COVID could create crisis in Alex Murdaugh murder trial
Two jurors in the double murder trial of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh have COVID, leaving the future of the proceedings in some doubt as they enter their 16th day Monday.
Judge Clifton Newman decided keep the trial going in the packed Colleton County courtroom after the remaining 10 jurors and five alternates tested negative. They will be tested again on Wednesday. The clerk of court also tested positive for the virus.
Newman said jurors agreed to wear masks. He rejected suggestions from both the defense and prosecutors to delay the trial until that second round of tests Wednesday, reduce the over 200 people allowed to attend the trial each day or order everyone in the courtroom to wear masks other than testifying witnesses and questioning attorneys.
“At the moment, we are going to encourage everyone here to mask up for your own protection as well as the protection of these proceedings and each other,” Newman said.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie, and their 22-year-old son Paul near dog kennels at the family's Colleton County home on June 7, 2021.
Monday marked the fourth week of the trial and the 13th day of testimony with prosecutors still presenting their case. They called state agents who tested evidence for DNA.
The trial started with six alternate jurors, but is now down to three.
“My only concern is we don’t create train wreck with this jury," said defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, who immediately began wearing a mask.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters said he agreed with the defense that delaying the trial for a few days to make sure COVID isn't spreading is much better than losing so many jurors there has to be a mistrial and three weeks of work is gone. He also suggested limiting the number of people inside the large, century-old courtroom. The trial is being live-streamed and shown on television.
“A little less numbers might be warranted. None of us want to limit anything, but we're in different paradigm. Both of us have a concern about getting this thing to the end without COVID causing it to fall apart," Waters said.
The judge said he would keep all options in mind, but for now the trial will continue without any changes.
“We just have to take precautions as we all do as we navigate through life during this period of time,” Newman said.