South Carolina prosecutors have denied allegations of jury tampering raised by Alex Murdaugh following his double murder trial earlier this year.
Murdaugh, who is serving life without parole in the 2021 shooting deaths of his wife Maggie and younger son Paul, previously alleged that Colleton County Court clerk Rebecca Hill had asked jurors if they thought he was guilty before deliberations led to his conviction in March.
The disgraced former attorney’s defence argued in a September filing that he deserves a new trial due to Ms Hills’ alleged actions.
But in a sworn statement filed by prosecutors on Tuesday, the clerk denied those claims. While Murdaugh’s attorneys asked that a full hearing be held to discuss the developments, the state wrote in the filing that there was no need to hold a hearing where jurors, Ms Hill, other court employees and even the trial judge could be questioned under oath and their messages and texts subpoenaed.
Prosecutors branded Murdaugh’s allegations as “a sweeping conspiratorial theory” and noted that “not every inappropriate comment made by a member of court staff to a juror rises to the level of constitutional error,” according to records obtained by Count on News 2.
The request by Murdaugh’s attorneys to throw out the jury’s verdict came after four jurors, one dismissed before deliberations, gave statements to them. The defence made several allegations, including that Ms Hill told jurors their deliberations shouldn’t take long, thereby implying Murdaugh was guilty.
Murdaugh’s attorneys also claimed Ms Hill had conversations in a private bathroom with the jury forewoman and that she gave jurors business cards of reporters who wanted interviews before deliberations. One juror alleged that Ms Hill and a producer from the NBC show Dateline approached after the verdict and appeared disappointed when they denied giving an interview.
Ms Hill and three jurors did end up in New York City after the trial for an NBC interview and the clerk went on to write a self-published book tell-all book about the trial.
In addition to Ms Hill’s sworn statement, prosecutors filed statements from four court workers and nine jurors and an alternate who said they felt no pressure to reach a guilty verdict or reach their verdict quickly.
Prosecutors said the statement a juror told the defence actually mirrored comments from the prosecution’s opening and closing statements, including allegations that Ms Hill told the jury “not to be fooled” by the defence’s evidence and to watch Murdaugh closely as he testified, as well as to “look at his actions,” and “look at his movements.”
The prosecution’s interviews were conducted by the State Law Enforcement Division, whose agents investigated Murdaugh and presented much of the evidence on the killings during the trial.
“Only Alex Murdaugh could conceive of such a confounded gambit as even remotely possible, and he is projecting his own calculating, manipulative psyche onto a dedicated public servant in an effort to save himself,” the state Attorney General’s Office wrote in its court papers.
Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over Murdaugh’s trial, would be expected to rule whether to hold the hearing where jurors could be questioned, but the defence is asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to remove him from both the appeal and any future trials.
Murdaugh is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges he stole millions of dollars from clients and his family law firm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.