Prosecutors have responded to Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial on the grounds of jury tampering allegations at his murder trial, stating that South Carolina investigators have found “significant factual disputes” with the claims.
The response filed on Friday by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson concedes a hearing may be needed to decide if the convicted killer should get a new trial - but moved to dismiss the motion for a “procedural defect” in the filing.
It’s the state’s first response to the bombshell motion filed by Murdaugh’s attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian last week that accused Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill of pressuring jurors to return a guilty verdict earlier this year.
An investigation was launched by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which the AG claims is still ongoing, but has said has “revealed significant factual disputes as to claims in (Murdaugh’s) motion.” Prosecutors have not elaborated on the details of the “factual disputes” but did note comments by Mr Griffin and Mr Harpootlian in multiple media interviews following the motion.
Prosecutors also said in the filing they want Murdaugh’s defence team to show that they did not know about the alleged jury tampering during the murder trial.
The response allows Murdaugh’s attorneys to correct the reported deficiencies within 10 days if they wish to proceed, adding “It may well be that suspension of the appeal and a remand for an evidentiary hearing will be necessary to properly resolve some of the serious claims raised.”
Last week, Murdaugh’s attorneys called for a federal investigation into whether the court clerk violated Murdaugh’s civil rights.
The motion alleges Ms Hill tampered with the jury because she was driven by fame and a desire to secure a book deal.
Her tell-all book from the trial Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders was released on 1 August.
Ms Hill is accused of having one-on-one chats with the jury foreperson, sometimes behind closed doors in a bathroom.
She allegedly told jurors who smoked they couldn’t take a cigarette break until a verdict was reached. She also gave jurors the business cards of reporters during the trial.
“She asked jurors about their opinions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence. She instructed them not to believe evidence presented in Mr Murdaugh’s defense, including his own testimony. She lied to the judge to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty. And she pressured jurors to reach a guilty verdict quickly so she could profit from it,” Murdaugh’s attorneys wrote.
Ms Hill also allegedly told the jury “not to be fooled” by the evidence presented by the defense, to watch Murdaugh closely as he testified and to “look at his actions,” and “look at his movements.” One juror said in a sworn statement that they understood that to mean Murdaugh was guilty.
The clerk also accompanied three jurors to New York City where they gave TV interviews after the trial.
“Clerks are supposed to help get people in the courtroom, organise exhibits, get lunch or answer simple jury questions like finding the bathroom,” lawyer John Fishwick Jr, a former US attorney, told the Associated Press.
“You are never supposed to talk to a jury about the case.”
If the allegations are proven to be true, attorney Duncan Levin told The Independent that Murdaugh should then “unquestionably” be granted his request for a new trial.
Ms Hill has not commented publicly on the allegations. At this time, she does not face any criminal charges.
The response from the state on Friday comes a day after a smiling Murdaugh appeared publicly for the first time since he was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul, this time to face a string of financial fraud charges.
At the status hearing in Beaufort County, Judge Clifton Newman set the trial date for 27 November.
The case will focus on the millions of dollars he stole from the family of his dead housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, part of the 101 state charges in response to his alleged financial crimes.
Two former friends and alleged co-conspirators in the case also appeared in court on Thursday, former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte and former attorney Cory Fleming, the latter sentenced to 10 years in prison.