WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCBD) – Jury selection began Monday for a man accused of killing his wife and youngest son more than a year ago at their family property in Colleton County.
Judge Clifton Newman saw three groups of potential juror candidates Monday asking them a series of qualifying questions. Jurors were weeded out based on conflicting factors such as where they work and work schedules, criminal history, relations to the Murdaugh family, and connections to other parties in the case that might impact impartial judgment.
Meanwhile, Judge Newman shared a list of more than 100 potential witnesses that could be called to testify during the murder trial, including Alex Murdaugh’s only living son, Buster, past victims, and dozens of law enforcement personnel and first responders.
Day 2 of jury selection will begin inside the Colleton County courthouse Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.
The murder trial is expected to last through February 10.
There will be no live video feed from day one of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. News 2 will provide updates as information becomes available. Follow reporter Riley Benson @realrileybenson on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom and tune in to News 2 at 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. for full coverage. Scroll down for live blog.
COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh will stand trial for the brutal June 7, 2021 murders of his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their Colleton County property.
The shootings were the first thread in the unraveling of Murdaugh’s decades-long web of crimes. In addition to the murders, he has been indicted on around 100 white-collar and financial crimes, including tax evasion, and stealing money from former law clients and his family’s law firm. State prosecutors have claimed that impending financial and legal doom pushed Murdaugh to snap and murder his wife and son.
He is also connected to at least three other death investigations, including that of his former housekeeper, a teen thrown from a boat allegedly driven by a drunk and underaged Paul Murdaugh, and a teen found dead under suspicious circumstances in the middle of a rural Hampton County road.
Monday’s trial focuses solely on the indictments for Margaret and Paul’s murders. Murdaugh has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
News 2 will provide live updates from notable moments in the trial below:
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL LIVE BLOG:
9:00 a.m. – Before the court could gavel into session, Judge Clifton Newman had to set media protocols for the jury selection process. He decided no video feed was allowed for jury selection, but as of 9:10 a.m. was still deciding whether reporters would be allowed to have phones in the courtroom.
Jury selection could prove difficult in such a small, tight-knit community over which the Murdaugh family has historically exercised significant influence.
9:04 a.m. – Alex Murdaugh arrived in a large black van. He was wearing dress clothes and appeared to hide his shackled hands under a blazer. As was helped out of the van and escorted inside by multiple armed security guards.
The courthouse lawn and surrounding area were packed with media.
10:00 a.m. – An audio feed of jury selection was made available. Jurors were each asked questions like “are you married or single” and “what do you do for a living?” The court is taking stringent measures to protect the identity of potential jurors. Judge Clifton Newman previously ruled that their identities must remain concealed throughout the trial.
10:40 a.m. – After asking all potential jurors the basic questions, jurors were asked other questions such as whether they are citizens of the United States and Colleton County, whether they have at least a sixth-grade education, and whether any physical or mental ailments may prevent them from serving.
One potential juror said that he has back problems and cannot sit for extended periods of time. He was excused. Another potential juror was excused because of an issue with his job.
10:42 a.m. – Potential jurors were asked if they had ever been convicted of a crime that would have resulted in a sentence of one year or longer.
One person said that he had been court marshaled by the military for going AWOL. He was not immediately dismissed.
Another person was excused for his crime, which was inaudible. News 2 is working to review.
A third person said she had been convicted of shoplifting but was not disqualified.
10:45 a.m. – Potential jurors were then asked if they had ever worked in any law enforcement or court capacity, or if they had already served on jury duty in Colleton County within the past year. One person said he had. The court said they would review his service and get back to him.
11:08 a.m. – Judge Newman asked jurors if they had any extenuating circumstances which would make it particularly hard for them to participate in what is expected to be a lengthy trial. He said he could not excuse them from jury duty entirely but could transfer them to serve on a case that would take less time. Many jurors were transferred for reasons like taking care of a sick family member, being a single parent, childcare issues, work conflicts, and more.
11:15 a.m. – Potential jurors who believed there was a specific reason they should not serve on this case were asked to stand. Judge Newman said that they did not have to give them a reason, but the court would “get back to” each of them for further discussion.
Judge Newman then asked questions more specific to the case and the charges.
“If you have heard about this case, read about this case, or know anything about this case, please stand,” Newman said. After getting their juror numbers, Newman said “it appears everyone stood.” He asked them to provide the source of their information, whether that be newspapers, local broadcast stations, social media, podcasts, word of mouth, etc.
Almost everyone said local or national news of some sort, while others also cited other websites, social media, and word of mouth.
Newman then asked based on what they had heard, if they had formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence. He asked if those who said yes would be able to set aside that opinion and come to a verdict based solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom.
Three jurors were dismissed.
11:30 a.m. –Judge Newman asked if anyone had expressed opinions about the case to anyone. Multiple people stood.
Any jurors related to the Murdaughs by blood or marriage were asked to identify themselves. Anyone who was socially acquainted or had a significant other who was related or had a close social relationship was also asked to stand.
Two jurors stood. One had a connection through her brother-in-law. Another said that her grandmother’s family are Murdaughs “down the line” and that her friend worked in the PMPED office.
Anyone who had been represented in legal proceedings by, or had any relationship with, Murdaugh himself or any of the prosecution or defense team was asked to stand.
Two people stood. One was dismissed and Judge Newman said that he would get back to the second.
Judge Newman then asked if any people or their close family had a connection to or had been investigated or prosecuted by SLED, the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, or the 14th Circuit Solicitor.
One person said that her fiance was second on the scene the night of the murders.
Multiple others said that they or family members had been investigated or prosecuted by one of the parties. Some said it would impact their ability to be impartial and they were dismissed.
Judge Newman then asked if anyone had a connection to PMPED, whether through representation or if anyone had attended any events (raffles, gatherings, hunting events, parties, etc) held by the firm or the Murdaugh family. ‘
One juror said yes and that he could not be impartial. Another woman said she attended a party hosted by Murdaugh, but she could remain impartial.
11: 45 a.m. – Audio was briefly cut off
11:48 a.m. – Over 100 witnesses could be called in Murdaugh murder trial
A list of potential witnesses was given. Some highlights include, but are not limited to:
- Members or representatives from the following agencies: Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, Colleton County Dispatch, Colleton County Fire Rescue, SLED, US Secret Service, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, Hampton County Sheriff’s Office, Hampton County EMS, South Carolina Highway Patrol, SCAG Office, Savannah Memorial Hospital representatives/doctors.
- Blood spatter expert contracted by the state Tom Bevel, former SLED officer now with Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office Kenneth Kinsey (a forensic expert who analyzed the crime scene). (Read about the fight to exclude what the defense claims is fabricated evidence.)
- Members of the Laffitte family, owners of Palmetto State Bank: Russel Laffitte (who was convicted on several financial crimes connected to Murdaugh), Charles Laffitte II, Charles Laffitte III, Norris Laffitte, Henry Laffitte, Rebecca Laffitte, Elizabeth Laffitte Malinowski. Former Palmetto State Bank VP Chad Westendorf.
- Attorneys involved in other cases against Murdaugh: Mark Tinsley (boat crash) and Eric Bland (Satterfield, victims of financial crimes).
- Members of Murdaugh’s former law firm PMPED: Ronnie Crosby and John Parker.
- Curtis Eddie Smith, who Murdaugh allegedly hired to shoot him in a botched suicide attempt to secure a life insurance payout for his only living son, Buster.
- Other alleged victims of Murdaugh: Morgan Doughty, Michael Tony Satterfield, Arthur Badger, Pamela Pinckney, and Natarsha Thomas.
- Members of Murdaugh’s family: Randy Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh, John Marvin Murdaugh, and Liz Murdaugh.
- Members of the Branstetter and Proctor families (Margaret’s side).
Jurors were asked if they have any relation to any prospective witnesses. One person said his cousin was being called. He was dismissed. A woman said she was a social acquaintance with Chad Westendorf and her son was friends with Buster. She said she could remain impartial. Another woman said that she went to school with Morgan Doughty; she said it might impact her ability to be impartial. Judge Newman said they would discuss it further.
Many other jurors had connections but said they could remain impartial.
12:08 p.m. – Judge Newman asked if any jurors had any other reasons they should not serve. No one stood. Judge Newman said “this panel is now qualified. The question now is what’s next for this group.” 30 people from the initial group of 80 remained.
12:12 p.m. – Most prospective members of the jury were excused for the remainder of the day. They were instructed not to engage with anyone else involved in the case. They were told to call back after 6:00 p.m. today and they would be instructed whether they should come back Tuesday or Wednesday. Judge Newman said he hoped they could come back around 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Judge Newman said that several other groups of prospective jurors were coming in for selection. Once they weeded out from those groups, they hoped to put together the final jury pool.
12:55 p.m. – Court reconvened with a new set of prospective jurors. Judge Newman said that the process is running behind schedule due to the volume of people they are dealing with.
Jurors were asked the same round of preliminary questions like where they work and whether they are single or married.
Three people with disabilities that would’ve prevented them from serving were dismissed.
One man who is a primary caregiver for his elderly mother was also dismissed.
1:17 p.m. – Court is in recess for lunch and will resume at 2:30 p.m.
2:36 p.m. – Court returned to continue questioning prospective jurors. Judge Newman reminded jurors that they are expected to be on time, as three jurors returned late.
2:40 p.m. – Judge Newman asked basic qualifying questions such as whether they are citizens of the United States and Colleton County, whether they have at least a sixth-grade education, and whether any physical or mental ailments may prevent them from serving. Two jurors were dismissed.
Judge Newman then asked other qualifying questions about criminal convictions, work in courthouses, or previous service on jury duty within the past year.
2:50 p.m. – Several jurors were released due to exemptions like being over the age of 65, being the only caregiver for children under the age of seven or someone who is elderly/incapacitated, or being essential to the functioning of a business.
Several jurors who did not qualify for exemptions, but would’ve experienced significant hardship due to the length of the trial, were transferred to serve on shorter trials.
3:00 p.m. – Judge Newman began asking questions specific to the case.
Anyone who had heard about the case, read about the case, or knew anything about the case was asked to stand. Over 30 people stood. Most said that they got their information from news coverage, podcasts, online sources, social media, or word of mouth.
He asked whether they had formed an opinion based on their knowledge and whether they could put that opinion aside and come to a verdict based only on the evidence presented in court. Several said yes and were excused.
Judge Newman asked everyone who had not heard of the case to stand up. Less than 10 jurors stood.
3:20 p.m. – Jurors were asked about personal or professional connections to any of the parties or potential witnesses that may be called in the case.
Several jurors had connections. Some said that they could put them aside and remain impartial, while others said that they could not; those who could not were dismissed without objection.
3:50 p.m. – A few jurors were asked to remain so they could discuss individually with Judge Newman concerns that may prevent them from serving. The other potential jurors were excused for the remainder of the day with instructions to call back after 6:00 p.m. for directions on when to return.
4:40 p.m. – Court resumed with the third panel of potential jurors.
5:00 p.m. – Murdaugh’s attorneys filed additional motions to exclude blood spatter testimony from Tom Bevel and Dr. Kenneth Kinsey. They also filed a new motion to exclude testimony from a ballistics expert, claiming it is unreliable for many reasons, including the fact that the hunting property was frequently used for target practice and spent casings from multiple firearms were located all over the property.
5:13 p.m. – For the third time Monday, Judge Newman asked basic qualifying questions such as whether they are citizens of the United States and Colleton County, whether they have at least a sixth-grade education, and whether any physical or mental ailments or prior criminal convictions may prevent them from serving. Those questions were followed by questions about qualifying exemptions. Multiple jurors were excused.
5:40 p.m. – Judge Newman asked jurors to stand if they had any prior knowledge of the case. Several jurors stood.
Judge Newman asked the source of their information. Most jurors said news coverage, podcasts, social media, or word of mouth. One woman said “conversations with people in the cafe.”
Another man said that he worked for fire and rescue and had treated people connected to the case. He said it would likely impact his judgment, and he was dismissed without objection.
Jurors were asked to stand if they had already formed an opinion as to Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence. Two stood. Judge Newman asked if they could put their opinions aside and make a decision based only on the evidence presented in court. One said that he could not, and he was dismissed.
5:50 p.m. – Judge Newman asked about any familial, social, or professional relationships with the Murdaughs or any other parties connected to the case. Several said that they had relationships with parties in the case. Some were dismissed without objection while others said they could remain impartial.
6:15 p.m. – Judge Newman asked several jurors who may have had potential conflicts to stay back for further discussion but dismissed the rest of the prospective jurors. Jurors were asked to call back after 8:00 p.m. to find out if they should return late Tuesday afternoon or early Wednesday morning.
Judge Newman said that there is one more panel to get through tomorrow and from that pool, they hope to select 12 jurors and six alternates.