The Murdaugh Trial Is Over, But Infamy Lingers For Walterboro



The Murdaugh trial is over, but infamy lingers for Walterboro

Destiny Johnson was eating dinner with her sister on Thursday night when they heard the news: the jury had reached a guilty verdict in the Alex Murdaugh trial.

Ms Johnson abandoned dinner and hurried to the courthouse. She arrived just as police escorted the now-convicted murderer past a phalanx of television cameras, he also encountered dozens of local spectators, who had rushed over to watch authorities escort him to jail.

Most did not look directly at Murdaugh, instead viewing the spectacle through their uplifted phones.

Ms Johnson was among them, streaming to her family members on Facebook Live.

“This is probably the biggest thing that’s happened in our town,” Ms Johnson, 36, told the BBC after police drove Murdaugh away. She was breathless, her awestruck expression more befitting an A-list celebrity encounter than a brief glimpse of a murderer. A Styrofoam carryout container sat abandoned at her feet.

“Like, nobody’s ever heard of Walterboro until this trial,” she said. “It’s exciting.”

For over a year, the small town of Walterboro has stood at the centre of one of America’s most high profile murder trials – and this week, arguably its biggest story. It has consumed and captivated locals like Ms Johnson – as well as enthusiasts across the country. A media circus, complete with tents, bright lights, big talent and plenty of gawkers, set up camp outside the alabaster facade of the Colleton County Courthouse for weeks as Murdaugh stood trial for the murder of his wife, Margaret, and son, Paul.

But this week, it all ended as Murdaugh swiftly received his sentence on Thursday evening, and a lifetime prison sentence the next morning. While residents of Walterboro and nearby communities expressed sadness at the fate of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, who Alex has been convicted of murdering, they also found themselves grappling with their town’s new notoriety – and by their own admission, a bit of regret that it was all over.

The conclusion of the trial created “a void”, said Janice McPherson, a 67-year-old from nearby Lancaster County who attended Murdaugh’s sentencing with her two daughters on Friday. “We were just really consumed by this. We’ll go back to our normal way of living now.”

‘A John Grisham book’

Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a local legal empire, spent several weeks on trial here for the killing of his wife and son, who were found dead of close-range gunshot wounds at the family’s dog kennels on their estate. The case – featuring a complex mix of intrigue, power, drug abuse, theft and above all the gruesome murder of a wealthy family – has spawned a multimedia universe of successful streaming documentaries, podcasts and more.

“It’s a John Grisham nonfiction book,” Eric Bland, an attorney-turned-Murdaugh podcast and media presence, explained of the case’s hold on the public. “It’s Southern Gothic murder.”

And at the centre of it all was Walterboro.

In the closing days of the trial, the quaint blocks surrounding the courthouse were under constant surveillance. Small gaggles of enthusiasts roved the surrounding streets, phones out and ready to record any development.

At one point, two women in an SUV rolled slowly alongside a group of lawyers as they walked through town, eyes trained to the phones recording the spectacle rather than the road in front of them.

A trio of professionally dressed young women took cheery photos in front of the courthouse, where inside a jury was set to decide whether a man was guilty of brutally murdering his wife and son.

For Walterboro, the guilty verdict was a historic, vindicating moment. Some even brought their young children to the courthouse on Thursday night, in the hope they would witness the grand finale of a national news story.

As the court announced the guilty verdict, 38-year-old Jessica Williams was outside with her six-year-old daughter. They huddled together to watch the proceedings on her phone.

“I made sure she was a part of everything because I want her to remember it,” Ms Williams said. “I remember where I was when the verdict for OJ Simpson came down. This was the same thing.”

The circus packs up

On Friday, the final day of the Murdaugh media circus saw locals and journalists jockeying for space along the barricades lining the court. Multiple people approached Mr Bland, whose commentary about the case had made him a niche celebrity, to ask for photos.

Two young women, dressed up in bright sheath dresses and shades, appeared eager for press to interview them about the case. By late morning, several outlets had obliged.

A few dozen spectators were able to watch the sentencing from the courtroom. For them, the little orange lanyards the court issued to the public were a golden ticket, one which allowed them to witness firsthand a saga they had followed for months on TV.

It was “amazing just to be able to sit there and hear the judge give the sentencing,” said 61-year-old Kim Warner, who lives in town. “And then to see [Murdaugh] in a jail outfit, be walked out of the courtroom.”

But not every resident was thrilled with the spotlight.

“It’s a little bit embarrassing,” said Kimberly Davis, a 38-year old Walterboro native who also visited the courthouse on Thursday night.

The murder was “absolutely not” an accurate depiction of Walterboro, Ms Davis said. “I was born and mostly raised here, I could not tell you who Alex Murdaugh was prior to this trial.”

What she did know was this: that Walterboro was a “small, quiet, nice-people town”.

“It’s just unfortunate that we’re just known worldwide now because of his wrongdoings.”

Source – BBC News



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