Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers made mistakes when they asked an appellate court to halt the convicted murderer’s appeal, citing allegations of jury tampering in his trial, South Carolina’s Attorney General said Friday.
The claim from Attorney General Alan Wilson came in response to Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial. Murdaugh claimed in his motion that Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill tampered with the jury. The jury found Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, after three hours of deliberation last March.
Murdaugh wants the court of appeals to stay his appeal so the trial court can hold a hearing on the jury tampering claims. But, prosecutors said Murdaugh skipped a procedural step when asking the court for a stay. One missing item: an affidavit from Murdaugh stating when he learned of the “new evidence.”
“Such motion shall be supported by an affidavit of the accused himself,” prosecutors wrote, quoting case law.
Prosecutors also questioned when Murdaugh and his lawyers found out about the alleged jury tampering. For evidence to be considered “new,” it has to be something that would have likely changed the outcome of the trial and couldn’t have been discovered during the trial.
“The affidavit of the accused must show that he did not know of the existence of such evidence at the time of the trial and that he used due diligence to discover such evidence, or that he could not have discovered it by the exercise of due diligence,” according to the filing from prosecutors.
Murdaugh’s lawyers claimed Hill had private conversations with the jury foreperson and tried to sway the jury to find him guilty. They also claim Hill took steps that led to the improper removal of a juror right before closing arguments. Murdaugh’s lawyers believe the juror nicknamed “egg lady” would have caused a hung jury.
Prosecutors said the words of Murdaugh’s lawyers show they may have been aware of conversations between Hill and the foreperson during the trial.
“I think we observed it,” Murdaugh’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, said at a news conference last week.
Prosecutors conceded that the case may need to be returned to the trial court for a hearing. However, they wrote that South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has been investigating the claims of jury tampering and has found “significant factual disputes.”
Murdaugh’s lawyers have asked federal officials to investigate Hill and the alleged jury tampering. Hill’s lawyers have not responded to texts, emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Attorney Eric Bland told Law&Crime earlier this week that SLED is scheduled to interview two jurors he’s representing in the next two weeks. Bland has since announced he is representing two additional jurors.
While prosecutors say they are inclined to ask the court of appeals to dismiss Murdaugh’s request for a new trial because of the defect in the filing, they instead ask that the defense be given 10 days to correct it.
“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,” prosecutors wrote.
Murdaugh is serving two life sentences for the murders of his wife and son at an undisclosed South Carolina prison. He will appear in federal court in Charleston next week when he is expected to plead guilty to financial crimes.
His state trial in one of his many financial crimes cases will begin on Nov. 27. That case involves an allegation that Murdaugh stole a $4.2 million insurance settlement intended for the sons of Gloria Satterfield, his former housekeeper. Satterfield’s sons are represented by Eric Bland and his law partner, Ronnie Richter.
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