Juror removed in South Carolina’s Murdaugh murder trial due to outside conversations

by Jacob Fuller

A juror in the murder trial of disbarred South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh was removed on Thursday for “improper conversations” with individuals not involved in the case and replaced with an alternate, the judge said.

The move by Judge Clifton Newman came as lawyers for Murdaugh prepared to deliver closing arguments on Thursday, their last chance to convince the jury their client was not involved in the grisly murders of his wife and youngest son.

“Though it does not appear that the conversations were that extensive, it did involve the juror offering her opinion regarding evidence received up to that point in the trial,” Newman said in open court.

Addressing the juror, the judge said, “You have been by all accounts a great juror and smiled consistently and seemingly been attentive to the case and performed well.

“I’m not suggesting that you intentionally did anything wrong, but in order to preserve the integrity of the process and in fairness to all the parties involved, we are going to replace you with one of the other jurors.”

Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of an influential legal family in an area west of Charleston, has been charged with fatally shooting his wife Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, at dog kennels on their estate on the night of June 7, 2021.

He faces 30 years to life in prison if found guilty.

Murdaugh’s attorneys followed the state’s lead prosecutor Creighton Waters’ final remarks to the jury on Wednesday that portrayed Murdaugh as a serial liar and argued that only he could have committed the murders.

The case has drawn intense media coverage given the family’s immense political power in and around Colleton County, where the trial is taking place. For decades until 2006, family members served as the leading prosecutor in the area, and Murdaugh was a prominent personal injury attorney in the Deep South state.

Throughout the trial, Murdaugh’s lawyers have sought to portray their client as a loving family man who, while facing financial troubles and suffering from a powerful addiction to opioids that led him to lie and steal, would never harm his wife and child. They have also tried to float alternative theories about the murders, with Murdaugh testifying that he believed someone angry over a deadly boating accident in 2019 involving Paul likely sought revenge on his son.

Prosecutors have argued that Murdaugh committed the murders to generate sympathy and distract from a litany of financial crimes, including the theft of millions of dollars from his law partners and clients – money used to feed a years-long addiction to opioids and support an expensive lifestyle.

In his closing argument, Waters repeatedly highlighted Murdaugh’s admission from the stand last week that he had lied about his whereabouts on the night of the killings, telling investigators he was not at the dog kennels prior to the murders. Murdaugh changed his account after the jury listened to audio evidence placing him at the scene of the crime minutes before it occurred.

Murdaugh said he initially lied to investigators because of paranoia tied to his drug habit and mistrust of the police.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters