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Alex Murdaugh returns to court in bid to toss murder conviction one year after trial

Murdaugh will argue to overturn murder conviction in three-day hearing in South Carolina court

Rachel Sharp
Monday 29 January 2024 13:50 GMT
Alex Murdaugh stumbles as he enters court

Almost exactly one year to the day that the Lowcountry’s “trial of the century” began, Alex Murdaugh is returning to court to try to throw out his conviction.

The disgraced legal scion was found guilty of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul in the dog kennels of the family’s sprawling Moselle hunting estate in Islandton back in the summer of 2021.

Their violent shooting deaths sparked fear and rumours across South Carolina and beyond.

Questions grew about the Murdaugh’s family’s ties to other unexplained deaths – from a deadly teen boat wreck to a housekeeper’s fatal trip-and-fall to the body of a boy found dead on a Hampton County road.

These questions and rumours only escalated further when Murdaugh himself called 911 to claim he was shot in the head three months on from his wife and son’s murders.

It turned out to be a lie; a plot that Murdaugh himself orchestrated – and so the reputation of the heir to a prominent legal dynasty fell apart.

First came charges for the roadside shooting plot; then for a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme; and then for the murder.

The murder trial itself was equally rife with drama, from an explosive cellphone video placing Murdaugh at the crime scene to his own damning testimony confessing to a slew of other crimes on the stand.

Ultimately, Murdaugh was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison, and the sad tale of Maggie and Paul seemed to have come to an end. But now, Murdaugh is back again.

Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh (Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook)

In a bombshell move, the convicted killer and fraudster has managed to secure a hearing to determine if he should be granted a new murder trial.

Across three days from 29 January to 31 January, Justice Jean Toal will hear from Murdaugh’s defence, prosecutors, jurors and other witnesses to determine whether the six-week trial should be dismissed and the killer head back to the courtroom for a new trial.

Murdaugh’s fight is based on shocking accusations of jury tampering levelled against Becky Hill, Colleton County Court clerk.

In September, Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin filed a motion accusing court clerk Becky Hill of breaking her oath by tampering with the jury and pressuring them into returning a guilty verdict against him.

They claim that she advised the panel not to be “fooled by” Murdaugh’s testimony on the stand or “misled” by the defence’s evidence, pushed them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and misrepresented “critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favourable to the defence”.

Ms Hill has denied the allegations. In a sworn statement, the state branded the allegations as “a sweeping conspiratorial theory” and said that “not every inappropriate comment made by a member of court staff to a juror rises to the level of constitutional error”.

Rebecca ‘Becky’ Hill, Colleton County Court clerk (Colleton County)

Based on the claims, Murdaugh’s legal team has demanded that the disbarred attorney be granted a new murder trial as he continues to proclaim his innocence of any involvement in the June 2021 murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.

One of the most damning accusations centres around the dismissal of juror number 785, just hours before jury deliberations began.

According to Murdaugh’s attorneys, Ms Hill “invented a story about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty”.

Judge Clifton Newman removed the female juror from the panel for allegedly discussing the case with at least three other people outside of the court. The woman then prompted some light-hearted – and widely-reported – relief when she asked to pick up her “dozen eggs” from the jury room before she left.

According to the motion, Ms Hill had gone to Judge Newman on 27 February – the day after Murdaugh testified – claiming that she had seen a post in the local Facebook group “Walterboro Word of Mouth” from juror 785’s former husband, Tim Stone.

The post purportedly claimed that the juror was drinking with her ex-husband and, when she became drunk, she expressed her views on whether Murdaugh was innocent or guilty.

A follow-up post from an account called Timothy Stone apologised for the post saying that he was driven by “Satan”.

In a court filing, Murdaugh’s attorneys claim that the Mr Stone behind the Facebook posts was actually a random Georgia man who was ranting about his wife’s aunt – and has no connection to the case.

Murdaugh’s attorneys are claiming that – based on these allegations – he should be granted a new murder trial.

The legal team is also calling for the removal of Judge Newman from the case.

Judge Newman announced that he would stand down from any future proceedings in the murder case – paving the way for Judge Toal to step into the role.

Ms Hill is now the subject of two investigations by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (Sled) – the same state agency that led the investigation into the murders of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul.

While she and the state have pushed back against the claim of any unscrupulous behaviour in the trial, legal experts have warned that they are very serious allegations and, if true, Murdaugh could – and should – be granted a new trial.

“If proven true, these allegations not only undermine the integrity of the judicial process but also represent a significant violation of Murdaugh’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” prominent attorney Duncan Levin told The Independent in the fall.

He added: “In such cases, the law typically requires the granting of a new trial to ensure that justice is served without the taint of undue influence or misconduct.”

All eyes now turn to Judge Toal as she hears arguments this week, and ultimately decides if the Lowcountry should brace for round two of the “trial of the century”.

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