Dick Harpootlian’s Gun Joke Draws Jeers

Alex Murdaugh’s attorney catching heat …

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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)

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian uses the 300 Blackout in evidence as he questions Mike Sutton during the Alex Murdaugh trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023. Grace Beahm Alford/The Post and Courier/Pool

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.



Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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Will Folks


Amelia Price Top fan February 22, 2023 at 7:39 am

Excellent article!

While I am familiar with Sutton’s firm and understand what they do, Harpootlian would have been better served to bolster Sutton’s testimony with a matched pair of testimonial buggy mules: a forensic pathologist and a forensic ballistics expert.

I thought Sutton made it clear he was a subject matter expert in the field of mechanics, physics, and kinetics. One must have a detailed understanding of how guns, cars, phones, and explosions “work.” His testimony had everything to do with the path of where those bullets went AFTER they left the gun barrel. You know, the trajectory, the physics, the math. Esoteric stuff to most, solid thermodynamic mathematics to others.

As for Harpootlian and his lighthearted quip, that WAS funny. You had to be there!

These cancel cultists need to get over themselves.

Kevin Decker Top fan February 22, 2023 at 7:52 am

Well said Will. Dick has been joking regularly. His protractor joke from last week had me chuckling. I have not been that impressed with Dick’s skills in cross or now direct examinations, but he has a robust sense of self deprecating humor.

william foster Top fan February 22, 2023 at 11:45 am

tempest in a teapot, but i do wonder how the joke may have gone over with the jury? can be surprising what juries lock in on, and if they view Dick as making light of a double murder they’ve given up a significant part of their lives to deal with, could be bad for the defense

Nanker Phelge February 22, 2023 at 12:00 pm

“chasm of perspective”

The chasm of perspective is with people like Will who assign way too much importance on the small small world of Elon’s Twatter.

Silence Dogood February 22, 2023 at 6:00 pm

It’s not cancel culture to point out that Harpootlian’s joke (about being tempted to shoot the prosecutors) was inappropriate in a double murder trial. Holding people accountable for their inappropriate behavior in a courtroom setting, arguably one of the most serious settings, is just called upholding decorum. At the very least, it was uncouth. Call me old fashioned, but I am disappointed in Dick. Remember when people were raised with basic manners and were expected to set a better example? What a world we live in when a State Senator jokes about murdering State Prosecutors who are doing their job.

TS February 23, 2023 at 12:36 pm

In my opinion, if someone is willing to kill an innocent animal with a weapon, it wouldn’t take too much for them to be willing to also kill a human, given the right circumstances. There’s a bit of a screw loose with those people. Alex was a gun fanatic (and he raised his boys to be gun fanatics) so shooting his soon-to-be-ex wife (or having a hired gun do it) isn’t implausible. I believe Paul was just in the wrong place at the right time and ended up being a secondary casualty.

Mary Kurtz Top fan February 25, 2023 at 1:22 pm

No matter who you are you never ever point a gun at someone. one of the first things you hear over and over when learning to shoot. second, I’m not sure why Harpootlian thinks he is funny. This trial is not a joke.

Bob February 26, 2023 at 5:26 pm

Harpootlian & Murdaugh

Just a couple of over-privileged, boomer nepo-babies who have gotten away with crimes their wholes lives, thanks to their Daddies and Granddaddies, finally exposed for the incompetent boobs they really are.

Will Folks is there to happily ride in the passenger side as their scrub.

Nathaniel March 4, 2023 at 1:06 am

So you’re here up defend the man who mocked your own reporter, Mandy Matley, as your own “sexual alter ego” because he’s a sexiest good ole boy who doesn’t think woman can be investigative journalists? You’re seriously here to say “He’s a terrible lawyer who showed tremendous disrespect to my colleague, but let’s not go wild with ‘cancel culture'”. Honestly Mandy made me want to subscribe to your news site, but seeing this story where you suggest people suffering the mildest of consequences for their incredibly sh*tty behaviour are being CANCELLED, just tells me everything I need to know about this publication.


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