By Scott Graber
It’s Saturday, and I’m in my dining room contemplating a world without Alex Murdaugh — actually a world without the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the “Murdaugh Family Murders” on Court TV.
Ok, I know it’s not accurate, or Judeo-Christian, to describe what has happened over these past months as anything other than a tragedy. A tragedy for those murdered. A tragedy for those who loved those who were murdered. A tragedy for others pulled into the vortex.
There is no silver lining here. But I suppose all of us were pulled away from our humdrum lives and became a part of the trial in Walterboro — a neighboring town normally of little interest to those of us in Beaufort County.
Because the trial was covered by cameras in the courtroom, we didn’t have to rely on newspaper coverage or a condensed, 30-second feed from Lester Holt. We didn’t have to stand in line in hopes of getting an uncomfortable pew in the courtroom.
We would, some of us anyway, grab a glass of pinot and a hastily assembled BLT (heavy on the mayo) and sit in our battered Barcaloungers watching the lawyers do their work.
But it was slow going.
It was slow going because the state had to get their evidence into evidence. There were long stretches of time when a SLED agent testified about where he found a shell casing. And how he put that casing into a plastic baggie. How he memorialized where that casing was found. How he signed the baggie and gave it to a second agent who put it on shelf somewhere in Columbia.
This kind of testimony — which was absolutely necessary — was not at all interesting and meant that Court TV would break away from the courtroom to a panel of lawyers who would comment on what was happening.
These lawyers were often critical of the dull, time-consuming, procedural mechanics that were characteristic of those first weeks. They wanted more drama. And so Court TV got personal, anecdotal drama from these well-tailored, desk-bound lawyers who were constantly second-guessing the unsmiling, largely colorless agents who were laying down the state’s case brick by boring brick.
The former prosecutors; and criminal defense “experts” were quick to make predictions (“hung jury”); to comment on the cross examination (too long); and suggest the strategy that they would have used if given the opportunity.
As the trial moved forward, the Court TV folks would focus on whether Murdaugh was actually crying — were there actual tears? Were the jurors crying? Where was this line of question going? Where was the “gotcha” moment? Are these the best litigators the Attorney General can provide?
All the while the Court TV would endlessly play the call that Alex Murdaugh made to EMS; and constantly remind us that he (or someone) murdered his wife and child; and, just in case you didn’t know, Alex Murdaugh comes from a 100-year-old dynasty that more or less ruled the lower part of South Carolina.
The coverage routine was to give us maybe 10 minutes of trial, then break away for commercials that focused on burial insurance. These commercials usually featured an oldster telling her son, “I don’t want to burden you with my funeral bills when I die.”
“Oh mama,” the boy would reply, “you’re not going anywhere …”
These little vignettes might have been effective once or twice; but by the 10th showing, I was screaming, “For God’s sake let her die!”
At night, when the trial was over for the day, Court TV would take their cameras to Fat Jack’s and interview diners. In one episode they impanelled a six-person, all female “jury” and asked that they render their verdict based on what they had seen that day.
All of this reminds me of the cave explorer, Floyd Collins, who got himself stuck in a cave in Western Kentucky.
Collins got stuck in 1925 but it was possible for him to speak to a reporter — a local journalist who would interview Collins as rescuers tried to reach him by way of another shaft.
While this was going on hundreds of thousands of spectators descended on a small town where they had to be housed, fed and entertained. An amusement park was quickly assembled for these people and while Collins slowly died, thousands drank, sang, and rode bumper cars and Ferris wheels above ground.
OK, not a perfect metaphor, but America did have its media frenzy; its food trucks; its carnival.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.