Don’t make Murdaugh wear shackles in court, defense asks in new motion

Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

Alex Murdaugh’s attorneys have filed a motion asking the court not to shackle the accused double murderer during upcoming court proceedings.

The motion, filed Wednesday in Colleton County court, asks that Murdaugh not be shackled during any court proceedings where news media are present with video cameras.

Citing cases that have appeared before both South Carolina courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, Murdaugh’s lawyers argued that it is well established that defendants should not be shackled in court before a trial concludes unless there is a special justification — essentially, if they are considered dangerous, a flight risk or disruptive to court proceedings.

“There is no specific, special need to shackle Mr. Murdaugh in the courtroom,” according to the motion, which also highlighted the unusual degree of media attention being paid to the case. “Most murder defendants do not have TV crews filming every pretrial hearing.”

Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in a shooting at the family’s sprawling hunting ranch, Moselle, in June, 2021.

“The fact that Mr. Murdaugh is charged with murder cannot be a special need justifying shackling,” the motion reads.

Murdaugh’s lawyers, Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, argue that the Supreme Court has long forbidden the use of shackles in front of a jury before the guilt of a defendant has been decided unless there is a “special need.”

The attorneys highlighted that Murdaugh has done nothing to suggest that he is either “a threat to the courtroom or will somehow escape from it.”

Courts are required to use the least restrictive measures available that ensure the security of the proceedings while preserving the defendant’s presumption of innocence in front of the jury, according to the motion.

In arguing their point, Murdaugh’s attorneys cited a case that appeared before Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, who will be presiding over Murdaugh’s trial. In this past case, Newman ruled that an accused cop-killer who attempted to smuggle a handcuff key in his mouth should not be shackled in front of the jury.

“There is no apparent reason why a more stringent rule should apply to Mr. Murdaugh... He has threatened no one and no one had to search him,” according to the motion.

Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the charges of killing his wife and son. He recently provided notice of an alibi, stating that he had left the family’s property and was visiting with his mother at the time of the killings. He is set to go on trial Jan. 23 in Colleton County.