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Judge embargoes reporting of first juror’s testimony in Murdaugh hearing. Here’s why

Alex Murdaugh is fighting for a new trial following his conviction for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul. The cornerstone of his effort is the claim that Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill interfered with the jury at his trial in Walterboro last winter.

Muirdaugh, his attorneys Jim Griffin, Dick Harpootlian and Phil Barber, along with proescutors Creighton Waters, Don Zelenka, John Meadors and Attorney General Alan Wilson, are in Richland County Court Friday for the examination of the first juror.

9:41 A.M. Judge Toal has imposed a media embargo on Friday’s testimony

The hearing, which will determine whether Hill improperly influenced jurors, will begin under strict rules of secrecy. While media is present in the courtroom, they have been ordered not to report on the gender of the juror, the questions asked of the juror or the juror’s testimony.

The rules were imposed by Judge Jean Toal Friday morning because she didn’t want today’s comments to taint the testimony of jurors who testify on Monday. The embargo will last until 9:30 Monday morning, when the full hearing begins.

The quasi-open rules for Friday’s hearing represent a compromise between an open court and Judge Toal’s concerns about tainting Monday’s witnesses, said Columbia attorney Jay Bender, who is serving as an intermediary between Toal and the press. Bender often represents The State Media Co.

Bender said Toal, under S.C. law, has the right to close the courtroom entirely when a sensitive witness is testifying and to later release a transcript of what happened.

Friday’s witness requested to testify on a different day than other jurors because the juror has an “unavoidable scheduling conflict,” Toal said.