Finding Balance in the Scales of Justice


By Andy Ann

On Monday, Jan. 23 the jury selection process began for the double murder trial of Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh Sr. He was indicted (charged) on July 14, 2022, for two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a firearm during a crime.

The four charges are in connection to the deaths of Margaret “Maggie” Branstetter Murdaugh and Paul Terry Murdaugh. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, was 52 years old and his son, Paul, was 22 years old when they were both shot to death on June 7, 2021. The murders occurred at the family hunting estate, Moselle, located in Islandton. He has pleaded not guilty, and his defense team maintains his innocence.

There were 900 Colleton County residents that received a jury summons and began reporting to the Colleton County Courthouse early Monday morning. Those that were summoned reported at different times in waves over a three-day period due to the occupancy levels in the relatively small historic courthouse. A “struck jury” selection method was used to narrow down the number needed for the official jury.

A “struck jury” is a multi-step process of selecting members for the final jury from a jury pool. During that process, more specific questioning may happen, and “strikes” can be exercised. On Tuesday, Jan. 24, during the morning session, the first stage of the jury selection concluded with about 123-125 potential jurors that qualified to be in the jury pool. By the conclusion of the afternoon session, approximately 80 were randomly selected for “strike”. Counsel from either side can issue “strikes” as a challenge to have a potential juror removed from the jury pool.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25 the official jurors were selected from the remaining jury pool. The potential jurors had to approach the bench and turn to face counsel as they were selected or entered as a “strike.” At the conclusion of the selection process, there were 12 jurors and 6 alternates that remained. The Honorable Judge Clifton Newman thanked all those that came that were not selected to serve and were dismissed. The final jurors were then officially sworn in and informed of the defendant and his charges.

Judge Newman then advised the members of the jury that they cannot discuss the case with anyone or seek out information outside of what is presented in courtroom proceedings. He also explained that one jury member will need to be the “Foreperson” for the jury. The “Foreperson” is the spokesperson of the jury and must keep a record of the number of jurors that are in favor of findings for each indictment or charge and submit it to the Clerk of Court. If the defendant is found to be guilty of a specific charge, the jury’s verdict form, handed over by the foreperson will be read by the judge in an open court session on behalf of the jury.

Newman also explained the jurors are the judge of the facts presented in court and he, as a judge, is the judge of the law. Ultimately, Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the law lies in the hands of the jurors. A man’s life and how it will be spent hangs in the balance within scales of justice.