Will Murdaugh Jurors Consider The Aftermath?
Significant time has been spent contemplating what impact the Murdaugh family empire and its multi-generations of legal and political prowess would have on how jurors assessed the evidence in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh. At the start of jury selection, many observers, analysts and reporters understandably wondered whether jurors could be fair despite experiences with and attitudes of the all-powerful hometown family. Was a prospective juror ever personally or vicariously represented (or prosecuted) by a Murdaugh family member? Other than the legal realm, did a potential juror ever attend a social event hosted by any of the Murdaughs? No doubt word travels at the speed of light in this small southern town. Did any of the jurors “know” something about Mr. Murdaugh? These concerns were all based on whether something in a potential juror’s past could influence his or her ability to be a fair, impartial and open-minded juror. But what about whether the future could affect a juror’s ability to fairly render justice in a case involving two murder victims and a “famous” father accused of murdering them both?
We often wonder when a member of the mafia or gang member is on trial, whether fear of retribution could influence a juror’s fitness to serve by introducing potential considerations of the consequences of a conviction. Conversely, defense lawyers and their clients in similar cases could also worry that a juror would have a difficult time in their respective community if they handed down an acquittal and “freed” a violent defendant. The names of jurors are often kept anonymous in such cases. In the Alex Murdaugh trial, with a county of just south of 40,000 and the city consisting of barely 5,000 people, these jurors are well known in the communities they live in and their jury service is hardly a secret.
Will any of the jurors be guided by thinking that a conviction could spark a vengeance-based backlash by some of the powerful defendant’s allies? On the other hand, are any jurors disproportionally concerned about telling their neighbors that they stood in the way of putting Mr. Murdaugh away for the rest of his life? The made-for-TV (or Twitter) answers would be yes, but in all likelihood the answer is no.
The government prosecutors and witnesses consist of eminent citizens of the State of South Carolina. With each passing day during the State’s case, jurors saw local members of the Palmetto state establishment indicating that Alex Murdaugh is a killer. And scores of law enforcement officials are on team prosecution. As the prosecution laid out its narrative, it offered evidence that they hoped would empower jurors to accept it is not only okay to convict Mr. Murdaugh but it is necessary. Similarly, the defense is doing its best to make jurors feel psychologically comfortable rendering a not-guilty verdict. The world will go on with an acquittal, and letting Mr. Murdaugh walk is a potential result that the defense is giving legitimacy to.
Jurors strive to get the right decision, and are able to compartmentalize “extra-legal” factors. Each result, guilty or not guilty, has become more and more normalized with each passing day in court. Jurors are not concerned about how their verdict will play in the tiny town of Walterboro, or whether their verdict will either help tarnish or glorify the Murdaugh family name. When deliberations commence, they will be focused on the law, and whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Murdaugh violated it.