Lowcountry Headlines

Lowcountry Headlines


Judge limits who can be called in Murdaugh hearing

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Photo: Jantanee Phoolmas / Moment / Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - An evidentiary hearing to determine if convicted killer Alex Murdaugh will get a new trial will not see attorneys who tried the case or the judge who heard it.

Judge Jean Toal, former South Carolina Chief Justice, made that decision during a Tuesday morning status conference.

“This case is very focused on the clerk and the jurors,” Toal said.

Murdaugh’s attorneys listed state prosecutor Creighton Waters and Judge Clifton Newman on a Jan. 12 brief of potential witnesses when the court hears if the jury in the six-week murder trial was tampered with.

It’s those jurors and Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill who will be questioned by Toal during an evidentiary hearing scheduled for three days beginning on Jan. 29.

Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian called for a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry into the clerk’s conduct both during and after the trial.

“We think the examination of the clerk should be wide open,” Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian mentioned Hill’s plagiarism controversy and that her son, Jeff Hill, was recently arrested by state agents on wiretapping charges. Hill is also under two investigations by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Toal said she would put limitations on “just a wholesale exploration” of Hill’s conduct.

“So I say that to tell you that when the clerk is offered, and I think the clerk is going to be offered as a witness, the whole allegation revolves around the contention that the clerk made contact with the jury about matters of material delivery,” Toal said. “That that contact was improper. And that impacted the burden.”

Toal also ruled that jurors who are examined will be examined in open court.

As for those who won’t be called, at least through Toal’s initial ruling, the alternate juror and the woman known as the egg juror who each provided affidavits to the defense.

“At present, I see no reason to call the alternates,” Toal said. “I think I’m perfectly capable of evaluating what the jurors tell me.”

Toal did say she was open to changing that ruling and asked the defense to submit supporting documents.

Hill has denied the allegations in a sworn statement, saying she neither asked jurors about Murdaugh’s guilt before deliberations nor suggested to them that he committed the murders.

Murdaugh is serving life imprisonment without parole after a jury found him guilty of the killings back in March.

Alex Murdaugh arrives in the courtroom ahead of a Jan. 16, 2024 status hearing.

Copyright 2024 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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