It has been awhile since we updated our readers on the case of Paul Murdaugh, the 20-year-old defendant in a fatal February boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, South Carolina.
When we last checked in on this case, the prevailing sense was that Murdaugh – who belongs to one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in the Lowcountry – had been handled with kid gloves at a bond hearing in May on the various charges he is facing in connection with this incident.
This perception was reinforced on Monday when S.C. circuit court judge Michael Nettles modified Murdaugh’s bond at the request of his attorneys – ignoring what we believe were reasonable requests made by the state (specifically, assistant deputy attorney general Megan Burchstead).
At issue in this hearing? The defendant’s status as a student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., which is located outside the confines of the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit. At his bond hearing back in May, Murdaugh had been ordered to remain within the fourteenth circuit by judge Steven H. John.
On Monday, Nettles lifted this restriction based on a request from Murdaugh’s legal team – which includes state senator Dick Harpootlian and criminal defense lawyer Jim Griffin.
Do we support that decision? Yes … at least in part.
Because Murdaugh is considered innocent until proven guilty – and because the court has already determined (rightly or wrongly) that he is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community – a bond condition that restricts him from pursuing his education strikes us as unreasonable.
Of course that is where our sympathy for Murdaugh ends …
The fact that he is not being subjected to alcohol monitoring and is not being fitted for an ankle bracelet (two things Burchstead requested at the bond modification hearing) seems irresponsible given the charges that have been filed against him.
Furthermore, the logic employed by Murdaugh’s counsel in persuading Nettles to refrain from imposing such conditions was … ludicrous.
Arguing for his client, Griffin claimed alcohol monitoring was unnecessary because Murdaugh is underage and it is already illegal for him to consume adult beverages.
Griffin also argued ankle monitoring was unnecessary because the fatal crash occurred on water as opposed to land … as if that makes any difference whatsoever in the fundamental nature of the offense.
Nettles bought the arguments, though …
(Click to view)
To recap: Beach died tragically on or about February 24, 2019 when a 17-foot center console fishing boat allegedly operated by Murdaugh 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 by two men in a boat – five miles from the crash site. Beaufort coroner J. Edward Allen determined Beach died of 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.
Based on an investigation conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) – with assistance from the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson sought and obtained three indictments from a Beaufort County grand jury in April that could land Murdaugh in jail for 55 years.
Specifically, he is staring down one count of boating under the influence resulting in death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.
To its credit, Wilson’s office – led by Burchstead – did not hesitate to charge Murdaugh “fast and hard,” to borrow a term used by a defense attorney we spoke with.
This news outlet has followed this case very closely, but reporters and columnists with The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet – including Mandy Mandy Matney, Teresa Moss and Liz Farrell – have been all over it.
To read the Packet‘s treatment of the bond modification hearing, click here …
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