SC defense attorney explains process for beginning of Murdaugh murder trial

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh is set to stand trial next week in the killings of his wife and youngest son.

Margaret and her son Paul were found shot to death near their Colleton County home in July of 2021. Murdaugh was indicted by a grand jury in July 2022. The trial will determine whether Murdaugh is responsible for their deaths – and what may have led to the shootings.

Lowcountry defense attorney and former prosecutor Susan Williams spoke with News 2 about how the first few days of the trial will likely play out as jury selection will get underway in less than a week.

Williams said there is a pool of more than 100 Colleton County residents who could potentially serve as jurors for this trial, and she expects the selection process of reducing that number down to 12 will last one or two days. Two people will likely be selected as alternates.

The jurors can be on the panel as long as they are impartial despite knowledge of Murdaugh.

After the jurors have been selected and seated, Williams said opening statements will begin with the state prosecutors, because they have the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Then, Murdaugh’s defense team will present their opening statement before the prosecution gives testimony, where they will be able to call witnesses to the stand.

The defense will have an opportunity to present testimony; however, Williams said they are not obliged to do so.

But what impact could this trial have on South Carolina moving forward?

“If he’s found guilty, then I think that, like any profession, there are people who do not represent the entire South Carolina bar. If he’s found not guilty, I believe that we can still pull from this that whatever it is that caused him to be found not guilty… it shows that people can be found wrongfully accused of something and when they have their day in court, they can be found not guilty.”

Williams went on to say, “Regardless of what happens in this case, lawyers, law enforcement, and anyone involved in the criminal justice system – I think they will be more careful about what they do at work on a professional level. I think that it will improve day-to-day what is going on with the way people are doing their jobs.”

Judge Clifton Newman has issued a special order that states none of the jurors’ names or identities may be made public for their protection.

The trial is scheduled to begin in a Colleton County courtroom on January 23rd and could last through February 10th.

Murdaugh is currently being held at the Richland County detention center on charges related to financial crimes. His bond was denied in a July 20 hearing.

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