Jury questionnaire set in Murdaugh case, but no decision on shackle motion

Attorneys met briefly Friday afternoon in a Richland County courtroom in a pretrial hearing for former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh.
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 9:31 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2022 at 5:16 PM EST
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COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys met briefly Friday afternoon in a Richland County courtroom in a pretrial hearing for former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh.

Murdaugh is charged in the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Paul at the family’s rural property in Colleton County.

At Friday’s short hearing, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters told the court both sides agreed on a generic questionnaire potential jurors will receive before they are chosen to serve.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh cases

It was the third pre-trial hearing since Murdaugh was indicted in the killings. His attorneys have requested another hearing for next week and said they plan to file additional motions next week.

Murdaugh did not appear at Friday’s hearing and defense attorneys asked that he be accused from appearing at next week’s hearing as well. However, the judge said he would have to appear if it was a substantive hearing.

There was no decision Friday, however, on a defense motion filed earlier this week. That motion requested the court issue an order requiring the state to unshackle him during courtroom proceedings “in which news media are present with video cameras.”

The motion cites U.S. Supreme Court cases that have forbidden shackling criminal defendants during a trial without “a special need” because shackling is “an inherently prejudicial practice” and “should be permitted only where justified by an essential state interest specific to each trial.”

“There is no specific, special need to shackle Mr. Murdaugh in the courtroom,” the motion states. “He has not -- and is not alleged to have -- engaged in any behavior suggesting he is a threat to the courtroom or will somehow escape from it.”

Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian writes in the motion that the state will argue in opposition that defendants in South Carolina are always shackled in pretrial court appearances and that Murdaugh should be no different, an argument Harpootlian argues would be “irrelevant.”

“Most murder defendants do not have TV crews filming every pretrial hearing. Those who do, like Mr. Murdaugh, have a constitutional right to be unshackled unless there is an articulable security issue specific to the individual defendant.”

Harpootlian says the issue is how the court “allows the defendant in this case to be displayed to the jury pool in advance of jury selection, not evenhandedness regarding the relative physical comfort of criminal defendants across South Carolina.”

Murdaugh’s murder trail is set to begin in January.