Thursday capped off nearly six weeks of trial in South Carolina’s prosecution of attorney Alex Murdaugh. But before the defense could begin delivering their closing argument, the judge overseeing the case held a brief hearing to deal with a juror misconduct issue.
Ultimately, female juror #785 was tossed from the jury – over an avid and marked denunciation of the process by the defense that, for some reason, did not amount to a formal objection being lodged.
The brouhaha concerned allegations that the juror had been discussing the case with non-jurors – a direct violation of court rules.
“A few days ago, I received a complaint from a member of the public that a juror had engaged in improper conversations with parties not associated with the case,” Judge Clifton Newman explained. “I communicated and provided a copy of the communications to defense counsel. After court, we then met with the juror on the record.”
The juror, however, said the claims against her were fabricated – saying she didn’t discuss the case with anyone on or off the jury.
“She provided information that led us to – the court to – contact the persons that she was suspected of having the conversations with concerning the case,” Newman went on. “Those persons were interviewed and provided an affidavit regarding the contact that the juror had with them. We then also brought those two individuals in and had a hearing in chambers, on the record, in the presence of counsel yesterday in which both of those individuals waffled on the nature and the extent of the contact.”
The judge said he also reviewed an interview conducted by law enforcement with the jury.
“So, the juror has had contact or discussions concerning the case with at least three individuals,” Newman said – outlining why the juror was removed. “Though it does not appear that the conversations were that extensive, it did involve the juror offering her opinion regarding evidence received up to that point in the trial that the conversation took place.”
The juror was then brought out and informed that her services were no longer needed.
Important note: Harpootlian said the defense didn’t like the juror being removed – I’ll speculate whatever was reported that she said was likely favorable to the defense. #MurdaughTrial
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) March 2, 2023
Dick Harpootlian disagreed with the decision to remove the juror but deferred to the judge. The state had no comment.
The lead defense attorney noted that South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents conducted the interviews that led to the juror’s dismissal. One was named as a witness in the case, and another was listed as one of the investigating officers.
“Again, SLED has made another bad judgment in this case,” Harpootlian said. “I’m not excepting from your ruling. I’m just pointing out that this is just a continuum of a calamity of errors.”
Newman replied that the court had not had any discussions with any SLED agents over the juror issue.
The removal of the juror left the case with one remaining alternate. Attrition in the proceedings has been fierce. Initially, there were 12 jurors and six alternates, but COVID-19 and other issues whittled down the jury considerably throughout the lengthy trial.
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