Southern Lawyer's Scandal Deepens: Court Clerk Accused of Tampering in Murdaugh Trial
If you’re a true crime junkie, you may have caught the Netflix docuseries Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal. Or if you’re a lawyer, you may have heard the buzz in the legal community about one prominent lawyer who found himself on the other side of the attorney-client privilege when he was accused of murdering his family, among literally a hundred other things. But now, his tale gets even more twisted: a court clerk at his trial has just been called out for tampering with the jury — the jury who found him guilty.
Alex Murdaugh was once a prominent attorney in South Carolina, hailing from a powerful legal family with a long history in the state. He followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who all served as solicitors in South Carolina. Soon after law school, he joined the family law firm, where he became a successful personal injury attorney known for his charisma and courtroom skills. Things were going well.
Then, in 2021, his life took a dramatic and tragic turn: he was accused of the murders of his wife, Maggie, and their younger son, Paul. Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot to death on the family's hunting estate. The investigation revealed a complex web of financial problems, alleged drug use, and a litany of other criminal charges against Murdaugh that were to be dealt with separately from the murder charge. We’ve covered the charges against him on our podcast as well as our blog.
The whole time, Murdaugh has maintained his innocence, denying killing his wife and son since he told deputies he’d found their bodies. Nonetheless, in March 2023, after a six-week trial, Murdaugh was found guilty of all four counts of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. But the matter was far from settled. Much later, just last month, what’s known as a post-conviction hearing was held.
Jury Tampering Accusations
In general, a post-conviction hearing is a legal procedure that allows a defendant to challenge their conviction or sentence after they have already been found guilty. The most common type of post-conviction relief in the United States is a habeas corpus petition, which is a federal court proceeding that challenges the legality of a person's imprisonment. But Murdaugh’s hearing was different.
It wasn't a standard post-conviction hearing, but rather a specific hearing to address the allegations of jury tampering. Murdaugh's defense team alleged that the Colleton County Clerk of Court, Rebecca Hill, had improperly interacted with jurors during the trial and potentially biased them to find Murdaugh guilty.
These alleged interactions included telling jurors to pay close attention to Murdaugh's body language during his testimony and making disparaging remarks about Murdaugh and his family. They claimed that Hill's comments had a "substantial and demonstrably prejudicial influence" on the jury's deliberations. Somewhat separately, the clerk was even allegedly writing a book about the trial while it was ongoing, potentially violating ethical guidelines in an additional way.
The judge considered evidence and testimonies from jurors and the clerk, ultimately concluding there wasn't enough proof to demonstrate actual influence on the jury's decision. After a day-long hearing where all 12 jurors and Hill testified, Judge Jean Toal ultimately denied Murdaugh's request for a new trial. While acknowledging that Hill's conduct was "not completely credible" and showed poor judgment, the judge found insufficient evidence to prove her actions directly influenced the jury's verdict. None of the jurors reported feeling pressured or biased by Hill's comments, and they maintained their convictions were based solely on the presented evidence.
What Next for the Defendant?
As of now, Murdaugh's conviction for the murders of his wife and son remains upheld. However, the jury tampering allegations may be included in further appeals and continue to add complexity to the already highly publicized case. And even if the 55-year-old gets a new trial for the murder case, he’s not going to walk away scot-free: he’ll also be serving 27 years for the separate charges of embezzlement from his law firm, among other wrongdoings. For now, we’ll just have to wait to see how many more trial twists his story will take.
- Alex Murdaugh's Murder Charges (FindLaw's "Don't Judge Me" Podcast)
- Closing Arguments Set to Begin in Murdaugh Case (FindLaw's Courtside)
- Sidebar: A True Crime Episode About a Fake Murder (FindLaw's "Don't Judge Me" Podcast)
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