A juror who presided over Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial last year testified Monday that Colleton County Court Clerk Becky Hill’s comments influenced her guilty verdict.
The juror, referred to as Juror Z, said Hill told jurors to watch Alex Murdaugh “closely” and watch his “actions,” adding that she reached a guilty verdict because of the clerk’s comments.
“To me…she made it seem like he was already guilty,” Juror Z, the first to testify Monday, said when asked how the clerk inspired her verdict.
Murdaugh’s defense team and South Carolina prosecutors will be able to question Hill, who is accused of jury tampering, in the convicted killer’s bid for a new trial, Justice Jean Toal ruled Friday as Murdaugh fights for a new trial.
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The disgraced lawyer’s defense team is arguing that Hill allegedly pushed jurors to convict him in the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on his family hunting estate.
Juror Z also testified that other jurors also made her feel pressured to deliver a guilty verdict, as her affidavit stated.
Following Juror Z’s testimony, Toal announced on the record that jurors’ cellphones had not been confiscated Monday morning, and they were able to watch a live stream of the proceedings on their phones. The justice then called for a five-minute recess.
On Friday, Toal questioned another juror who presided over Murdaugh’s murder trial, referred to as Juror X, about Hill’s conduct because the juror had a scheduling conflict with Monday’s proceedings.
When Toal asked if Juror X had heard “Hill make any comment about the verdict in this case,” Juror X responded, “No, ma’am.”
When the justice asked the juror whether her “verdict was influenced by any way of communications from Becky Hill,” the juror responded, “No, your honor.”
Finally, when Toal asked the juror about issues with private meetings apparently held with Hill and whether they had anything to do with the Murdaugh murder case, Juror X said the meetings were about a “different matter” and had “nothing to do with the case.”
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Justice Toal is expected to question the remainder of the jurors Monday. Toal said she plans to call the jurors one-by-one and examine them until all have been questioned.
After juror questioning, prosecutors and Murdaugh’s defense attorneys will be allowed to question Hill. Toal has made clear that Hill “is not on trial,” and the court clerk will only have to answer relevant questions.
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Murdaugh’s lawyers, Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, alleged in their motion for a new trial that Hill advised jurors not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony, pressured the panel to reach a “quick guilty verdict” and lied to the trial judge in a campaign to remove a panelist who was sympathetic 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,” the filing says. “Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame.”
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The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has opened two investigations into Hill’s conduct during Murdaugh’s murder trial, including a probe into allegations Hill used her position as clerk to benefit financially from sales of her book about the case, which she later admitted included plagiarized writing, and another probe into the jury tampering allegations.
Murdaugh, 55, was sentenced in March to two life terms for fatally shooting his 52-year-old wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and their son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, in June 2021.
The disgraced South Carolina lawyer was also sentenced to 27 years in November for his financial crimes. He agreed to plead guilty to 22 counts — including breach of trust, money laundering, forgery and tax evasion — out of about 100 counts totaling as much as $10 million in exchange for the 27-year prison sentence.
Murdaugh previously pleaded guilty to 22 counts of financial fraud and money laundering in federal court.
Fox News’ Chelsea Torres and Rebecca Rosenberg contributed to this report.
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