SC defense attorney questions why so many on Murdaugh jury say they never heard of the case

  • In US
  • 2023-01-26 21:03:20Z
  • By The State

Long-time South Carolina defense attorney Jack Swerling said the jurors who will decide Alex Murdaugh's fate are a good representation of the community, except he said it appears Black South Carolinians are underrepresented.

He also said he believes it is unusual for so many on the jury to say they knew nothing about a case involving a well-known Colleton County family. Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife, Maggie and son, Paul, in 2021.

Swerling was asked by The State to provide expert analysis as the case proceeds over the next few weeks. He is not involved in the case but is familiar with all the lawyers who are and once was a law partner of Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh's defense attorneys.

Black residents make up 36% of Colleton County's population, according to the U.S. Census. Two jurors are Black, or about 16% of the 12 jurors.

Swerling said jury makeup is all "based on the luck of the draw."

He said he would expect more jurors would have heard of the case, which has garnered widespread attention, both in local and national media, podcasts and special reports by such entities as HBO Max and Showtime.

"Even if they don't follow the case in the news media, I'm sure there have been conversations among many people regarding the highest profile case ever to hit the county and the Murdaughs are a well known family," he said.

Four generations of Murdaughs have worked as lawyers in the area, and three have worked as the chief prosecutor in the 14th Circuit. Alex Murdaugh worked part-time in the solicitor's office but was primarily a private attorney in the family law firm, which he is accused of stealing from. He faces dozens of counts of financial fraud involving clients and others.

The jury is made up of eight women and four men from occupations such as retail, medicine, construction and education.

"It looks like the jurors have a wide range of occupations, which is good - probably a wide range of educational backgrounds, also good," Swerling said.

He said the balance in the jury would not tend to favor one side or the other.

Jury selection began Monday. Some 900 questionnaires were sent out to prospective jurors and about 250 jurors were questioned in court.

During the first two days, Judge Clifton Newman asked a series of questions to determine whether someone could be fair and impartial. He excused all but about 120 for reasons such as severe anxiety, planned surgery, age, financial hardship and family responsibilities.

The court then cut the number to 80 for the defense and prosecution to select from. They were able to seat the 12-member jury after 17 people were called. Six alternates were also chosen from nine called.


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