A week after being indicted on multiple charges related to a fatal boating accident, the 20-year-old scion of a powerful Lowcounty, South Carolina family has not been arrested – nor has he been compelled to appear in court in connection with the case.
What gives? Good question …
Paul Murdaugh of Hampton, S.C. was charged last week by a grand jury in Beaufort County, S.C. with one count of boating under the influence resulting in death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.
He is facing up to 55 years in prison on those three charges … assuming he is made to face them.
According to reporter Teresa Moss of The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet, Murdaugh has not been arrested and is “not having a preliminary hearing, which is where the evidence against him would have been outlined for the public and where his attorneys could have made arguments in his defense prior to indictment.”
That has raised the specter of preferential treatment for a defendant from a wealthy and influential family – one with political, prosecutorial and law enforcement connections dating back decades.
Complicating matters? Two Lowcountry judges have recused themselves from the Murdaugh case, news of which was exclusively reported by Moss and fellow Packet reporter Mandy Matney. These two judges – Perry Buckner and Carmen Mullen – have yet to provide a reason for their recusals, although it is widely believed they do not wish to run afoul of the Murdaughs.
It is not immediately clear who will be assigned to hear this high-profile case, nor is it clear when Paul Murdaugh will make his first court appearance.
How did we get here?
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Nineteen-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton (above) died tragically on February 24 (or thereabouts) when a 17-foot center console fishing boat slammed into a pylon near the Archer’s Creek bridge just north of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island in Beaufort County, S.C.
Her body was found a week later – five miles away from the crash site – with the local coroner listing the cause of death as blunt force trauma and drowning.
All five of the surviving passengers on the boat were described by local law enforcement as being “grossly intoxicated” in the aftermath of the crash. Also, all of them were underage at the time the accident occurred.
Charges filed in connection with the case will be handled by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – specifically, by assistant attorney general Megan Burchstead.
SCDNR has been criticized for its handling of the inquiry – including its widely panned failure to conduct sobriety tests on Murdaugh and other boaters – however charges were filed in the case shortly after a copy of the agency’s preliminary report into the crash landed on Wilson’s desk.
Wilson took the case after S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone recused himself – citing his connections to the powerful Lowcountry family at the epicenter of the tragic tale.
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In addition to the criminal investigation of Paul Murdaugh, several other members of the family are staring down the business end of a wrongful death case filed by Beach’s mother, Renee Beach.
Beach’s lawsuit (.pdf) specifically names Randolph Murdaugh III, Richard Alexander Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. in connection with her daughter’s death, claiming that each one of these men contributed in their own way to the alleged underage drinking which the suit suggests caused the accident that killed her.
Richard Alexander Murdaugh also owns the boat that was involved in the fatal crash.
Stay tuned … we will continue to update our readers on the status of this case as it progresses (we think) through the state’s court system.
UPDATE: Arraignment date set …
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