A light-hearted moment inside the courtroom turned into a cancel campaign on social media after South Carolina senator Dick Harpootlian – the lead attorney for disbarred lawyer Alex Murdaugh – made what many believed was an inappropriate joke during his client’s double homicide trial on Tuesday. Even worse? Harpootlian’s attempt at humor happened as he was holding a modified assault rifle similar to the one his client allegedly used in the commission of this graphic crime.
Was the joke really cancel-worthy, though? Or is Harpootlian being unfairly castigated?
To me, the dust-up was the latest demonstration of chasm of perspective that exists between actually being inside the courtroom as events unfold and merely following them on television or social media. Reaction to the joke also reinforced the deep-seated biases prevalent among so many “covering” this trial … a rigid inflexibility which often prohibits people from assessing developments rationally.
In addition to a host of other alleged crimes, Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and youngest son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on his family’s hunting property in Colleton County, S.C. on June 7, 2021. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and is currently standing trial in Walterboro – part of the Lowcountry region of the Palmetto State which his famous family ruled like a fiefdom for more than a century.
To be clear: Based on everything I have seen thus far, I believe Murdaugh is guilty as sin of committing these murders. So does 92 percent of my audience, according to the latest polls.
But does my firmly held belief in Murdaugh’s guilt mean I should refuse to even consider the case brought by his lawyers? Or close my mind completely to all other possibilities? Does it compel me to view everything that happens in his trial – and within the broader ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – as conforming to my current beliefs? Does it demand that I surrender all perspective – all intellectual independence and critical thinking – and react to anything emanating from Murdaugh’s attorneys with perpetual, pearl-clutching indignation?
That may be how some people choose to cover these proceedings … but not me.
Anyway, Tuesday’s drama began shortly after 2:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday as Harpootlian was conducting his direct examination of Mike Sutton – a forensic engineer retained on behalf of Murdaugh’s defense. Personally, I did not find Sutton to be an especially credible witness – and I believe assistant attorney general David Fernandez did an admirable job of challenging his credibility (and conclusions) via his aggressive cross-examination.
(Click to view)
During his direct examination, though, Harpootlian attempted to demonstrate for jurors a key component of the defense’s theory of the shooting – namely that someone who stands as tall as Alex Murdaugh could not possibly have fired the fatal shots.
In attempting to find a good location within the courtroom to depict the shooter’s stance, Harpootlian at one point stood adjacent to the witness stand with the muzzle of the rifle he was holding pointed squarely at the prosecution table (and the media seated just behind them).
“Tempting,” he joked as he brandished the weapon.
Here is the video …
As you can hear on the clip, Harpootlian’s remark was greeted with laughter from those in the courtroom.
There were no groans, no gasps, no moans … just laughter.
Prosecutors laughed. Press laughed. Jurors laughed.
Hell, I laughed … and the gun Harpootlian was holding was pointed in the general direction of where I was sitting.
As the laughter subsided, Harpootlian cited his frustration at being unable to find spot inside the cramped courtroom where “I’m not pointing this at somebody.” He eventually settled on a spot to the right of the jury facing the rear of the courtroom with the muzzle of the gun facing a door. Finally in position, he proceeded with his underwhelming, unconvincing reenactment of the shooter’s stance … one which did not appear to move the needle for his client in any meaningful way.
Outside the courtroom, though, the cancel mob was in full swing. And not just at Harpootlian. Hours later, I took inordinate amounts of grief for tweeting that I found his joke funny … which it was.
Seriously … I haven’t seen this level of indignation since the good people of Walterboro decided to (gasp) recruit food trucks to help feed all the people coming to their town for this trial. The horror, right?
As I noted in that article, “when you are indignant about everything, your indignation means nothing.”
I am not saying it is wrong to be offended by Harpootlian’s comment. That’s a perfectly valid response – one which was obviously shared by a great many people. I’m just saying I wasn’t offended by it – nor, apparently, was anyone inside the courtroom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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