Alex Murdaugh's attorneys allege court clerk tampered with jury in double murder trial

Murdaugh's attorneys made the allegations in a motion for a new trial.

September 5, 2023, 10:34 PM

Alex Murdaugh's attorneys are alleging a court clerk tampered with the jury during his double murder trial in new court documents.

The disgraced South Carolina attorney was found guilty of brutally murdering his wife and younger son, Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, who were found dead from multiple gunshot wounds near the dog kennels at the family's hunting estate in 2021.

The jury reached the verdict in March after deliberating for nearly three hours and a judge imposed two sentences of life in prison, to be served consecutively for the murders.

In a 65-page motion for a new trial filed on Tuesday, defense attorneys claim that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca 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."

Alex Murdaugh speaks with his legal team before he is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife and son by Judge Clifton Newman at the Colleton County Courthouse, March 3, 2023 in in Walterboro, S.C.
Joshua Boucher/AP, FILE

ABC News did not immediately receive a response from Hill to messages seeking comment.

The attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, said they have spoken to three jurors and have sworn testimony by two of them alleging that Hill had improper discussions with jurors about matters concerning testimony.

The defense attorneys said they saw Hill having discussions with jurors during the trial but had no knowledge of what the discussions were. Griffin told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday that they were met with a "zone of silence" from all of the jurors when they tried to speak with them after their verdict last March.

Michael Gunn, principle at Forge Consulting, gives the witness oath by Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill, right, during Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse, Feb. 8, 2023, in Walterboro, S.C.
Andrew J. Whitaker/AP, FILE

That zone "collapsed," Griffin said, after Hill released a book last month about her experiences during the trial, "Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders." At that point, several jurors began to express their concerns to the attorneys, he said.

The defense attorneys allege that Hill instructed jurors prior to Murdaugh taking the stand in his own defense to "not be fooled" by what he said or his body language.

Among the allegations, the motion also claims that jurors who smoked were allowed smoke breaks during the trial, but that during deliberations Hill allegedly told them they could not get a break until a verdict was reached. There were six smokers on the jury, according to the appeal.

Breaks during deliberations are not a clear area in law, ABC News contributor Channa Lloyd told ABC News.

"During deliberations typically jurors are supposed to stay together until a verdict is reached. This is to minimize the opportunities that a juror could be influenced or speak to outside persons," Lloyd said, noting that breaks are at the court's discretion. "Could she have utilized this to pressure the jurors potentially (absolutely), however it could have also could have been due to the high-profile nature of the trial."

PHOTO: Alex Murdaugh defense team newser on motion for new trial
Alex Murdaugh's defense team addresses reporters on Sept. 5, 2023.
ABC News

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has 10 days to respond to the filing, which could result in a hearing to determine how to proceed, Harpootlian said.

If the allegations are substantiated, that could be grounds for an appeal and a new trial, Lloyd told ABC News Live.

Harpootlian would not comment when asked whether he felt Hill should be criminally charged.

Harpootlian also sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Adair Ford Boroughs on Tuesday requesting his office to open a federal investigation into whether Murdaugh's civil rights were violated.

During the six-week trial, prosecutors claimed that Murdaugh, who comes from a legacy of prominent attorneys in the region, killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from his financial wrongdoings.

Murdaugh faces dozens of state and federal charges for allegations ranging from money laundering to staging his own death so his surviving son could cash in on his $10 million life insurance policy to misappropriating settlement funds in the death of his housekeeper.