In a dramatic legal twist, a South Carolina Justice has rendered a decision denying convicted murderer Richard "Alex" Murdaugh a new trial, following a riveting hearing that unfolded on Monday. Murdaugh, who received double life terms after being convicted on March 2, 2023, for the 2021 murders of his wife and younger son, had asserted jury tampering allegations against Colleton County Clerk of Court-turned-author Rebecca Hill in September.
Former S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal, specially appointed to preside over this post-conviction case, conducted a hearing in the state capital, examining the allegations against Hill, who oversaw the six-week murder trial in Walterboro in early 2023. Despite a day filled with testimonies from all 12 jurors, an alternate juror, Hill, and other witnesses, Justice Toal denied Murdaugh's motion for a new trial. She concluded that, while there might have been improper conduct, Murdaugh failed to prove it had prejudiced the jury into a guilty verdict. However, Juror Z detailed specific instances where she believed that Becky Hill, Clerk of Courts influenced her vote. Maybe the Justice didn't hear her well enough.
During the hearing, Murdaugh, clad in an orange detention center jumpsuit, displayed a range of emotions from anxiety to anger. Justice Toal, after a thorough examination of the trial transcript, echoed trial judge Clifton Newman's sentiments, describing the evidence against Murdaugh as "overwhelming" and the guilty verdict as "not surprising."
Murdaugh's legal team has a brief window of four days to file any objections or subsequent motions before the case is officially recorded. Shortly after the ruling, Becky Hill's attorneys, Justin Bamberg and Will Lewis, issued a statement respecting Justice Toal's decision, emphasizing Hill's alleged comments as "fleeting" and underscoring the professionalism of the Colleton County jurors.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, present at the hearing, issued a statement affirming that Murdaugh's convictions were based solely on the facts and evidence, signaling a call to move forward. The same Attorney General is investigating the same Becky Hill for illegal jury tampering. The hearing itself mirrored the complexity of Murdaugh's murder trial, including behind-the-scenes juror drama and a surprising revelation that some jurors had been watching the hearing live on Court TV.
Hill, who took the stand, vehemently denied any improper contact with jurors, contradicting statements made by some jurors during the hearing. The defense called Barnwell Clerk of Court Rhonda McElveen as a witness, who testified to Hill admitting to giving a juror a ride home but not discussing the case. McElveen also claimed Hill made comments about the potential positive impact of a guilty verdict on her book sales. Justice Toal impeached Ms. Hill's testimony as not credible.
Despite conflicting juror testimonies, 11 jurors maintained that Hill did not influence their verdict, leading Justice Toal and lead prosecutor Creighton Waters to emphasize the fairness of the trial. Murdaugh's attorney, Richard Harpootlian, argued that they had proven both improper comments and prejudice on Hill's part, but Justice Toal ruled against a new trial even though the defense did prove their case.
The ruling prompted reactions from people from across the United States and South Carolina on the Crime and Cask TikTock page saying that the 6th Amendment is under fire in South Carolina and anyone's right to a fair trial in the state is now in jeopardy.