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Prosecutor Calls Alex Murdaugh Case 'Unprecedented In South Carolina History' In Fiery Court Hearing

Attorneys sparred at a Monday hearing to determine whether a protection order should be issued against the defense as part of the discovery process leading up to Alex Murdaugh's murder trial. 

By Jill Sederstrom
The Alex Murdaugh Case, Explained

The violent crime and corruption charges against Alex Murdaugh are “unprecedented in South Carolina history,” prosecutors said Monday in a heated hearing about whether or not a protective order should be put in place against the defense to protect the evidence before trial.

“This case is unique, it’s unprecedented in South Carolina history, inasmuch as it combines violent crime with alleged corruption of someone’s law license on a scale that’s never been seen before,” state grand jury prosecutor Creighton Waters said, according to Law & Crime.

The fiery court proceeding — which had prosecutors and defense attorneys sparring against one another as they lobbed insults — was held Monday to determine whether a protective order should be issued to keep the defense from leaking anything proffered during discovery before Murdaugh can be brought to trial for the murder of his wife Maggie and youngest son Paul.

Murdaugh — a disgraced former attorney who was stripped of his law license after dozens of charges for financial crimes were filed against him — is accused of killing his family members June 7, 2021 at the family’s sprawling 1,700-acre Colleton County property.

He has pleaded not guilty to the murders.

Alex Murdaugh is escorted out of the Colleton County Courthouse

According to an indictment previously obtained by Oxygen.com, Maggie was killed with an assault rifle while her son was shot at close range with a shotgun. Few other details of the case have been released and prosecutors would like to keep it that way.

Waters argued that due to the high-profile nature of the case, evidence could be worth “over a million dollars to an unscrupulous hand” of someone who might seek to sell or publish the evidence, according to The State.

He argued that the evidence needed to be closely guarded.

“None of this is to preclude a public trial,” he said, per Law & Crime. “Everything will come out in the open. All this is meant to do is have it come out when it’s supposed to, and that’s in this courtroom.”

Murdaugh’s defense team filed a motion earlier this month to compel the judge to force the state to produce “all information required material to the preparation of the defense or intended for use by the prosecution as evidence” — a process colloquially known as discovery.

In a scathing press conference held by defense attorney Dick Harpootlian after filing the motion heard on Monday, Harpootlian accused prosecutors trying to hold a “trial by ambush,” saying he had not gotten any evidence from prosecutors to help him prepare for the trial.

Within the first few minutes of the hearing Monday, Harpootlian made some of the same accusations, accusing prosecutors of trying to “hijack” the legal proceeding and “hiding the ball,” according to The Daily Beast.

“I don’t trust the state to honor the rules! They haven’t so far at this point,” he said, adding that “every time we turn around, they are trying to hide something.”

The prosecutor, Waters, fired back at the accusations lobbed by the defense team, saying “I don’t play fast and loose!”

He insisted he had “not leaked a thing,” since the murder charges were filed against Murdaugh.

South Carolina Judge Clifton Newman ultimately interjected that he would “not have counsel arguing with each other” and made the decision to give each side a bit of what they wanted, The State reports.

While he agreed that prosecutors needed to turn the evidence they had in the case over to Murdaugh’s defense team, he issued a temporary order that would restrict the defense from sharing the information with the public.

“This is a case that cries out for the issuance of a protective order, not a blanket protective order but one that addresses the issue most relevant in this instance,” Newman said, according to Law & Crime.

Murdaugh is facing 90 criminal charges against him through 18 different indictments, mostly for alleged schemes to defraud victims of nearly $8.8 million, according to an earlier statement from South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The former attorney hails from a prestigious legal family with a long history as prosecutors in South Carolina’s low country, but he fell from grace last year after authorities started to take a closer look at his financial dealings in the wake of the murders.

He’s now facing accusations that he defrauded former legal clients, his own law firm and the family of his deceased housekeeper, along with accusations of drug trafficking and allegations that he tried to arrange his own botched suicide attempt in September.