Hello and Happy New Year! I’m Beth Braden, journalist and researcher for Luna Shark Media and the True Sunlight Podcast. Welcome to the December 2023 month in review. We’ve had some wild twists and turns surrounding Becky Hill, the Colleton County Clerk of Court, and we now know what judge will oversee Alex Murdaugh’s bid for a new homicide trial. We also know this: we are motivated to continue seeking the truth in 2024 and we are hungry for justice for Stephen Smith, Grant Solomon, and other victims in South Carolina and beyond. 

This month kicked off with True Sunlight Episode 28, a deep dive into Alex Murdaugh’s bizarre soliloquy during his sentencing hearing in the financial crimes  in late November. He addressed his family though none of them were in the room, and pushed back against Eric Bland’s assertion that Gloria Satterfield had helped raise Paul Murdaugh and Buster Murdaugh. Several of Alex’s victims in the financial crimes gave victim impact statements, including Jordan Jinks, a lifelong friend of Alex. Jinks told Alex he wanted to visit him in prison to discuss “intimate things”. 

Liz Farrell

The biggest bombshell of the day came from Alex’s childhood friend Jordan Jinks — who is now a Hampton County Council member.

Mr. Jinks’ statement was emotional and so powerful … the betrayal he felt by Alex was evident. But there was something else going on there too.

First, he started with a sweet compliment for Judge Newman.

Jordan Jinks 

Evening, your honor. First of all I want to say I do respect your job and this entire case and I admire what you did. Mr. Alex, I’ve waiting on this day, I’ve been waiting on this day to look in your eyes. I wanted to sit down with you 101, when I found out what you did. I just wonder why. I guess, excuse me. Unlike a lot of these people here, these victims, I got a lot intimate, intimate stuff that I could say. You remember, all those wildlife hunts I had for law enforcement, you’re in entire family was the guest of honor. Mr. Buster, Judge Eltzroth, insisted on me taking care of them for the day. You don’t know how many brownie points you’ve got in my life, from just that. I trusted you with everything.

Liz Farrell

You heard that, right? Intimate stuff. Intimate stuff with Alex’s grandfather … intimate stuff with Judge Clyde Eltzroth who was one of the named partners of PMPED.

Intimate stuff that Alex should remember.

Now, I have to note, when Jordan Jinx said “intimate,” Alex’s face changed entirely. He blinked and his brow furrowed and he looked at Jordan in a way I have never seen alex look at anyone… with fear.  

True Sunlight, Episode 27

In episode 29, Liz and Mandy dove into the suspension of Hilton Head Island attorney Peter J. Strauss, who makes his money in the captive insurance world. On December 12, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended Strauss, citing rule 17a of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement. That rule says attorneys can be suspended from practicing law if he or she has been indicted or is the subject of a complaint charging the lawyer with a serious crime. Don’t miss the episode to hear how Strauss is connected to Cory Fleming and one of South Carolina’s most notorious mysteries: the disappearance of Elizabeth and John Calvert. 

This month, Cup of Justice focused heavily on the Becky Hill issues swirling in Colleton County. In addition to allegations that she tampered with the jury during the Alex Murdaugh trial, there were two ethics complaints filed against Becky that include allegations of misused funds and showing favorable treatment to some people during the trial by ensuring they got seats in the courtroom. The Becky Hill situation escalated with a document dump of her 2023 emails, which included more than 2000 pages of communications  — many of which were not properly redacted. You can hear all about it in Cup of Justice episodes 59, 60, and 61

Mandy Matney

Eric, where are we with everything?

Eric Bland

Well, we’re moving inching closer to ultimately, the new hearing. We we’ve had the Becky Hill show pretty much for the last week and a half. It’s been pretty quiet on Dick and Jim, publicly. I’m worried about what’s happening behind the scenes. I’m worried about, you know, who the judge is going to be, you know, we we heard a rumor, it was going to be one judge, and then that judge turned out that not to be the judge. Not feeling as bullish as I was about a month ago about where we are, you know?

Liz Farrell

What do you mean by that?

Eric Bland

Because a month ago, when we were only talking about the juror interference issues, I felt pretty good based on what I knew, from the jurors, I represented, and then talking with Justin Bamberg and Will Lewis, the lawyers for Becky Hill, as well as with Creighton Waters, and then obviously reading the submissions to the court. But with the issues with Becky, I’m starting to get concerned because she may not end up getting the benefit of the doubt. Becky’s credibility is going to be first and foremost, the judge is going to have to look at her on whether she’s going to be credible on when she says I did none of these things that I’m accused of. And I think she would have gotten the benefit of the doubt, without the ethics complaints on the issue of inappropriate behavior at the courthouse and some of the monetary issues. And now that we have her son, and the fact that her phone got confiscated, and we have a grand jury allegation, a grand jury impaneled, I am concerned that she will not get the benefit of the doubt of any credibility. And if that happens, I’m not sure that the fact that the jurors said that she did nothing wrong will carry the day. The other thing is, we may never hear from Becky, because she may have to take the Fifth Amendment. If I was a criminal lawyer, I would think long and hard about putting her on the stand and opening her up to cross examination that could really put her in legal jeopardy. It’s one thing that she may lose her job. It’s one thing that there may be a new trial as a result of something that she did. But, you know, she could be in legal jeopardy serious legal jeopardy. And that’s what concerns me for the the new jury trial.

Cup of Justice, Episode 59

On the Alex Murdaugh front, the South Carolina supreme court has appointed a replacement judge to preside over his bid for a new trial in the double homicide. Justice Jean Toal was a friend of US Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and she was the first woman to sit on the South Carolina Supreme Court when she was appointed in 1988. Justice Toal was also a lawyer-legislator; she was a representative for Richland County between 1975 and her state supreme court appointment. You can hear more about Justice Toal, her links to Dick Harpootlian, and why Mandy and Liz are cautiously optimistic about her appointment in True Sunlight episode 30 and Cup of Justice episode 61

And finally, in True Sunlight Episode 31, Mandy shared some Luna Shark plans for 2024, and she and Liz revisited the highlights from the last year as we watched Alex, Russell Laffitte, and Cory Fleming all be sentenced to prison for their alleged crimes. 

This year was a wild one. From the 6-week emotional roller coaster of Alex Murdaugh’s trial to Jeroid Price’s unbelievable prison release, to pulling strings in the Solomon case in Tennessee, to finally seeing accountability for Cory Fleming and Russell Laffitte and then ultimately being sucked back into Dick and Jim’s madness as their over-the-top plot to get Alex Murdaugh a new trial unfolded. And sadly, Stephen Smith’s case once again got pushed to the back burner – which we plan to change in 2024 with our new website answersforstephen.com for all Smith related tips. 

It was a year full of whiplash, triumph, heartbreak, shock, horror, betrayal, with a little hope for humanity and justice in between.

True Sunlight, Episode 31

We are expecting some movement in Alex Murdaugh’s bid for a new trial in January. There is a motions hearing set for January 16 (changed 1/3/2024), and then a three-day hearing tentatively scheduled for January 29-31 where Justice Toal will hear arguments for and against his bid for a new trial. Both of those will take place in Richland County. We will have details about where to see our coverage of those hearings soon. 

Beyond the case updates, we are proud to announce several in-person events for premium members in January 2024. 

On January 19 there is an exclusive Happy Hour At The Country Club of Hilton Head from 4-6:30 p.m. In-person registration is limited to members of the Country Club, and the event will stream live on YouTube for our Soak up the Sun Premium members.

We hope the new year brings you endless joy and hope for a just future for all. We are thankful for all of our premium members and how you enable us to follow the truth wherever it leads. 

If you want to support our mission, you can become a premium member by visiting lunasharkmedia.com and click on Premium. Our Soak Up The Sun premium members get access to case documents, live court coverage, digital happy hours with the team, in-person events, and other exclusive content. 

As always, we are so thankful for our listeners and Luna Shark Premium members as they support us as we work to give voice to the victims and get the story straight.

Stay tuned, stay pesky, and stay in the sunlight. 

Contact Beth Braden

Beth Braden

Beth Braden is an award-winning journalist with experience covering government, education and crime and courts for more than 10 years. In addition to following breaking news and writing feature stories about life in her home state of Tennessee, her by-line appears on several internationally known websites.

Beth is passionate about communicating complex information in an easy-to-understand manner and she loves to pore over public records and court documents as she seeks out patterns and context to share with her audience. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, strange museums, and good cups of coffee.