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Alex Murdaugh's pursuit of a new murder trial is set for an evidentiary hearing next month

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The new judge handling the fallout over Alex Murdaugh's murder convictions plans to hold an evidentiary hearing late next month.

Murdaugh's lawyers want another trial in the killings of the former lawyer's wife and younger son, citing allegations that the court clerk improperly influenced the jury. The defense will get to put forth evidence at a three-day hearing expected to begin Jan. 29, according to a tentative schedule shared by a media liaison for former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal.

Jurors, the clerk and even the trial judge might have to testify under oath.

Murdaugh is serving life imprisonment without parole after a jury found him guilty this March of killing his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul, in June 2021. He got sentenced this November for stealing about $12 million to an additional 27 years behind bars under a plea deal that resolved scores of state crimes related to money laundering, breach of trust and financial fraud.

Toal must decide whether to run back a murder trial that lasted six weeks, involved over 70 witnesses and included about 800 exhibits. The state's highest court appointed Toal to oversee the weighty matter of a new trial after Judge Clifton Newman recused himself.

Newman, who rose to celebrity in true crime circles for his deft guidance of the highly watched case, is set to leave the bench after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Central to the appeal are accusations that Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill tampered with the jury. Murdaugh's lawyers said in a September filing that the elected official asked jurors whether Murdaugh was guilty or innocent, told them not to believe Murdaugh's testimony and pressured jurors to reach a guilty verdict for her own profit. Hill is also said to have flown to New York City to be with three jurors during their post-trial television interviews and allegedly shared journalists' business cards with jurors during the proceedings.

Hill has denied the allegations i n a sworn statement, saying she neither asked jurors about Murdaugh's guilt before deliberations nor suggested to them that he committed the murders.

Adding to the intrigue is the recent revelation that Hill plagiarized part of her book about the case. Hill’s attorneys acknowledged in a Dec. 26 statement that Hill submitted a BBC reporter’s writing to her co-author “as if it were her own words.” The attorneys expressed Hill’s remorse and said the book has been unpublished “for the foreseeable future.”

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Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.