COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The murder trial for disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh is set to begin January 23 in Colleton County. Murdaugh — a well-known figure who descends from a legal dynasty that oversaw the area for over a century — is accused of fatally shooting his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
Colleton County has a population of around 38,000 people. Around 1,000 so far have been summoned to begin the jury selection process for the high-profile trial, according to attorney Joe McCulloch. McCulloch represents alleged victims of Murdaugh in a separate case related to a 2019 boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
He said the small population size and tight-knit nature of the community could make it hard to find jurors.
The Murdaugh family has prosecuted crimes in the area for over 100 years. McCulloch said any potential jurors who were previously prosecuted by a Murdaugh would likely be out.
But even those who haven’t had direct legal dealings with the family still likely have some sort of connection. At the very least, McCulloch said, they’ve probably heard about the murder case that put their small town in the national spotlight.
“People who say they haven’t heard or read anything about it — that would be little suspect. Finding a true blank slate, probably not happening in this case.”
The prosecution and defense are each allotted a certain number of strikes when it comes to prospective jurors. Typically, prosecution gets five and defense gets 10. But McCulloch said it’s very possible more strikes will be warranted, and Juge Clifton Newman will make the decision on how many to allow each party.
With the prospect of finding jurors who are completely removed from the case unlikely, McCulloch said each side will likely focus on finding jurors who can put emotions aside and take into consideration only the facts presented. Public servants, for example, could make acceptable jurors.
“You want a jury that’s listening to that instruction, takes it to heart, and follows the law,” McCulloch said. “Who is not prone to make an emotional, passionate decision because this case involves two horrific deaths.”
There is no set time for the jury selection process. McCulloch said it will probably become clear early on whether the process is likely to drag out.
Judge Newman has ordered that once the jury is selected, juror identities remain hidden from the public.