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Murdaugh book sparks ethical questions

Trial’s court clerk under fire over ethics concerns

By Javon L. Harris, The State
Published: September 16, 2023, 6:26am

As a Colleton County, S.C., clerk of court faces accusations of jury tampering during a high-profile double murder trial, ethics questions surround her book on the court proceedings.

Rebecca “Becky” Hill wrote a book detailing the Alex Murdaugh trial while serving as the clerk of court for Colleton County. Before the book’s publication in July, Hill contacted the South Carolina Ethics Commission about the permissibility of her book.

In response to Hill’s question, the ethics commission — in an informal opinion — did not state whether Hill’s book violated the Ethics, Government Accountability and Campaign Reform Act, but left that determination in Hill’s court based on three essential questions: “Does the opportunity arise as a result of your position as clerk of court?; Is the subject matter of the work something within your official responsibility?; and Is this type of work something that the clerk of court’s office would normally perform and for which you could receive expense reimbursement for by the clerk of court’s office.”

Based on those questions, the commission advised Hill that, “In the opinion of commission staff, it seems unlikely that writing a book would fall within your official responsibilities as Clerk of Court. However, you will have to make that ultimate determination based on your official duties and the guidelines offered above.”

Murdaugh was ultimately convicted in March for killing his wife and son, and Hill’s book, retelling accounts of the high-profile trial, was released four months later.

In a motion for a new trial, filed by Murdaugh’s attorneys earlier this month, Hill is accused of tampering with the jury and influencing 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,” the complaint alleges. “Ms. Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame.”

Notably, Hill’s question to the commission omitted the fact that her book would focus exclusively on the Murdaugh trial. Instead, in an April 28 email to the commission, Hill framed her question about the permissibility of her book around “the process of trial from beginning to end, focusing on the process itself the history of it and of course the high-profile cases that South Carolina has had.”

In a motion for a new trial submitted by one of Murdaugh’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, Hill is accused of seeking personal financial gain in her role as clerk of court, outside of the guidelines offered by the ethics commission.

Specifically, in a hand-written note — meant to serve as an addendum to a video production contract — to a major production company, Hill requested that, “In exchange for the use of the likeness of Rebecca Hill in an interview, … video and audio clips will accompany the usage on the first reference. The book cover for the book, ‘Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders’ will be shown and audio will include Becky’s introduction as Clerk of Court for Colleton County and author of the book.”

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