In March of 2023, a jury found South Carolina renowned lawyer Alex Murdaugh guilty of the 2021 murders of his wife and son. In September, his attorneys requested a new trial on the grounds that Rebecca “Becky” Hill, the clerk of the Colleton County Court, had discussed Murdaugh’s guilt with the jury and encouraged them to quickly reach a guilty judgment.
The jury returned to court to respond to the accusations and answer specific queries from Judge Jean Toal, the South Carolina Supreme Court’s retiring chief judge.
According to the evidence, Hill had an influence on the juror who had first found Murdaugh guilty (the court has called him “Juror Z”). But in a previous statement, she said that she was also feeling pressure from her fellow jurors.
Toal described Juror Z’s testimony as ” ambivalent” and stated that pressure from other jurors is part of the “normal give-and-take of jury deliberations.” When questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters, Hill — who testified after the jurors — gave clear answers. Hill said she didn’t discuss anything regarding the case with any jurors.
Although Toal did not find Hill’s story “wholly credible,” she failed to see the need for a fresh trial due to Hill’s naive remarks.
After sentencing Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences, Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman recused himself and appointed Toal to oversee the trial. Hill, in her elected role as court clerk, read the verdicts from the jury on March 2, 2023. What many called “the trial of the century” was streamed live to an audience all across the globe. The wealthy family’s predicament garnered more attention from the general public due to podcasts and television shows.
A number of jurors were using their iPhones to view a live feed of the trials in the jury chamber, allowing them to hear Juror Z’s testimony, which tried Toal’s tolerance early on in the trial, as she learned from the bailiff. Upon briefly questioning each juror about it, she was informed that it did not impact their evidence.