Accusations that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca “Becky” Hill tampered with jurors during the Alex Murdaugh murder trial will shock those who watched or attended the trial, including journalists, law enforcement officers and lawyers who saw Hill as a friendly problem solver who ensured the smooth running of a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Over six weeks, Hill became something of a sensation. Her apparent diligence, gentleness, humor and unflappable demeanor seemed to lend an air of Southern charm to a story that was straight out of a Southern gothic.
But Murdaugh attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin allege that Hill tampered with the jury and influenced the outcome of the trial “to secure for herself a book deal and media appearances that would not happen in the event of a mistrial.
“Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame,” the filing alleges.
In a 65-page challenge filed Tuesday morning in the South Carolina Court of Appeals, Hill is accused of having one person removed from the jury, encouraging jurors not to be “fooled” by Murdaugh’s testimony and having inappropriate private conversations with the court-appointed jury foreperson.
Hill has not responded to a request for comment from The State.
The defense filing references several passages from Hill’s memoir, “Behind the Doors of Justice,” co-written with Neil Gordon and published earlier this year by Wind River Media.
Hill’s memoir provides what may be the only public portrait of Hill and her experience of the trial. It paints a portrait of a public servant who was devoted, and often cast her work in terms of religious obligation. But it also showed a local official who was caught up in the media buzz surrounding a high-profile trial where she says she was convinced of the defendant’s guilt.
Who is Becky Hill?
In the book, Hill describes herself as “a bit of a legal eagle” whose entire career had led up to her being elected Colleton County’s Clerk of Court. At the time of the trial, Hill was a relatively new clerk. While she had worked as a court reporter for over a decade, she had only been elected to the position of Colleton County Clerk of Court in November 2020.
Previously, she had been a middle school teacher, worked in the state and local disability agency, and held administrative roles in law offices before working as a court reporter for fourteen years.
After starting as a freelance court reporter, Hill became an official court reporter for the state of South Carolina in 2008, she wrote in her book. She was assigned to Judge Perry M. Bucker, the administrative judge for the Fourteenth Circuit, which covers Allendale, Hampton, Colleton, Jasper and Beaufort counties.
It was in this position that she first met Alex Murdaugh and his father, Randolph, who served as the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor. She describes in the book seeing both Murdaughs around the courthouse, and described a “wonderful charm” that seemed to have been passed down between generations.
In fact, Hill’s family and the Murdaughs had been entwined for generations, as are many families are in that rural, sparsely populated corner of the Lowcountry. Hill recounted that her “granddaddy,” Felder Hiers, a mechanic by trade but moonshiner by nature, ran an illegal liquor still with Buster Murdaugh, Alex’s grandfather who was serving as solicitor at the time.
Hill believed Murdaugh was guilty
In the opening chapter of her memoir, Hill is clear about how she saw the outcome of the trial:
“I was mostly concerned about Alex being found innocent when I knew in my heart he was guilty.”
Hill says that she was convinced of Murdaugh’s guilt after visiting Moselle with the jury near the end of the trial. Hill described viewing the kennels where Maggie and Paul were gunned down.
“While the jurors viewed the Moselle property, we all could hear and see that Alex’s story was impossible... Some of us either from the courthouse, law enforcement or jury at Moselle had an epiphany and shared our thoughts with our eyes. At that moment, any of us standing there knew. I knew and they knew that Alex was guilty.”
Hill also recounted arriving at this conclusion with other court employees in the car on the hour-long drive back to the court house.
“Just as the jury would do in a span of three hours, we unanimously came to our own verdict in just three minutes: Guilty,” Hill wrote.
Hill traveled with jurors after the trial
The day after the trial, Hill accompanied three of the jurors to be interviewed on The Today Show and Dateline in New York City.
It was on this trip that Hill says she learned that one juror, who thought he wasn’t going to be able to serve because he needed to work in order to make child support payments, received money from three friends so that he could stay on the jury.
Hill also described the experience of being picked up at LaGuardia airport in New York City in a black Chevy Tahoe and being driven into Manhattan, where they were put up at a hotel and had an opportunity to eat at a restaurant on Madison Avenue.
“The jurors told me they felt like they were heard and loved their fifteen minutes of fame in the Big Apple.”
Removing the juror in Hill’s own words
One incident that has drawn particular scrutiny is the dismissal of Juror 758, who was removed from the jury after Hill says she found a Facebook post Hill said she believed to be from the woman’s ex-husband claiming the juror had said she already knew what her verdict was going to be.
In Hill’s memoir, she writes that she saw the post on a local Facebook group, Hampton Word of Mouth, late on a Friday night but didn’t think much of it.
“I felt like a principal dealing with tattletales and problems and issues everyday. It was tiring,” Hill wrote.
She writes that on the following Monday, Judge Clifton Newman asked her to find the post but neither Hill nor her court staff were able to find the original post. Instead, they found that the post had been taken down, and an apology from the poster who said that he had been drinking and had let “Satan” control him.
Newman decided to relieve the juror after interviewing her and corroborating witnesses, Hill wrote. But in the filings, Murdaugh’s attorneys allege that Hill took a far more active role. It accuses Hill of conducting one-on-one interviews with the juror where she allegedly described the post as saying the juror had gone drinking with her ex-husband. Hill also allegedly lied and told the juror that SLED and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office personnel went to the ex-husband’s house where he confirmed he made the post, according to the legal filing.
Hill also claimed that they only later learned that the juror and her ex-spouse had not seen each other in 14 years and that the juror had three restraining orders against her ex-husband. In an affidavit signed by the juror, which was submitted as part of the appeal, the juror says that she told Hill that she had not seen her ex-husband in ten years.