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Liz Farrell

Murdaugh circus hits Walterboro

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By Liz Farrell

WALTERBORO – Until Tuesday afternoon I didn’t know what an “elephant ear” was.

Clearly, I know that elephants have ears. Who doesn’t know this about elephants?

I’m talking about “elephant ears,” as in — all right, I haven’t actually seen one yet; but they were described to me as a “big fried dough thing … shaped like an ear.”

They are sold at fairs and carnivals … and at all the hottest Lowcountry murder trials.

Oh, yes, there IS such a thing as “murder snacks” now.

According to The Post and Courier, the big fried dough thing has been a big fried hit in Walterboro this week, where Alex Murdaugh is standing trial for the June 7, 2021, murders of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.

The “ears” are from one of the food trucks set up outside the courthouse to feed the circus. I am a part of that circus but I haven’t made the culinary rounds because I’ve been too busy wondering which potential Colleton County jury member will be the one to hang the jury.

There are not enough street tacos in this world to numb me from the pain of that concern. Not after what I’ve learned over the past four years about how things work in this part of the state when it comes to the name Murdaugh.

While there is a practicality to the food trucks being outside the courthouse, the festival-like atmosphere has taken a second to reconcile with the seriousness of the event. I have to keep reminding myself this isn’t the Beaufort Water Festival or the RBC Heritage.

We are there because two people had their lives taken from them — possibly by the one who was meant to love them the most … by the one who was meant to protect them from the very evil he is accused of perpetrating.

Like everything else about the Murdaugh case, the availability of “elephant ears” is asking a lot of my brain, specifically the part that causes me to have this thought: “……..”

Thank you for that, Richard Alexander Murdaugh — son of Randolph III, grandson of Randolph II, great-grandson of Randolph I.

Your family’s legacy of serving as solicitor for the 14th Circuit and heading up one of the most powerful law firms in this area has always included an imposing-looking courthouse.

Now, because of you, that imposing-looking courthouse has portable toilets called “Taj Mah Stalls” sitting outside of it.

For the past two days, I have observed the tedious — but oh so important — task of qualifying the very large jury pool that was called for this trial.

Eighteen people — 12 jurors, six alternates — will ultimately be chosen to determine whether the State of South Carolina has met its burden in proving that Murdaugh gunned down his family.

This is the part where I should take a moment to remind you of all the accusations Murdaugh has faced since his family’s name re-emerged from the dusty archives of Lowcountry lore in February 2019 when his drunk teenage son crashed the family’s boat into a piling on the bridge to Parris Island, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

Instead I will rely on the statistic I recently learned when 95 percent of every jury panel stood up after being asked the question “Have you heard about this case?”

It was a telling moment that must’ve made the reporter who was there from France feel very justified for his travel expenses.

The trial is expected to last through Feb. 10. I will check in with The Island News each week to give you the highlights.

Here is what to keep your eye on so far:

1. How Murdaugh looks and acts

With the jury in the room, he is a slumpy slouch. Thin, tired-looking — HAUNTED-looking — and beaten down. During a ballistics expert’s testimony at Tuesday afternoon’s evidentiary hearing, Murdaugh leaned forward with his arms wrapped around himself, occasionally rocked back and forth and shook his head in adamant disagreement. These are all the expected behaviors of a wrongfully accused man and while I don’t doubt they are genuine, I will also note that during recesses — when the jury is out of the room and the judge is in chambers — Murdaugh returns to his full upright stature and breezy conversation with those in the row behind him.

2. Who shows up for him and who shows up for Maggie and Paul

On Tuesday afternoon, Murdaugh’s older sister sat behind him. It was the first time we’ve seen a family member attend any of the proceedings. From hearing her on the jailhouse calls and seeing her this week, it’s heartbreaking to see how truly devastated she is. She sobbed and held his hand. He sobbed too. That moment was real. During the trial, we will finally learn where his surviving son, Buster, his brothers and his in-laws stand on his guilt or innocence.

3. The jury. The jury. The jury

Our justice system and law enforcement agencies have not fared well over the past four years after a litany of revelations about the many ways they have been historically corrupted and abused to favor the powerful and politically connected, specifically the Murdaugh family. This abuse and corruption has been alleged to extend to the juries as well. To trust in our system we need to trust that whatever decision a jury reaches — especially if they cannot reach one — was arrived at honestly. We need to trust that they were not tampered with in any way. We need to TRUST. Will we be able to this time?

Liz Farrell has lived in the Lowcountry since 2003. She is an award-winning journalist and co-host of the Murdaugh Murders Podcast and Cup of Justice podcast with Mandy Matney. The two have been investigating the Murdaugh story for four (very strange) years. You can reach them both by going to murdaughmurderspodcast.com.

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