Murdaugh took the stand several weeks into the trial, Hill told the jurors to “look at his actions [and movements],” one juror claimed in an affidavit attached to the Tuesday filing.

“I understood [this] to mean that Mr. Murdaugh would lie when he testified,” the individual — who is identified simply as juror 630 — explained in the document.

Hill and the jury foreperson, juror 826, also frequently had “private conversations” that lasted “5 to 10 minutes,” juror 630 recalled.

By the end of the high-pressure ordeal, the juror wrote, “I had questions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt but voted guilty because I felt pressured by the other jurors.”

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Murdaugh allegedly swindled his clients, lied to family and friends, and then shot wife Maggie and 22-year-old son Paul in an attempt to cover up his misdeeds. The crimes became nationwide news because of the family’s long history in South Carolina, where they “controlled a regional prosecutor’s office in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region for more than 80 years and ran an influential law firm for even longer."

While his alleged crimes are despicable, the accusations of jury tampering are concerning. Even a terrible person is supposed to get a fair trial in this country. If this clerk did, in fact, try to affect jurors, she has done a great disservice to the people of her state. Time and money will be wasted if a new trial has to be ordered, and there's always a possibility of a different outcome the second time around.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley expressed concern:

And:

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That last tweet reads in full:

...Interactions with the jury in deliberation are closely monitored and minimized by the court. If jurors were engaged by the clerk on the weight of the evidence, it is not a matter that should be simply dismissed. Regardless of the strength of the evidence against Murdaugh, he is entitled to a trial free of influence or pressure.

For a while there, it looked like the Murdaugh story would go away, but now it’s back in the headlines thanks to an apparently ethically challenged court clerk. She has a history of questionable behavior regarding the trial, including co-authoring a book about her experiences called “Behind the Doors of Justice” and also accompanying the jurors to appear on NBC's "The Today Show" soon after the trial.

Although her alleged crimes are not as heinous as that Murdaugh is accused of, it appears she too lost her way.

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