Nine hundred prospective jurors will report to the Colleton County Courthouse in South Carolina Monday morning as jury selection in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh begins.
Murdaugh, 52, is accused of murdering his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, at the family’s hunting estate on June 7, 2021. Murdaugh called 911 that evening and claimed that he found his wife and son shot to death after returning home.
According to the indictment, Maggie had been killed with a rifle and Paul with a shotgun. A diagram provided in a recent defense motion showed that Paul was shot inside a dog kennel on the family’s sprawling estate. Maggie’s body was found outside of the kennel.
Selecting a jury could be difficult — the latest census data puts the county’s population at 38,462, making the jury pool small coupled with the fact that the Murdaugh name looms large in the Lowcountry. Murdaugh is not only a defendant charged with two murders but he is a member of a prominent family that has served the community for three generations.
Alex Murdaugh’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather served as solicitor — or prosecutor — for South Carolina’s 14th judicial circuit. Murdaugh, a former attorney who was disbarred by the South Carolina Supreme Court, has tried cases in the same courtroom where he’ll face murder charges.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Alan Turkheimer, a jury consultant. “Jurors, everybody for that matter, are not necessarily good at knowing how biased they are.”
Jurors were required to answer a four-page questionnaire to streamline jury selection. The questions it contains ask typical questions such as where the prospective juror gets his or her news. It also asks whether the juror watches “true crime” or “police procedurals” such as “CSI” and “Law & Order.”
Murdaugh’s name isn’t mentioned once in the questionnaire.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard. … There are going to be some potential jurors that are going to put it even higher because of what they’ve seen on CSI or in any of the shows,” Turkheimer said. “A lot of the DNA and forensic and technological evidence that is seen on TV is not realistic and doesn’t apply to most cases. So some jurors, the defense is hoping, might say, well, the state didn’t show this and there’s a reason they didn’t show it is because that type of technology doesn’t exist.”
The murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh prompted law enforcement to take a closer look at Alex Murdaugh and his family. South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened other investigations into financial misdeeds attributed to Murdaugh and some of his associates.
Murdaugh has admitted in a civil case to misappropriating millions of dollars from an insurance claim following the death of his longtime housekeeper and nanny, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in 2018 following a “slip and fall” accident at the family’s home.
Much of that money has been recovered, according to Eric Bland, an attorney representing Satterfield’s sons. Bland believes the murder case will be a challenge for prosecutors.
“There could be a hung jury,” Bland said in an interview with Law&Crime. “There is a good likelihood that he can sway one or two jurors who are from Colleton County. Remember, the Murdaughs have a big history there. They’re revered there. There are still a lot of people that like them that were the beneficiary of their good deeds.”
Prosecutors claim Alex Murdaugh murdered his wife and son because of the pressure he faced from mounting legal troubles. In fact, they claim on the day of the murders, Murdaugh’s law partners had confronted him about money missing from the firm.
In addition, Paul Murdaugh was being sued over a drunk boating crash that killed the girlfriend of one of his friends, Mallory Beach, and Alex Murdaugh was being told he had to soon produce financial documents related to that lawsuit.
Murdaugh was abusing opioids at the time and entered rehab after a September 2021 incident in which he claimed someone shot him in the head as he was changing a tire on a road.
Shortly after the shooting on the roadside, Alex Murdaugh admitted he staged the incident with the help of his cousin, Curtis “Eddie” Smith in an effort to get an insurance settlement for his only living son, Buster Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh was charged criminally for the incident and entered rehab for his opioid addiction. Smith also faces charges.
Murdaugh faces nearly 100 criminal charges in separate cases related to allegations of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Judge Clifton Newman will likely decide after jury selection how much information jurors will hear about the financial charges Murdaugh faces.
Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, on the eve of jury selection, said, “We are fully prepared to challenge the State’s allegations and to demonstrate the weaknesses in the State’s case before a Colleton County jury. Alex looks forward to this opportunity to clear his name of these heinous charges so that the Attorney General can finally begin looking for the actual killer or killers of Alex’s beloved wife and son,”
The Law&Crime Network will provide continuing coverage from Colleton County, South Carolina throughout the trial.
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