Police Investigating Whether Court Clerk Influenced Murdaugh Jurors

The police in South Carolina said on Thursday that they were investigating whether a court clerk improperly communicated with jurors who later convicted Alex Murdaugh for the murder of his wife and son in one of the most famous criminal trials in the state’s history.

The investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division was opened two days after Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers made explosive claims about the clerk, Rebecca Hill, and asked for a new trial for Mr. Murdaugh, the scion of an influential legal family who was sentenced to life in prison in March. Two jurors signed sworn affidavits saying that Ms. Hill had warned jurors not to “be fooled” by Mr. Murdaugh’s defense.

Ms. Hill, who later wrote a book on the case from her own point of view, has not responded to the allegations or commented on the defense’s motion.

The law enforcement investigation was opened at the request of the South Carolina attorney general, Alan Wilson, whose office prosecuted the case. It is yet another unexpected development in a yearslong legal saga that began when Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul, were shot to death on the family’s rural hunting estate in June 2021.

In announcing an investigation into the allegations of jury tampering, the state police agency and the attorney general said in a statement that their “only vested interest is seeking the truth” and that they were “committed to a fair and impartial investigation.”

Mr. Murdaugh, who has maintained his innocence, took the stand to tearfully defend himself in the nearly six-week-long trial, which was streamed live and viewed around the country. Jurors deliberated for about three hours before convicting him of murder, and one juror later said that the jury had come to an agreement on the verdict in about 45 minutes.

On the night that Mr. Murdaugh was convicted, Mr. Wilson had addressed reporters outside the Colleton County courthouse and singled out the court clerk as one of the people he wanted to thank.

“I call her Becky-Boo, that’s her nickname, but Madame Clerk, wherever you are tonight —” Mr. Wilson began, searching for Ms. Hill. A woman’s voice came from above: “General …” It was Ms. Hill, standing on the second-floor balcony of the courthouse with her dog, Gizmo, nearby.

The elected court clerk handles mainly administrative matters, such as ordering food for jurors and overseeing logistics for trials, but Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers offered affidavits suggesting that Ms. Hill had personal interactions with several jurors that may have inappropriately influenced the outcome of the case.

The four affidavits described the accounts of four jurors: two who were on the panel that convicted Mr. Murdaugh, one who sat through the trial as an alternate juror and one who was excused just before the jury began its deliberations. Two jurors signed affidavits themselves, while two were signed by a paralegal who described recent conversations between the two other jurors and Mr. Murdaugh’s legal team.

Together, the affidavits claimed that Ms. Hill had several secret conversations with the jury forewoman and also made comments about the case with other jurors, who are not even supposed to discuss the case with one another until they start deliberating.

One juror’s affidavit said that when deliberations were set to begin, Ms. Hill told jurors, “This shouldn’t take long,” and that if the group could not reach a verdict before 11 p.m., they would be taken directly to a hotel for the night. “I had questions about Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt but voted guilty because I felt pressured by the other jurors,” the affidavit said.

The defense motion seeks a hearing over the claims and, if they are supported, a new trial. The lawyers have also asked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation, expressing concern that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division could be biased because it had investigated the murders and was “invested in maintaining” the conviction.

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