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Murdaugh’s Lawyers Seek New Trial, Saying Clerk Tampered With Jury

When Alex Murdaugh, the once-influential South Carolina lawyer, was convicted in March of murdering his wife and younger son, the verdict was widely seen as a rebuke of corruption in a legal system that Mr. Murdaugh had bent to his benefit for years.

Now, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers say that he is a victim of a corrupt judicial process, and are seeking a new trial and an F.B.I. investigation. In an explosive court filing on Tuesday, they claim that the clerk of court had a series of inappropriate conversations with jurors and committed other misconduct during his trial.

Among the claims are that the clerk, Rebecca Hill, told jurors not to be “fooled by” Mr. Murdaugh’s tearful testimony; that she had private conversations with the jury forewoman, including one in a courthouse restroom; and that she fabricated a story about a Facebook post by another juror’s ex-husband in an effort to have that juror removed.

Ms. Hill did not respond to several requests for comment.

The state attorney general, Alan Wilson, said he was reviewing Mr. Murdaugh’s motion and would respond “through the legal process.”

One juror said in an affidavit filed with the motion that at the beginning of deliberations, Ms. Hill told jurors that “this shouldn’t take us long.” Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers said that Ms. Hill told the six smokers on the jury that they could not take a smoke break until after they reached a verdict.

The trial lasted nearly six weeks, but the jury deliberated for only three hours on March 2 before convicting Mr. Murdaugh, the scion of a legal family in the state’s Lowcountry region, of two counts of murder. The judge hearing the case sentenced him the next day to life in prison. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers promised an appeal.

The lawyers have also asked the U.S. attorney in South Carolina to have the F.B.I. investigate whether Ms. Hill violated Mr. Murdaugh’s constitutional rights by depriving him of a trial by an impartial jury.

“The clerk of court is the person that makes sure the jury gets their food,” Dick Harpootlian, one of Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “They’re not someone that ever should talk to them about the case. I’ve never had it happen.”

Rebecca Hill, right, the Colleton County, S.C., clerk of court, swore in a witness in February during Mr. Murdaugh’s trial. Credit…Pool photo by Andrew J. Whitaker

Ms. Hill is the clerk of court for Colleton County, S.C., where the trial was held. It is an elected position, responsible for a range of administrative matters in the county courts, including managing jury logistics. The job is distinct from that of a judge’s law clerk. Ms. Hill was elected in 2020; her term ends next year.

Since the verdict was handed up, Ms. Hill has kept an unusually high profile for a court official. Immediately after she read the verdict aloud in the courtroom — which was shown live on television — she stood on the second-floor balcony of the courthouse with her dog as prosecutors held a news conference below.

A few days later, when the lead prosecutor on the case, Creighton Waters, posted a video on Twitter, now known as X, of himself playing the guitar, Ms. Hill replied with three heart emojis and the comment, “Your biggest fan in Colleton County!”

In July, Ms. Hill and a co-author, Neil Gordon, published a book of her firsthand account of the trial, a move that raised eyebrows among some legal observers. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers said that after Ms. Hill published the book and began promoting it, they heard from some jurors who felt uncomfortable about her behavior.

Some passages in Ms. Hill and Mr. Gordon’s book are cited in the motion filed by Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers, who argue that Ms. Hill may have pushed jurors toward a conviction in order to get herself a book deal and appearances in the media. One passage from the book says that while she was chaperoning jurors on a visit to the crime scene as part of the trial, she and the jurors and law enforcement officers who were present “had an epiphany and shared our thoughts with our eyes.”

“At that moment,” she wrote, “many of us standing there knew. I knew and they knew that Alex was guilty.”

Bruce A. Green, a law professor at Fordham University who specializes in criminal law and ethics, said he had never before heard of a clerk of court publishing a book about a trial in which she was involved. Professor Green said that the actions alleged in Mr. Murdaugh’s motion would not have been appropriate, and would probably lead to a factual inquiry by a judge.

“If it really happened, it would really be improper,” he said.

He noted that jurors were not supposed to discuss a case even with one another before formal deliberations began, let alone discuss it with a clerk. “It’s a pretty incendiary allegation,” he said.

Mr. Murdaugh, who gave two days of dramatic testimony during his trial, has maintained that he is innocent of the fatal shootings of his younger son, Paul, and wife, Maggie, who were killed in June 2021.

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