Prosecutors respond to Murdaugh request for new murder trial

The state calls the motion for a new trial ‘procedurally defective’
In the court filing, dated Friday, the state argues the motion by the Murdaugh defense team should be dismissed.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 3:59 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 5:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office said in response to a request for a new murder trial for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh that an investigation is revealing “significant factual disputes” in the defense’s claims.

In the court filing, dated Friday, the state argues the motion by the Murdaugh defense team should be dismissed because of a rule stating “a motion for a new trial based on after-discovered evidence may not be made while the case is on appeal unless the appellate court, upon motion, has suspended the appeal and granted leave to make the motion.”

Murdaugh defense claimed ‘jury tampering’ during 6-week murder trial

A jury convicted Murdaugh in March in the June 7, 2021, killings of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and their son, Paul Murdaugh.

Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, filed a motion for a new trial earlier this month alleging jury tampering on the part of Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill. They alleged Hill advised jurors “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.”

The motion alleges Hill instructed jurors “not to be ‘misled’ by evidence” presented in Murdaugh’s defense and “not to be ‘fooled by’ Mr. Murdaugh’s testimony.” Court documents also allege 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.”

The defense also alleges Hill asked jurors for their opinions about Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence, “invented a story” about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might vote not guilty, and “pressured jurors to reach a quick verdict, telling them from the outset of their deliberations that it ‘shouldn’t take them long.’”

The defense alleges in the motion that the allegation of private conversations with members of the jury “is supported by sworn affidavits of jurors and a witness to juror interviews, testimony at in camera proceedings and other evidence including Ms. Hill’s own book.”

The motion then demands an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a new trial is warranted.

Prosecutors claim defense motion ‘defective’

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate the allegations days after Harpootlian and Griffin held a news conference on their motion.

“The State’s only vested interest is seeking the truth,” a statement read. “As with all investigations, SLED and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office are committed to a fair and impartial investigation and will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead.”

The prosecution’s response to the defense’s motion for a new trial acknowledges that “suspension of the appeal and a remand for an evidentiary hearing will be necessary to properly resolve some of the serious claims” the defense raised.

“Objective investigation by SLED remains ongoing, but the inquiry has already revealed significant factual disputes as to claims in appellant’s motion,” court documents state. “If no credible claims can be found to support the claims brought by the appellant, the State will be prepared to argue against the motion before [Judge] Clifton Newman on remand.”

But it argues the request by the defense is “procedurally defective.” Their response claims the defense motion does not reveal precisely when or how it learned of claims of jury tampering, but argues the defense “made multiple statements to various media outlets indicating they were potentially aware of an issue with the jury at and about the time of the trial.”

The prosecution, in asking for the defense motion to be denied, also requests the court give the defense 10 days “to correct the procedural defect and establish precisely when and how it is he first learned of these allegations.”

“In the event appellant properly files, remand may be necessary for the trial judge, the Honorable Clifton B. Newman, to consider the credibility of the claims in light of the significant factual disputes which undermine the credibility of the claims,” the response states.