March 16, 2023

OPINION: A lawyer’s thoughts about Alex Murdaugh’s very public trial

OPINION: A lawyer's thoughts about Alex Murdaugh's very public trial

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I have been following the Alex Murdaugh trial quite closely.

The proofs are in and closed. Closing arguments have begun as I write this.

I am ambivalent about Alex Murdaugh, the trial, the prosecutor’s case, and the situation in general.

First and foremost, two apparently innocent people are dead, the ultimate tragedy.

If Murdaugh is innocent of the crimes, he is twice a victim.

His young son and the love of his life are gone.

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When he should be mourning, he is defending himself. If he is guilty, he deserves the maximum penalty allowed by South Carolina law.

If he is innocent, because of the publicity these murders and this trial has generated, Murdaugh’s serious financial crimes have been revealed to the world, and he is forever disgraced in legal circles.

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He will never be able to restore his once stellar career and will never be able to practice law again.

Stealing from one’s clients is the ultimate “no-no” for any lawyer, and Murdaugh has admitted stealing from and deceiving his clients and his partners for a long period of time.

His shame and disgrace should be local news, not national news, and there is only one reason for the national prominence the story has achieved: Court TV has provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial, and the national media has taken the publicity football and run crazy with it.

Coverage has been non-stop and sensational. Newsmagazine shows have devoted hours to the trial.

Many people, including some attorneys, believe that the public airing of trials is a good thing.

I once believed it myself.

I watched with the rest of America when the O.J. Simpson trial became a national obsession.

But this trial presents lawyers in the worst possible light.

It has featured (in the person of Alex Murdaugh) every negative stereotype we’ve heard about lawyers and legitimized every lawyer joke. (Question: What’s ten lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? Answer: A good start)

Maybe I’m biased—maybe that’s the problem, but I am stilled deeply troubled by this spectacle of a trial.

A man’s freedom is at stake. What could be more important? Certainly not the public’s right to watch the trial on television.

Watching the Murdaugh trial with a lawyer’s eye, I am somewhat disturbed by what I am seeing and hearing.

Like most of you, I have formed my own opinions about Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence.

In fairness to a person who is innocent until proven guilty in this country, I will not divulge or discuss that opinion here.

Most laypeople forget or don’t know that the defense does not have to prove anything in a criminal trial.

The burden of proof to demonstrate guilt falls squarely on the shoulders of the prosecution.

They must prove Alex Murdaugh guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to, reasonable doubt is defined as “the evidence is fully satisfied, all facts are proven, and guilt is established.”

It is the highest standard of proof required in any type of trial.

I’ve seen a trial that features sloppy evidence-gathering, no murder weapon, no gunshot residue on the defendant’s clothing, and no motive.

The prosecutor has argued that Murdaugh’s financial crimes provide motive, but for me, and probably for you, I find this to be a lame argument.

If a person wants to cover up financial crimes by murdering someone, who would he or she murder?

In my opinion, he might murder the person who handles his financial affairs. Or, he might murder the people he stole from.

But why would he murder his wife and young son? It makes no sense.

Thus, I am not certain he has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the jury, if it does its job, might be forced to acquit him.

On the other hand, the prosecutors have forced him to admit he lied to the police.

A few witnesses testified that he coached them to provide an alibi.

He said he wasn’t near the crime scene when the murders took place—the evidence proves he was. Is that enough? Perhaps.

Besides, if the jury believes he is guilty, even if is guilt hasn’t been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, they may find him guilty anyway.

We don’t get to ask the jury if they lied.

Why am I troubled when he may be guilty, you ask?

Because without the spectacle of a nationally televised trial, there would be little pressure on jurors to do the wrong thing.

And I am convinced that if Alex Murdaugh is found guilty, the national publicity of a televised trial will have played a prominent role in that finding.

The accused, in this case, Murdaugh, is entitled to a fair trial.

But how can a trial be “fair” in this atmosphere, with all of this publicity?

I don’t know whether televised jury trials are a good or bad thing for the public, but I believe they are a terrible idea and often create a miscarriage of justice for a criminal defendant.

Before the jury deliberates and/or publishes its verdict, millions of armchair lawyers will have decided the case—how can that possibly be a good thing for a system founded on innocent until proven guilty?

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That my view, what’s yours?

Mark M. Bello is an attorney and author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series and children’s social justice/safety picture books.

He also hosts the popular bi-weekly podcast, Justice Counts.

Mark’s books may be found at all online booksellers and on his website, at

Sign up for Mark M. Bello’s Social Justice Newsletter.

Mark M. Bello

Mark M. Bello is an attorney and author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series and children’s social justice/safety picture books. He also hosts the popular bi-weekly podcast, Justice Counts ( Mark’s books may be found at all online booksellers and on his website, at Sign up for Mark M. Bello's Social Justice Newsletter.

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