Eric Bland shares about his conversation with Justice Toal before Monday’s hearing, about Dick Harpootlian requesting him to move seats and more!


Happy Thursday Premium Members EB here, actually in Colorado out west left after Monday’s hearing in front of former Chief Justice Toal in connection with Alex Murdoch’s motion for a new trial. You probably heard by now the Chief Justice Toal ruled from the bench and denied the motion. It was an amazing two days. As I’ve said before, I was completely wrong about Justice Toal. I apologize to you listeners. Certainly I apologize to Justice Toal, Monday morning, before the hearing, I went into her chambers and I said that I had said some things about her based on experiences that I had in the past and they they clouded my judgment in what she was going to do in connection with the ongoing motions by Alex Murdaugh to get a new trial. And I told her that regardless of how she rules, whether she grants the motion or denies the motion, that I was wrong, and then I apologized to her, and that I would tell our listeners, which I did on our Cup of Justice episode this week, that I was wrong and that she really presided over these proceedings a firm, judicial manner that we want our judges to do. 

You know, Alex Murdaugh ran into a buzzsaw. First it was Judge Clifton Newman. And then it was former Chief Justice Toal. She has a grasp of the law that very few of our appellate judges ever had. At 81 years old, she’s still a firecracker. She still knows the law. She commands her courtroom. And it was two days of really intense testimony from jurors. Obviously, when Becky Hill testified, that was pretty interesting to see the back and forth between her and Harpootlian. But the real fireworks was when Justice Toal asked her her questions. And it really became obvious that Becky lacked credibility on a number of issues. The problem here was Justice Toal told team Murdaugh that this was not going to be the Becky Hill trial. And they didn’t listen. They proved no question that Becky Hill was not credible, What they never proved. And that was fatal to their motion and why it was ultimately denied was that the jurors were influenced and impacted by anything that Miss Becky had said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do. 11 Jurors testified we representative five of those jurors 11 Jurors testified that there was no impact whatsoever by anything that Becky Hill did, and that their verdicts were the product of their own conscience listening to the law is given to them by Judge Newman, the testimony from the witnesses and the evidence that was admitted. They did not succumb to any of the suggestions by Harpootlian and that Becky Hill influenced their verdict. 

There was one juror and that was the juror Z who testified first Monday morning that she said that there was juror influence, or juror pressure inside the jury room, and that that caused her to question her verdict. And this was after she had been polled by Judge Newman after the verdict came in of guilt on both the murders of Maggie and Paul. She did raise her hand and say that this was her fair and impartial verdict and it was not due to any coercion or pressure. But somehow she’s changed her story six months later, and gave an affidavit to Harpootlian and grip and saying that there was statements made by Becky Hill statements that went to the substance of the trial, not just normal, scheduling issues or questions that you’re may have for lunch, transportation, all these different things, notes to get them out of issues with their employers, but actually dealing with Alex’s guilt or innocence, Alex’s presentation when he would testify. Who do you believe the prosecution or defense? All these things were alleged that Becky said and it was said by juror Z? As the Monday went on, it became obvious that all the other jurors said that absolutely. Not in those terms. Were they influenced by anything that Becky Hill said. 

As the day finally unfolded though, juror Z submitted a second affidavit trying to supplement the testimony that she gave in the morning. And Justice Toal would have none of it justice total said, we cannot let witnesses get on the witness stand, give testimony under oath, and then go back after they’re discharged, and try to further explain their testimony or say things that they wanted to say when they were under oath. And that kind of dovetails into the narrative that we cannot have perpetual verdicts in a case, jurors get to render their verdict one time and only one time. And that’s why Justice Toal was focused on what happened between the start of the trial and the verdict when it was rendered on March 2. And she reached the conclusion that there was no impact on the jurors verdict. She said that from juror Z’s standpoint, there was pressure in the jury room, but that happens all the time. If you’re in a minority position, in how you feel about guilt or innocence in the jury room, you will get pressure by the majority. And courts will never go inside the jury room to try to say whether that pressure was genuine or across the line. They then tried to say, well, it was Becky Hill that caused her to be pressured into a verdict and Dick Harpootlian suggested that it can be both both juror pressure, as well as external pressure from Becky Hill. But Justice Toal would have none of that. And she did something that I’ve rarely seen in my 36 years, and that is a judge actually ruling from the bench at the conclusion of a hearing. And she gave a reasoned decision. She said, all the facts that went into her decision, the affidavits, the testimony of the witnesses, Becky Hill, the Barnwell clerk of court, and she reached the conclusion that the defense did prove that Becky Hill was not credible. And I’m sure there’s going to be issues down the road with Becky Hill, whether it’s in connection with the ongoing criminal investigations, or Governor Henry McMaster may make a decision that the state doesn’t want a clerk of court who is incredible, remaining in her job. So I wouldn’t surprise me if Becky Hill loses her job doesn’t run for reelection, or she voluntarily resigned. But she said, under the green standard, the green case, which is South Carolina law, that defendant had the burden of proof to prove that the juror verdict was impacted by Becky Hill’s testimony. And she said that defendants failed on that front.

And so she denied the motion. It was extraordinary. It’s not what team Myrtle wanted. They wanted the remote decision, which was the United States Supreme Court decision, which said that all you have to show is Becky H ill, making these kinds of comments to the jury that deal with the case and deal with the testimony. And you automatically get a new trial. There were fireworks in the beginning of the hearing between Dick Harpootlian and me. He made a statement to the justice toll that I had publicly called juror Z a liar and that she wanted me to be moved from where I was sitting in the jurors box to a different spot because I intimidated her and she was worried about that. Justice Toal, to her credit would not bite it that I got up and I said I object to Harpootlian and I had never ever suggested that any juror would be lying. That’s not what I did. Maybe jurors maybe misperceived what they heard, but I never suggested that they didn’t have the right to state their opinion. Justice Toal had me sit in the jury box in the last seat so that I could communicate with the jurors that I represented. So she just moved me a little bit further down the row. And after juror Z testified she had me go back to my same spot. Afterwards, obviously, Harpootlian went and did a press conference. And like every loser, have a case the first thing they start talking about is appeals. Oh, we’re so excited about the appeals can wait for the these appeals. Well now let me tell you about these appeals. It wouldn’t surprise me now after Alex got his speedy trial and jumped to the head of the line in front of a lot of other defendants that would have wanted their case heard before a jury. He got his case tried within six months of being charged with these murders. He got his appeal heard and stayed so that it would come down to the lower court to have Justice Toal appointed after Judge Newman was recused, and had that motion hurt. 

Now, I’m telling you, it’s going to be a slow walk on these appeals. The appellate court is not going to want to grab this quickly. And so it wouldn’t surprise me that this is going to take four or five years on the state level. And it wouldn’t surprise me that Alex Murdaugh continues to lose in the appellate court, similar to where he’s lost in the trial courts. Remember, Alex hasn’t won one major victory along the way, in the last two years, not in any of the civil cases, not in the criminal cases, not in trying to get additional money in connection with the receivership or for appeals. So I think if he’s ever going to get any relief, it’ll be in a federal court. And that’s way down the road six years down the road. And if he gets a new trial, who knows in six years Dick Harpootlian and maybe in a retirement home, did carpooling may not be practicing law anymore, Jim Griffin may not want to continue on representing Alex Murdaugh, and he would have to get a whole new set of lawyers or a public defender at that time. So it was a resounding victory for justice on Monday. Justice is pretty sometimes it’s not easy, it can be messy. But in the end, justice always prevails. And Chief Justice Toal is a warrior poet the way she announced her verdict from the bench. So it was exciting to be a part of it. I was honored to represent these jurors. We’re going to appear next week when we get back from out west on several new stations with a couple of the jurors. 

So with that said, let’s go to EB’s Law Library and some of the listeners had sent in a question about the word merit, because Harpootlian objected to Justice Toal asking the question of the juror, did Becky Hill make any comments on the merits of the case? And he didn’t like that word merits. He just wanted, Justice Toal to ask. Did she make any comments about the case? Well, Merit means what is it issue? Here would be the merits of the murder trial? Alex’s testimony is meritorious. It’s it’s a merit part of it. It’s substantive. A probably a better word to use is substantive was what Becky said? Hill said substantive or was it mere advisory as to what the jurors, you know, where they should sit, what they should wear, what they should eat? When should they show up to court, all those are procedural in nature. So merit means substantive.

The second term is called a sur reply. And that is, when you file a motion, you file a memorandum of law in support of that motion. The opposition then gets to file a memorandum in opposition to your motion, whatever that motion is, whether it’s for summary judgment, whether it’s to get discovery. And then you as the moving party, after the the opposing party files and memorandum and opposition, you file a reply. The sur reply is in response to a reply. They are a disfavored, the courts, you have to get permission to file a server reply. You don’t have to get a permission to file a reply to an opposition. But a server reply, which is kind of the fourth level, you have to get permission from the court. rarely granted, and it usually is, if during the the time period when the motions were pending, a new rule of law came out by a new case or a new statute that would directly affected decision. 

So that is the recap for this week. We have a lot of neat things that are happening in the spring. Mandy is going to hit the road. On the road again, like Willie Nelson. We’re going to have an event in Colombia on February 15, from 6:30 to 8:30pm. We invite all Premium Members and club members to come to the Capitol City Club in Columbia, South Carolina and Mandy is going to be there. I’m going to be there as well with my wife, Renee, and Mandy is going to appear with Sarah Ford, who’s the legal director of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. It should be a great event similar to what we had in Hilton Head at the end of December. 

Then in March, Mandy is going to go out west for her book tour. And she’s going to appear at a number of different book festivals. We will update that as that goes along. So any of you listeners out there or followers or members that are out west, you’re going to have an opportunity to meet Mandy. That’ll be very exciting. In April, Mandy’s going to go back to Kansas, to speak at the Kansas Governor’s Victims Rights Conference. Then to Nashville, Nashville, Napa, Maui, Washington, DC, Baltimore and Missouri. I mean, it is extraordinary. What is she she’s going to do?

So we have a lot of new things this year. A lot of interviews that we have planned. I’m telling you that in a couple months, or within the month, I’m going to be interviewing Dr. Kenny Kinsey, who was a big part of the Murdaugh trial and and a reason why Alex was convicted of both murders. 

So with that said, I hope everybody is safe. Have a good rest of the week. Enjoy their weekend and I’ll talk to you next week. EB out.

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