(CNN) — Attorneys representing Alex Murdaugh, the notorious South Carolina fraudster who was convicted earlier this year of murdering his wife and son, filed a motion with the South Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday demanding a new trial and alleging jury tampering by the Colleton County Clerk of Court.
The filing states that the Clerk of Court, Rebecca “Becky” Hill, “tampered with the jury by advising them not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and even misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable 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. Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame. Once these 2 facts are proven, the law does not allow the Court any discretion about how to respond. It must grant a new trial,” the motion says.
The motion cites at least three sworn affidavits, including one from a juror and one from a dismissed juror, as well as excerpts from Hill’s book, “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” which was published last month.
CNN has reached out to Hill for comment.
The filing comes about six months after Murdaugh was convicted of the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at their sprawling property in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before convicting him of murder and weapons charges. He is currently serving two life sentences for those crimes. Murdaugh’s team filed a notice they planned to appeal the conviction shortly after his sentencing.
The case brought national attention to Murdaugh, a former personal injury attorney and member of a dynastic family in the region, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as the local prosecutor consecutively from 1920 to 2006.
Murdaugh’s attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian said in a statement they are asking the South Carolina US Attorney to look into possible criminal charges related to the alleged tampering. The US Attorney’s office declined to comment.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement saying they were “reviewing the defense’s latest motion and will respond through the legal process at the appropriate time.”
In a news conference, Murdaugh’s attorneys said he maintains his innocence and relayed his reactions to the information in the filings.
“When I shared with him the affidavits, he’s a lawyer, he was astonished, he was shaking, he was in disbelief,” Griffin said.
Defense attorneys accuse clerk of jury tampering
The filing accuses Hill of three main issues related to the jury.
The first is allegedly inappropriately discussing the case with the jury. According to the filing, Hill “instructed jurors not to be ‘misled’ by evidence presented in Mr. Murdaugh’s defense. She told jurors not to be ‘fooled by’ Mr. Murdaugh’s testimony in his own defense.”
“Ms. Hill had frequent private conversations with the jury foreperson, a Court-appointed substitution for the foreperson the jury elected for itself at the request of Ms. Hill. During the trial, Ms. Hill asked jurors for their opinions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence,” the filing states.
An affidavit from one juror states that Hill instructed the jury to “watch him closely” and to “look at his actions” and “look at his movements,” which the juror “understood to mean that he was guilty.”
Murdaugh’s attorneys noted that harmless mistakes occur in any trial but argued these issues were significant.
“The issue here is that an elected state official engaged in intentional misconduct – deliberately violating a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial before an impartial jury – to secure financial gain for herself. Where a state actor engages in private communication with the jury about the merits of the prosecution, the verdict is impossible to sustain.”
Second, the filing argues Hill pressured jurors to come to a conclusion in their deliberations quickly. According to the filing, Hill allegedly told them they would be taken to a hotel for the night if they did not come to a verdict and did not allow smokers to take smoke breaks until deliberations were complete.
Third, the filing argues Hill furnished false information about a juror to the judge, which resulted in her being removed on the last day of the trial. Murdaugh’s lawyers allege that Hill targeted that juror as a possible vote to acquit Murdaugh and wanted her disqualified.
Joe McCulloch, an attorney for two jurors, said they came forward “reluctantly” with their stories.
“They have given their best recollections, and now it falls to the court to figure out what to do with this thing,” he said. “They are serious allegations. The explanation may be less serious.”
Clerk wrote tell-all book
Hill and co-author Neil R. Gordon last month published the book, “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” in which Hill shared behind-the-scenes details from the trial.
In the book, Hill wrote she had known Murdaugh for many years in a professional context and was “concerned” about those relationships given the serious accusations.
“Regardless of guilt or innocence, for me, reconciling Alex’s diametrically opposite roles was troublesome but not something I would allow to interfere with my sworn duties as clerk,” she wrote.
“Although I was conflicted about knowing the Murdaugh family, and about having so many people watching and listening to me as I read the verdict, I was mostly concerned about Alex being found innocent when I knew in my heart he was guilty.”
Hill also wrote of her surprise upon hearing the jury’s deliberations were nearly complete after only about three hours.
“This was unusual. Most murder trials take some time for the jury to reach a decision, but apparently the jurors were satisfied they would be returning to the courtroom shortly with a verdict,” she wrote. “I was caught a bit off guard.”
What happened at trial
At the murder trial, prosecutors hinged their case on consequential video placing Murdaugh at the crime scene that night despite his repeated assertions otherwise.
The defense case was highlighted by Murdaugh himself, who offered dramatic testimony in which he denied fatally shooting his wife and son. Yet he admitted under oath he had lied to investigators about his whereabouts, stolen millions of dollars from his former law clients and had a rampant opioid addiction that made him paranoid.
In all, state prosecutors have alleged, Murdaugh bilked his law firm, clients and the government out of more than $9 million. He faces about 100 state criminal charges for financial crimes, including embezzlement, computer crime, money laundering, and conspiracy, and he was indicted on 22 federal charges in connection with financial schemes in May.
The murder conviction was the most significant stage of a stranger-than-fiction story that featured accusations of misappropriated funds, a bizarre alleged suicide-for-hire and insurance scam plot, a stint in rehab for drug addiction, dozens of financial crimes and his disbarment from legal practice.
In a recorded call from prison in June, Murdaugh maintained his innocence, according to the docu-series “The Fall of the House of Murdaugh” on the Fox Nation streaming app.
“I came to this, not expecting anybody to listen to anything. I am not here because of what the jury just convicted me of,” he said in the recorded call. “I am in this because of pills, stealing, and lying because I would never, under any circumstances hurt Maggie or Pa Pa (Paul).”
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