Juror testified that court clerk's comments influenced his decision to find Alex Murdock guilty of murder


Columbia, South Carolina
CNN

One of the judges who discovered Alex Murdock Convicted of murdering his wife and 22-year-old youth The son testified Monday that comments made by the Colleton County, South Carolina, court clerk influenced his judgment.

The first question was asked Monday as part of a hearing to determine whether Murdoch should get a new murder trial, after his attorneys allege Clerk of Court Rebecca “Peggy” Hill disturbed the jury by inappropriately discussing the case with them. It puts pressure on them to finish discussions quickly. Hill denies the allegations.

The juror, identified as Juror Z, testified that he was struck by comments Hill made before the jury returned its verdict, telling the judge to “watch his actions” and “watch him closely.”

Hill's comments, Juror Z said, “made it seem like he was already guilty.” Asked if Hill's comments affected her guilty finding, the judge said, “Yes, ma'am.”

A second juror questioned Monday testified that she was not victimized by Hill. Juror C, who testified after Juror Z, said he was “not privy to” any comments Hill made about the case prior to the jury's verdict. A referee questioned Friday, denying Hill's influence.

In their motion for a new trial, Murdock and his attorneys allege Hill misrepresented information to the trial judge about a juror who was ultimately dismissed. Hill's misconduct, according to Murta's defense team, was to “secure a book deal and media appearances for himself that did not happen during a false trial.”

Hill filed a Signed last November Murdock denies 26 specific allegations from the motion for a new trial. The South Carolina Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted Murdock, urged the courts to deny the motion.

Testimony on Monday It is expected to include testimony from 11 jurors from the original murder trial A court order restricts the reporting of jurors' biographical information and mountain. One of Murdoch's attorneys, Dick Harboudlian, indicated that jurors would be questioned in the morning, with Hill expected to take the stand in the afternoon.

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The 12th juror testified Friday to accommodate a scheduling conflict and denied Hill's influence, answering “yes” when the judge asked if their ruling was “fully based on the testimony, evidence and law” presented during the trial.

Asked if the verdict was “in any way influenced by any communications” with Hill, the judge replied, “No, your honor.”

If necessary, three days are allotted for the hearing. But the judge said he hoped the entire process would take just one day.

Murdoch's attorneys have indicated they intend to call as witnesses alternate and dismissed jurors and prosecutors, as well as Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over the murder trial. But retired South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Gene Dole — who is overseeing Murdoch's efforts for a new trial — demanded Newman be removed from post-trial developments. – Monday's trial will have a “very focused focus,” and the only witnesses will be the 12 jurors who delivered the guilty verdicts and Hill.

state/dns/getty images

Colleton County Clerk Rebecca Hill listens as prosecutor Creighton Waters presents closing arguments in the Alex Murdock murder trial on March 1, 2023, at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.

Murdoch, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife and son, appeared attentive during Friday's arraignment in Columbia, South Carolina. He came into the courtroom with his hands and feet shackled and wearing a bright orange prison uniform.

Meanwhile, Murdock Appeal of his conviction for murder He has been suspended pending the outcome of his quest for a new trial.

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Last March, Murdoch's jury deliberated for three hours last March, accusing him of murdering his wife Maggie and their son Paul at the family's hunting estate in June 2021. Prosecutors said it was an attempt by Murdoch to distract and delay the investigation. He committed a string of financial crimes, targeting his own clients and law firm.

Murdoch denies the murders and pleaded not guilty in court last November. He was also sentenced to 27 years in prison After pleading guilty to two dozen state financial crimes.

Murta's lawyers were the first to rule Allegations of jury damage The lawsuit against Hill last September prompted South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to request an investigation by state law enforcement.

“Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame,” the motion said, citing at least three affidavits, including one from a juror and one from a recused judge, as well as excerpts from her book, “Behind the Doors of Justice.” : The Murdock Murders.

Hill denied the allegations in a three-page affidavit last November as part of a blistering response from Wilson's office, writing, “I am not saying the jury should not be 'fooled' by the testimony Mr. Murdock's attorneys presented.” And, “I don't tell jurors: 'You're all going to hear things that will throw you all off. Don't let this distract you or mislead you.

Hill's co-author also denied the claims by Murdoch's lawyers, telling CNN they had no guarantee from any publisher when they started writing the book and spent $30,000 of their own money.

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Neil R., who did not meet Hill until after the trial. “The truth is, there was no book deal coming her way or ours,” Gordon said.

Gordon has accused him of plagiarism, and his lawyers say he admitted to plagiarizing passages taken from a reporter's draft article in their book. Attorneys Justin Bamberg and Will Lewis said in a statement that Hill was “deeply remorseful,” attributing the “unfortunate failure of judgment” to the “tight timeline.”

The plagiarism was cited by Murta's attorneys in a filing this month, saying his “credibility is an important aspect of the matter before the court” and alleging misconduct in addition to allegedly tampering with the jury.

Gavin McIntyre/The Post and Courier/AP

Alex Murdock's defense attorneys, Dick Harboudlian and Jim Griffin, appear before the trial on Jan. 16 at the Richland County Judicial Center in Columbia.

In a statement this month, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement confirmed that Hill is the subject of two open investigations, one regarding his alleged contacts with the Murdoch jury and the other “in regards to his use of his elected office for personal gain.”

Hill, who will testify Monday, and jurors will only be asked questions about what happened during the murder trial, Judge Dole pointed out in a preliminary hearing, saying, “The record of this case should not be used as a platform to examine every mistake. Every witness, whether it's a juror or a clerk.”

CNN's Dianne Gallagher and Maxime Tamsett reported from Columbia, South Carolina, while Dakin Andone reported and wrote this story in New York. CNN's Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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