The South Carolina court clerk who oversaw the trial of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh and is at the center of a jury tampering claim is accused of plagiarism by the co-author of her book.
Colleton County Clerk Rebecca Hill removed passages from the beginning of her book, “Behind the Gates of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders,” from a draft of a BBC News article, the Commissioner said Tuesday. co-author and journalist Neil Gordon in a statement.
He added that he had been “blindsided” by these actions and that the book was now ceasing publication.
Gordon said he discovered the duplicate writing while reviewing Hill’s emails made public by Colleton County officials last week in response to the media’s public records request. The emails are from Hill County’s account and date from January to early December.
In a February email exchange between Hill and a BBC News reporter, the reporter “shared a lengthy excerpt from an upcoming article about the Alex Murdaugh trial,” according to Gordon. He then noticed that the article, which was finally published on March 3, resembled a 12-page passage in the book’s preface.
In a Feb. 20 email the reporter sent to Hill, attached text includes: “To know the South Carolina Lowcountry is to know the last name Murdaugh. For 86 uninterrupted years, from 1920 to 2006, a certain Murdaugh presided as South Carolina’s chief county prosecutor. Fourteenth Judicial Circuit. It was the longest period of family control in U.S. history.
Hill’s book, published in July, includes a section: “To know the South Carolina Lowcountry is to know the last name Murdaugh.” For eighty-six uninterrupted years, from 1920 to 2006, a certain Murdaugh served as chief prosecutor of South Carolina’s fourteenth county. Judicial circuit. It was the longest period of family control in U.S. history.
Gordon said that when he confronted Hill about the similarities, she admitted it, citing deadline constraints.
“As a veteran journalist myself, I cannot excuse his behavior, nor condone it,” Gordon said.
“I cannot be associated with anything resembling plagiarism and will no longer collaborate with Becky Hill on any projects,” Gordon said. “I would like to apologize to our readers, as well as publicly to the BBC and to the journalist.”
Hill’s book is presented as an insider’s “through-the-eyes” account of the high-profile murder trial that brought national attention to the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Neither Hill nor the BBC could immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Local media reported on Hill’s emails last week, following allegations of jury tampering filed against her in September by Murdaugh’s legal team.
Murdaugh, a former personal injury lawyer and son of a powerful Lowcountry legal family, is serving two consecutive life sentences for the fatal shootings of his wife, Margaret, and their youngest son, Paul, in June 2021. Mudaugh , 55, has maintained his innocence and his lawyers have announced they will appeal his case.
In Hill’s emails, she told a French journalist that she was already interested in writing a book three months before the Murdaugh trial even began.
“If you’re interested in a partnership, let me know!” Hill wrote, according to The State.
The actions of Hill, a first-term lawmaker, have come under scrutiny since she was accused of tampering with the jury by advising them not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense during of his trial in February; pressuring jurors to reach a quick guilty verdict; and “misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed favored the defense.”
Hill’s emails that were made public do not explicitly suggest she sought to tamper with the jury, The State reported.
With Hill’s conduct at trial in question, a new judge — former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal — was hired this month to take charge of the lawsuits involving Hill. Murdaugh’s appeal after trial judge Clifton Newman agreed to step aside. Newman will retire at the end of this year.
But in an affidavit filed in November responding to the allegations, Hill defended his actions.
“I did not tell the jury not to be fooled by the evidence presented by Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers,” she said. “I did not ask the jury to ‘watch him closely.’ I did not ask the jury to ‘consider his actions.’ I did not ask the jury to ‘watch his movements.’
State prosecutors said in a court filing that they found other jurors contradicting Murdaugh’s defense claims.
No court date on the jury tampering allegations has been set.
Regardless of the outcome of his murder appeal, Murdaugh will remain in prison: Last month, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison after pleading guilty to 22 counts of financial crimes against his clients; it will run concurrently with his federal sentence for similar financial crimes to which he pleaded guilty in September.
A member of the Hill family is also facing legal issues. His son, Jeff Hill, was arrested in November on allegations related to wiretapping in July. Prosecutors have not explicitly explained how he allegedly abused his position while working as Colleton County’s information technology director. He was released on bail and is scheduled to appear in court in January.
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