Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh will appear in a Beaufort County, South Carolina courtroom this Friday (November 17, 2023) as his attorneys address issues related to the selection of a jury for his first state-level financial crimes trial – tentatively scheduled to begin later this month.
Murdaugh, 55, will appear alongside his attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin at the hearing – scheduled for 10:00 a.m. EST at the Beaufort County courthouse. Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters will appear on behalf of the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – which is handling all of the cases tied to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga through the statewide grand jury.
Presiding over these proceedings? The man who requested Friday’s hearing – S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman.
To recap: Three generations of Murdaughs – including Alex’s late father, Randolph Murdaugh III – held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006. Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor – and past president of the influential S.C. trial lawyers lobby. The “House of Murdaugh” ran the Palmetto Lowcounty (including Beaufort) like a fiefdom for nearly a century – dispensing justice as it saw fit.
That fiefdom began to collapse in February 2019, however, when Murdaugh’s youngest son – the late Paul Murdaugh – allegedly crashed a boat belonging to his father into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. The crash killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. – and exposed the Murdaugh family to the white hot glare of the statewide limelight for the first time. It also led to the filing of a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit which threatened to expose more than a decade’s worth of Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds.
According to state prosecutors, this “gathering storm” led Murdaugh to brutally murder his son Paul and his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, at Moselle – the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.
Murdaugh was convicted of those murders in March of this year and sentenced to consecutive life terms by Newman. His appeal of those convictions – which centers on the admissibility of financial crimes evidence – is on hold pending a recently filed motion for a new trial.
Up to this point, Newman has presided over all Murdaugh-related criminal matters – earning near-universal respect and adoration in the process (and with good reason). His knowledgeable, even-keeled management of Murdaugh’s double homicide trial earlier this year set a standard for judicial integrity in the Palmetto State – and beyond.
RELATED | INSIDE THE POST-TRIAL CHESS MOVES
Since the trial ended, however, Newman has made statements which make it abundantly clear he cannot – or rather should not – sit in judgment over any further Murdaugh cases. I articulated that view in this editorial published last month, and earlier this month Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion before the S.C. supreme court asking him to be taken off the case based, in part, on his extra-judicial statements.
Murdaugh’s attorneys also believe Newman is a potential fact witness related to their recently filed motion for a new double homicide trial due to allegations of jury tampering against Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill.
“Judge Newman has personal knowledge about the clerk of court’s conduct which will undoubtedly be disputed at an evidentiary hearing,” Murdaugh’s attorneys noted in their petition before the high court (.pdf).
Hill has denied these allegations in a written affidavit accompanying prosecutors’ motion objecting to a new trial.
Their motion seeks to remove Newman from sitting in judgment over that case – and any upcoming financial crime trials. As previously noted, Murdaugh is facing over a hundred individual charges related to “schemes to defraud victims” of nearly $10 million.
Murdaugh has already pleaded guilty to multiple financial crimes at the federal level. And during his testimony at his murder trial, he admitted to practically all of the financial crimes of which he currently stands accused.
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Last week, Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a change of venue motion along with a request to delay the first financial crimes trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin on Monday, November 27, 2023 in Beaufort County.
Friday’s hearing was scheduled by Newman to address issues with jury questionnaires sent out by the county clerk of court, Jerri Ann Roseneau. Only a small handful of returned questionnaires from prospective jurors indicated they had neither heard nor read anything about Murdaugh (a.k.a. the “living under a rock” crowd). The vast majority fell into one of the following two categories – 1) respondents who indicated they could not be fair to Murdaugh based on their preconceived notions about him and 2) those who had read or heard of Murdaugh but believed they could be fair in their deliberations.
According to our sources, defense attorneys are working with prosecutors to come up with a fair resolution to the jury questionnaire issues.
Prior to the court addressing those questions, however, we are told defense attorneys are planning to put their recent motion before the supreme court directly to Newman – asking him on the record for the first time to voluntarily recuse himself from further involvement in Murdaugh-related proceedings.
That could make for some interesting courtroom theater …
Count on this media outlet to attend Friday’s hearing and bring our audience the latest on this still-unfolding saga.
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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