The so-called “trial of the century” in South Carolina â which resulted in the conviction of Alex Murdaugh for murdering his wife and son at their rural hunting lodge in Colleton County â might get a do-over, although prosecutors moved Friday to thwart that.
If there is a new trial, it will be due, in part, to alleged jury tampering by Becky Hill, the kindly, hospitable clerk of the court. Her meddling, according to a motion filed Sept. 5 by defense attorneys requesting a new trial, may have contributed to the abrupt dismissal of one juror right before deliberations began in the case. The one juror, that is, who reportedly thought Murdaugh might be innocent.
The state responded to the defense’s motion Friday by calling aspects of it “procedurally defective” and added that they had “significant factual disputes” with the defense’s assertions but did not detail them.
But prosecutors also conceded in their response that a hearing may be needed to “properly resolve some of the serious claims” raised in the defense’s motion.
The next step is up to theÂ South Carolina Court of Appeals.
“It’s astonishing and far more than just alarming if these allegations are true,” Ben Gershman told The Post. A former prosecutor in the New York State Anti-Corruption Office, he’s now a law professor at Pace University and a nationally-recognized authority on prosecutorial misconduct and jury tampering.
“It’s hard to believe that these kinds of interactions would happen. But maybe it’s just endemic in small town America and this was a way for the clerk to inject herself into a situation to help her feel more important than she is.”
Here’s how the wild twists and turns have played out:
FEBRUARY 24, 2023: Hill allegedly sees something on Facebook
According to the affidavit, Hill spotted a comment on a Facebook account devoted to Walterboro, SC, gossip on February 24, posted by a man named Timothy Stone who accused his ex-wife of getting drunk and talking about the case. Hill allegedly believed this person was the ex-husband of Juror 785 â who will later be dubbed the “Egg Lady Juror.”
But when asked by presiding Judge Clifton B. Newman to produce the original post, Hill could not find it. A staffer who worked with Hill then claimed to have found another post by the same Timothy Stone, apologizing for what he had written. This post, confusingly, was not located on the Walterboro gossip site but on Stone’s personal page.
Murdaugh’s defense attorneys claim Hill made the story up and, to date, the original post has not been proven to exist. According to the latest court filing, an “apology” post was apparently written by a Timothy Stone who lives in Georgia â and who says he knows nothing about the case.
FEBRUARY 27, 2023: Hill gets a suspicious email
Meanwhile, on February 27, Hill’s office was sent an email in which a local Domino’s Pizza employee reported that a co-worker claimed to have had a conversation with their landlady â the Egg Lady Juror â about the case.
“We are supposed to think this person from Domino’s Pizza who heard it from a co-worker waited a week to report it in an email and then this lines up with Becky seeing this Facebook post on the 24th? It just seems so convenient,” a longtime observer of the case and the murder trial told The Post.
FEBRUARY 28, 2023: The Egg Lady’s tenants are questioned
Judge Newman was made aware of both Hill’s report about the alleged Facebook post and the email from the tenant. SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) agents went to the home of the Egg Lady’s tenants on February 28, got them out of bed and interrogated them in separate police cars, according to the defense’s affidavit.
SLED returned to the tenants’ home later that night, got them out of bed again and slapped them with subpoenas to come to court the next day. The pair were detained in a room in court for nine hours. They signed an affidavit â which, according to the defense team’s latest filing, they later recanted by saying they did not know what they were signing â and even Judge Newman said they had “waffled” about what the Egg Lady Juror had said when he questioned them in his chambers.
Jim Griffin, one of Murdaugh’s lawyers, told The Post that the two tenants â one of whom works at Domino’s â said the Egg Lady Juror had not given them any details about the murder case.
The Egg Lady said in her affidavit that Hill had told her that SLED agents had contacted her ex-husband Tim Stone â which was untrue.
Newman also said, according to a court transcript, that he was aware that Hill had spoken to the Egg Lady Juror privately.
“Oh boy. I’m not too pleased about the clerk interrogating a juror as opposed to coming to me and bringing it to me,” Newman said.
MARCH 2, 2023: Enter the Egg Lady Juror; Murdaugh is found guilty
The removal of Juror 785 occurred just hours before the Murdaugh jury began rapid deliberations in favor of a guilty verdict on March 2. (He was later given two life sentences.)
The juror’s dismissal came when Judge Newman said the woman had talked to people outside the courtroom about the trial. But that announcement was quickly overshadowed by the funny remark she made to Newman when asked if she had left anything in the jury room. “A dozen eggs,” she said, causing the court to erupt in laughter.
Lost in the laughter was the fact that the “Egg Lady Juror” â as local media immediately began referring to her â was thought by some members of both the prosecution and defense teams to be “iffy” on Murdaugh’s guilt, as soon as two or three weeks into the trial began, two sources close to the trial told The Post.
âShe was dug in,â a source familiar with the deliberations also told FITSNews, a South Carolina news site in March. âShe said he was ânot guiltyâ and there was nothing anyone could do to change her mind.â
âShe would have hung the jury,â another source confirmed to the site.
Murdaugh, 55, was found guilty of gunning down his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, in the kennels of the familyâs sprawling Moselle estate in June 2021.
Pivotal to the controversy swirling around the “Egg Lady Juror” is 55-year-old Hill, who was so friendly with media during the trial last winter that she handed reporters’ business cards to jurors and celebrated a birthday with one of them.
Hill wasÂ tooÂ chummy with jurors, Murdaugh’s attorneys say. They allege she influenced and pressured the jury and may even have lied to the judge.
Hill did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.
JULY 2023: Hill publishes her story
Hill was open about her closeness with media in her book, “Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” which came out in July. She even used the term “we” when describing the “epiphany” about Murdaugh’s guilt that she said she and others, including the jury, had when visiting Moselle, the Murdaugh hunting lodge, near the end of the trial.
She was pictured with three jurors when they all flew up to New York after the trial to appear on NBC’s “Today” show. Hill said in her book that it was her first airplane ride.
Hill’s allegedly bizarre and improper conduct was outlined in the bombshell 65-page affidavit that Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Griffin filed September 5. Hill advised jurors during the six-week double murder trial ânot to be âmisledâ by evidence presented by the defense and also ânot to be âfooled” by Murdaughâs own emotional testimony, the filing stated.
“Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame,” the filing alleged.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2023: Murdaugh attorneys request a new trial
“It appears that this juror was intentionally targeted to be removed from the case,” Griffin alleged to The Post Friday.
Columbia, SC, attorney Eric Bland, who now represents four jurors in the case, called the affidavits filed by Murdaugh’s team “disgraceful.” He told The Post Friday that he expects that “a significant number of jurors will say they were treated well and with respect and no one sought to influence the verdict.
“You will have nine or 10 jurors solid that will say nothing happened,” Bland said.
Dick Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s lawyer, disagreed.
“There are indications from at least four jurors that there were things said and done that we believe to point to a new trial,’ Harpootlian told The Post.
Columbia attorney Joe McCulloch, who represented Connor Cook â one of the victims of a 2019 boat crash involving Murdaugh’s son Paul â now represents two jurors. He did not identify them by name but one was removed from the jury and is believed to be the “Egg Lady Juror.”
“There is no playbook for all this,” McCulloch told The Post. “Even people who believe in their soul that Alex is a murderer should still want him to have a fair trial.”
Griffin said he and the defense team don’t understand why SLED agents went after the two tenants but apparently never investigated the strange case of the Facebook posts involving “Timothy Stone.”
“People have been defending her and saying this is just Dick and Jim making stuff up,” a Murdaugh observer told The Post. “But put aside the jurors and the attorneys for a minute. So much of this doesn’t make sense. There are so many questions. It looks like Judge Newman wasn’t in a position to distrust Becky but, under close scrutiny, there are so many more questions and so few answers. But more than anything else, the one piece that is the most damning is Judge Newman saying aloud that he was concerned about Becky talking to the juror.”
Murdaugh’s defense team located the Timothy Stone cited by Hill and got a new affidavit from him that they plan to file soon. Stone, who lives in Jessup, Ga., stated in the Sept. 5 affidavit that he was unfamiliar with the Murdaugh case and had never posted on the Walterboro Facebook gossip page, Griffin said. He said the apology postÂ heÂ made was about an in-law and nothing to do with the Egg Lady Juror, whom he does not know.
SEPTEMBER 14, 2023: Murdaugh is back in court
During the high-profile proceedings, the state alleged Murdaugh killed his wife and younger son in order to cover up a slew of financial crimes.
Murdaugh appeared before Judge Newman in a Beaufort, SC, court Thursday, in a separate case involving his alleged theft of some $3.5 million from the estate of Gloria Satterfield, a longtime family maid who died under suspicious circumstances at the Murdaugh residence in 2018.
A November 27 trial date was set in that case.
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