Wednesday’s hearing was scheduled as a bond hearing, but Murdaugh and his lawyers have requested a formal arraignment. When asked if he was guilty or not guilty, Murdaugh – who appeared in the Walterboro courtroom with a shaved head wearing a white linen shirt and khaki pants belonging to his lawyer’s son – said replied: “Not guilty”.
Murdaugh’s attorneys did not agree to any bond, and Judge Clifton Newman ultimately denied bail.
Both the prosecution and defense told the judge they consented to a gag order and the sealing of discovery material, in part because of the media attention the case received. Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s attorneys, said the request for a gag order was motivated to avoid tainting a group of potential jurors.
Newman, who said he generally disapproves of gag orders, indicated he would consider the request. Harpootlian will submit a formal request in the coming days, he said, by which time the judge could rule.
“This is a public matter and a public trial, and certainly the issues that need to be sealed can be sealed to preserve the rights of all parties,” Newman said.
“The court understands this but, at the same time, wants to make it clear that we will not have any private petitions. Public affairs will be public,” he added.
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found dead on the night of June 7, 2021, after Murdaugh called 911 to report he had discovered their bodies at the family property in Islandton, South Carolina.
He denied any involvement in their deaths, saying he was visiting his mother at the time they were killed.
The murder charges are just the latest – although by far the most serious – leveled against the now disbarred lawyer, who also faces charges related to alleged financial crimes.
Altogether, the saga has gripped the state as accusations mount against the scion of one of the state’s most powerful political families. For three generations, a member of the Murdaugh family served as an attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, which oversees prosecutions for several counties across a swath of South Carolina’s low country.
Indeed, in the courtroom where Murdaugh appeared on Wednesday, a portrait of his late grandfather, one of the lawyers, hung on the wall.
Lawyer: Murdaugh thinks ‘the killer(s) are still at large’
Murdaugh’s lawyers on Wednesday called for a speedy trial that would begin as early as October or November, though the state said January would be more reasonable.
Murdaugh wants the trial to begin quickly, Harpootlian said, because he believes “the killer(s) of his wife and son are still at large.”
Although no new details linking Murdaugh to the murders were revealed in court on Wednesday, prosecutor Creighton Waters called the evidence against Murdaugh “substantial.”
“Much of the information that was gathered in the state grand jury case — all 81 allegations of white-collar fraud and other crimes, drugs and the like — that was gathered against Mr. Murdaugh in the course of this long investigation … a lot of it provides the context and the motive for what happened on June 7, 2021,” Waters said.
Blood spatter found on Murdaugh’s clothing could place him at the scene of the murders of his wife and son, in close contact with at least one of the victims when he was killed, a source previously told CNN. course of the investigation.
High velocity splashes are associated with the use of a particular weapon, such as a rifle, and create a specific pattern, especially at close range.
Additionally, a phone that belonged to Paul Murdaugh and recovered from his body contained video and audio of Alex Murdaugh speaking with his wife around the time she and Paul Murdaugh were killed, the source said. Alex Murdaugh is not seen on the video but is heard speaking with his wife, and this recording has a timestamp, which may prove essential to the investigation, the source said.
The investigation causes one twist after another
Murdaugh was already being held in Colombia on $7 million bond for other alleged financial crimes related, in part, to allegations that the once-prominent lawyer stole millions of dollars in death settlement funds from the family of his late governess Gloria Satterfield.
South Carolina authorities opened an investigation into Satterfield’s death last year after questions emerged about his death and how it was handled. The housekeeper died at the Murdaughs’ home in 2018 in what Murdaugh described as a “trip and fall” accident.
According to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Murdaugh coordinated with Satterfield’s family to sue and reach an insurance settlement, saying he would give the proceeds to the family. But he secretly deposited about $3 million of that money into an account he owned, according to affidavits released by SLED.
It’s just one twist in the Murdaugh saga: Authorities have also reopened the investigation into the unsolved death of a 19-year-old in 2015; Murdaugh resigned from his position as a lawyer for a leading legal group; he admitted to having struggled with opioid abuse; and he faces dozens of charges accusing him of stealing money from clients.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher reported from Walterboro, South Carolina, while Dakin Andone reported and wrote this story in New York. CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Randi Kaye contributed to this report.