WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - One of the 12 jurors in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial was removed because of what the judge called “inappropriate conversations” just before Murdaugh’s defense team began presenting its closing arguments.
Judge Clifton Newman said the court had learned that the juror, identified only as Juror 785, had discussed the case with parties not associated with the case. The person who notified the court provided the names of the people with whom the juror allegedly spoke and those people provided affidavits about the contact with the juror. The contact did involve the juror offering her opinion on evidence received up to that point, he said.
The judge called the juror out from the jury room to notify her that she was being removed from the jury but thanked her for her service.
“I’m not suggesting that you intentionally did anything wrong, but that in order to preserve the integrity of the process and in fairness to all the parties involved, we’re going to replace you with one of the other jurors,” Newman told her.
In a moment of levity, the juror told the judge she did have a few items she had left in the jury room, including her purse, a bottle of water and a dozen eggs. The mention of the eggs drew laughter from the gallery.
The juror was replaced with one of the two remaining alternate jurors. Shortly thereafter, defense attorney Jim Griffin began presenting his closing arguments designed to convince the remaining jurors that their client did not kill his wife and son.
Murdaugh, the disbarred Lowcountry attorney, faces up to 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of the June 7, 2021, killings of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh at the family’s rural hunting property in the Islandton community.
Jurors started their day on Wednesday morning by touring that property as Judge Clifton Newman and attorneys on both sides looked on. A press pool was allowed to tour the property after jurors cleared the scene.
Once the jury returned to the Colleton County Courthouse, prosecutor Creighton Waters presented the state’s closing arguments. Waters told the jury Murdaugh’s shame of his decades-long financial crime schemes being discovered led him to gun down his wife and son.
“Shame is an extraordinary provocation,” Waters said. “His ego couldn’t stand that and he became a family annihilator.”
Murdaugh’s lies and financial fraud were put back in the jurors’ minds Wednesday as Waters walked them through Murdaugh’s history of stealing from clients and his former law firm. Waters said Murduagh was trying to keep up his successful image and family legacy and how the pressures of the cases surrounding the 2019 Beaufort County boat crash threatened that legacy.
Taking most of the day for closing arguments, Waters told jurors that Murdaugh had the motive, means and opportunity to commit the crimes and referenced lies he told to law enforcement as early as the night of the murders showing the jury clips from the first interview conducted by investigator David Owen.
Waters then pointed out that Murdaugh had lied to the jurors’ faces during his testimony last week when he referenced the factors like his distrust of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division that he said led him to lie to Owen during that interview. Waters played the body camera footage during Murdaugh’s cross-examination last week from Daniel Greene, who was on the scene before SLED arrived, where he told a similar story to him.
“He was lying to you just like he’s lied to everyone close to him,” Waters said. “He’s good at it. He’s good at it.”
Waters argued that no one really knew who Murdaugh was and he would do anything “in a heartbeat” to avoid accountability. That meant lying to law enforcement about being at the kennels the night of the murders and even lying on the stand about the extent of his pill usage to gain sympathy from the jury.
Waters pointed out the autopsy reports that neither Paul nor Maggie Murdaugh had defensive wounds even pointing to Murdaugh’s own testimony that the dogs at the kennels didn’t seem alerted to someone else being there.
“The dogs never heard them around them,” Waters said. “Somebody put the dogs up but put the dogs up in the wrong kennels. Somebody rolled up the hose.”
Things like Murdaugh saying he didn’t take his phone to the kennels with him and the flurry of activity and phone calls after 9:02 p.m. were all a part of Murdaugh attempting to manufacture an alibi, Waters said.
As the state’s closing arguments went most of the day Wednesday the defense will get their opportunity at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin told the court that he believes the defense’s closing argument will last about two hours. The state will get another chance to prove its case to jurors before they are charged and it’s put into their hands.
Judge Clifton Newman said earlier Wednesday that jurors may deliberate over the weekend if they are not able to agree on a verdict by the end of Friday, assuming that closing arguments and jury instructions are complete by then.