Additional contributions from David Moses
On Friday, Justice Jean Toal questioned one of 12 jurors who rendered a verdict against Alex Murdaugh and she set perimeters for next week’s highly anticipated hearing — where she will determine whether or not the convicted killer can continue on his quest to get a new trial based on jury tampering accusations that are so far unfounded.
Both David and I attended the hearing in Columbia, SC this morning. Here are my five most important takeaways.
1. Justice Toal ordered a media embargo at the beginning of the hearing. This is from the defense’s request claiming they were worried the jurors would know the questions ahead of time. Justice Toal ordered the media to not report on the following before 9:30 a.m. Monday.
- revealing information about the juror who was questioned
- questions that were asked of the juror
- answers from the juror.
It’s important to note that Justice Toal did not mention what would happen to media members who violated her request. I hope that members of the media surprise me here by NOT violating the request because I believe that is what Dick Harpootlian wants. On January 26, 2024 the defense submitted the letter below outlining their qualms with Justice Toal’s proposed questions which includes references to them. However, these are not the final questions asked to the first juror which have been redacted from the hearing video below. This communication was vetted by the court and posted as a public document available on C-Track, South Carolina’s browser based Appellate Case and Filing Management System.
2. Dick Harpootlian’s request for a continuance was denied by Justice Toal.
Harpootlian, attempting to distract the media with buzzwords, said he needed more time to prepare to question Becky Hill. Justice Toal shot that straight down and said he was DENIED.
3. Becky Hill will be questioned by both sides next week after the 12 jurors are questioned by Justice Toal.
The State will begin with direct examination and the defense will be allowed to cross-examine within the limited scope set forth by Justice Toal. Justice Toal said she would be “flexible” with Hill’s questioning, but I can’t imagine her allowing many questions outside of the scope.
4. Dick Harpootlian tried his best to spin the narrative with buzzwords, but was unsuccessful.
- He mentioned the Egg Lady Juror, Becky’s son, wiretapping accusations and his lack of trust in SLED during his failed attempt to gain any ground with Justice Toal.
- Justice Toal wasn’t having this. She spoke about how unusual this situation is considering the fact that usually issues with jurors are discovered much sooner.
- Justice Toal also was CRYSTAL clear that Egg Lady was not dismissed because of reasons related to the “Facebook debacle”.
5. With such a little scope and no evidence so far to support jury tampering, Team Murdaugh has minimal chances of succeeding next week.
However, I am fully expecting Dick’s team to attempt every shenanigan possible. He said he wanted to question a witness after Becky Hill next week, but didn’t say who. Justice Toal said she will decide on that next week.
And here are 5 things that David noticed:
1. Justice Toal sent a Media Order (below) on Wednesday, January 24th prohibiting technology… “Given the limited nature of the proceeding on January 26, 2024, there will be no camera coverage of the event. Members of the public, as well as members of the press, are free to attend provided that no cellphones, laptops or similar devices will be allowed in the courtroom.”
However, as we entered the courthouse, the officer at the metal detectors said we could bring in devices, that we might be able to stream audio, and that was being “figured out” now. It seemed many media agencies did not get the Media Order prohibiting technology because almost all of them had laptops, multiple cell phones, and Court TV even set up their video camera and LiveU streaming device just in case. Justice Toal mentioned an ‘off-the-record’ conversation with “some” media and that sparked a number of ears to perk up too.
With the confusion, we are concerned about what happens with the hearing Monday, if members of certain media agencies violate the new “request” to not share the questions, answers or juror identification. And if anyone does (or already has) what consequences exist for those agencies?
2. As we entered the courtroom with an 8th grader named Colton Gray (pictured below) who was job shadowing us today, we saw Scott Mangillo. Scott is Bland / Richter’s associate attorney and was with us at Stephen Smith’s exhumation. Scott’s presence today provided a warm comfort knowing that justice had some backup.
Alex shuffled his way into the courtroom, shackled, and shook hands with anyone that would touch him. He looks weaker and smaller than I remember from the federal sentencing in November. But he still had a grin from ear to ear when he encountered any somewhat friendly faces.
We sat closest to the front and directly behind the defense table. Only one empty row between the double murderer, his team and a small cadre of law enforcement officers posted near Alex. Eric Bland and Scott were up in the juror box close to Jay Bender, media liaison. They were posted near where Bland’s client, whom Justice Toal referred to as ‘Juror X’, would eventually sit.
Given the recent assault on Judge Mary Kay Holthus in Nevada, I noted how most law enforcement agents were off the side of the defense table, with none between Alex and Justice Toal. And only one SORT team member sat between the now unshackled family-annihilator and the gallery.
3. And isn’t my wife, Mandy Matney, so incredibly amazing, brave, smart, talented and beautiful?!?! I have been so astoundingly proud of her over the past 5 years knowing her and being entrenched in this mess. To sit right up front and show those ‘horribles’ in the media we’ve called out and those others that try to intimidate us and thwart justice… that we are not afraid…
4. Around 30 minutes into the hearing, Dick Harpootlian starts talking about how SLED may not be trusted as there is no “Chinese wall” separating SLED agents from the jury. Harpootlian rephrased this as an “ethical barrier” after verbalizing something to the effect of ‘maybe we don’t say that anymore’ but continued to use the phrase regardless. A Chinese wall or ethical wall is an information barrier protocol designed to prevent exchange of information or communication that could lead to conflicts of interest. EB shared that the term was actually taught as ‘Chinese Wall’ in law school during the 80’s, but its use is frowned upon now for obvious reasons.
5. Media rules are still murky about next week and about what we can share before 9:30am Monday morning, but we’re going to share everything we can within the rules as explained to us and codified in judicial orders. Eric Alan will be on site Monday and we’ll likely report remotely with new technology to stabilize the stream thanks to our AMAZING Premium Members!
Hopefully this means we will have an answer on what happens next before COJ releases (maybe a little late) on Tuesday. Stay Pesky!
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Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina and now lives on Hilton Head Island where she pursues mission-based investigative journalism.
Mandy is Co-Founder of Luna Shark Media, Host of Murdaugh Murders Podcast – now True Sunlight Podcast – and Cup of Justice Podcast.
Mandy is a KU grad with deep roots in the Sunflower State, but currently lives on Hilton Head Island with her husband David and pups Luna and Joe Pesky where she enjoys beach life.
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