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Alex Murdaugh court clerk resigns with immediate effect after jury tampering accusations

Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill was accused of tampering with the jury during the high-profile double murder trial of convicted killer and disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh

Andrea Cavallier,Rachel Sharp
Monday 25 March 2024 20:00 GMT
Alex Murdaugh court clerk resigns following accusations of jury tampering

A South Carolina court clerk has announced her resignation after being plagued by accusations of jury tampering during Alex Murdaugh’s high-profile double murder trial.

In what marks her first public appearance since the bombshell allegations were made by the convicted killer’s legal team last year, Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca “Becky” Hill addressed reporters in front of the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro on Monday morning.

Flanked by her attorney Justin Bamberg, she confirmed she will not run for reelection, adding that she is quitting her role effective immediately.

“I will now be able to focus on being a wife, mother and grandmother to my two grandboys,” she said. “And will be spending time with the people who mean the most to me.”

Her attorney insisted that the announcement “today is not in response to any new development in the state investigations” into the court clerk – instead claiming that her resignation is about allowing other candidates to run.

“When we run for elected office, we run publicly, our lives become public, so it’s only fitting, and I respect Ms Hill very much, that the conclusion of her service happens publicly,” he added.

Mr Bamberg refused to address the state investigation against her when pressed by reporters at the courthouse.

The court clerk is currently under investigation by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for allegations of abusing her government position for financial and personal gain, by tampering with the jury at Murdaugh’s trial in order to help sell copies of her upcoming book.

SLED is the same state agency that led the investigation into the murders of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul in 2021.

Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill announced her resignation after being plagued by accusations of jury tampering during Alex Murdaugh’s high-profile double murder trial (ABC4 News)

Ms Hill has served as Colleton County clerk of court since she was elected in 2020 and was the clerk during what became known as the Lowcountry’s “trial of the century”. When the jury returned its verdict in the case, it was Ms Hill who read out his conviction on all charges to the court.

Following the six-week long trial in early 2023, she went on to write a book about it.

Then, in September, Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion demanding a new trial claiming that Ms Hill had tampered with jurors, and had swayed the panel to reach a guilty verdict to help sell copies of her book.

During Murdaugh’s retrial hearing in January, retired South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal denied the request for a new trial.

But, despite dismissing Murdaugh’s request, the judge said that Ms Hill was “not completely credible” as a witness.

“I find that the clerk of court was not completely credible as a witness. Miss Hill was attracted by the siren call of celebrity,” Judge Toal said.

The judge acknowledged that Ms Hill had a conflict of interest but said that the “fleeting and foolish comments by a publicity-seeking clerk of court” were not sufficient to grant a new trial.

During cross-examination in the hearing, Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpoolitan read an excerpt from Ms Hill’s book where she wrote that while visiting Murdaugh’s estate with jurors she had locked eyes with them with the “unspoken understanding” that Murdaugh was guilty. Mr Harpoolitan also asked if she “made up” facts because she was motivated by financial gain.

Ms Hill testified under oath she had taken some “poetic licence”, but never told jurors that she thought Murdaugh was guilty. She also admitted that she made around $100,000 in book sales, and apologised for plagiarising reporting from a BBC reporter in her book.

“I’m very sorry and I have apologised,” she said.

Alex Murdaugh found guilty on all counts

In December 2023, sales were halted on the book she co-authored with Neil Gordon entitled Behind the Doors of Justice: the Murdaugh Murders, due to revelations that Ms Hill plagiarised a portion of the book without Mr Gordon’s knowledge. Mr Gordon said he discovered she had taken passages from a draft of a BBC article.

“When I confronted Becky about this, she admitted she plagiarised the passage due to deadline pressures,” he said in a statement. “As a veteran journalist myself, I cannot excuse her behavior, nor can I condone it.”

“This has blindsided me,” he added.

Because the book was self-published in July, it was the authors’ decision to halt sales, Mr Gordon told The Independent at the time.

Ms Hill has denied all of the allegations levelled against her in a September motion. In a sworn statement, the state branded the allegations as “a sweeping conspiratorial theory” and said that “not every inappropriate comment made by a member of court staff to a juror rises to the level of constitutional error”.

One of the most damning accusations levelled by Murdaugh’s attorneys against her centred around the dismissal of juror number 785, just hours before jury deliberations began.

According to Murdaugh’s attorneys, Ms Hill “invented a story about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might not vote guilty”.

Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion for a retrial claiming that Ms Hill had tampered with jurors (The State Newspaper, 2024)

Judge Clifton Newman, who oversaw the murder trial, removed the female juror from the panel for allegedly discussing the case with at least three other people outside of the court. The woman then prompted some light-hearted – and widely-reported – relief when she asked to pick up her “dozen eggs” from the jury room before she left.

According to the motion, Ms Hill had gone to Judge Newman on 27 February – the day after Murdaugh testified – claiming that she had seen a post in the local Facebook group “Walterboro Word of Mouth” from juror 785’s former husband, Tim Stone.

The post purportedly claimed that the juror was drinking with her ex-husband and, when she became drunk, she expressed her views on whether Murdaugh was innocent or guilty. A follow-up post from an account called Timothy Stone apologised for the post saying that he was driven by “Satan”.

In a court filing, Murdaugh’s attorneys claimed that the Mr Stone behind the Facebook posts was actually a random Georgia man who was ranting about his wife’s aunt – and has no connection to the case. Murdaugh’s attorneys had claimed that – based on these allegations – he should be granted a new murder trial.

At the retrial hearing, Judge Toal called the jurors to the stand one by one and questioned them about potential comments that may have tainted their verdict. A female juror, identified only as juror Z by Judge Toal, said that Ms Hill had told some of the jurors to “watch [Murdaugh] closely.

“To me, it felt like ... she made it feel like he was already guilty,” juror Z said.

Judge Jean Toal, former South Carolina Supreme Court Justice, presides during a hearing on a motion for Alex Murdaugh’s retrial on 16 January (The State Newspaper, 2024)

Other jurors who were questioned denied hearing inappropriate remarks made by Ms Hill, or being influenced by her comments. Juror E said that he heard Ms Hill say “watch [Murdaugh’s] body language”, but claimed that this did not affect his decision.

“I’m very, very reluctant to turn this hearing about juror contact into a wholesale exploration about every piece of conduct by the clerk alleged to have been improper on its own, indicative of her characteristics or personality, or anything of that nature,” Toal said at the time, and later adding, “This is not the trial of Ms. Hill.”

Following his conviction, Murdaugh continues to insist that he did not murder his wife and son in 2021.

While he was sentenced to life on those charges, he is also serving 27 years after admitting he stole $12m from his law firm and from clients in wrongful death and serious injury lawsuits. Murdaugh promised not to appeal that sentence as part of his plea deal.

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