WALTERBORO, S.C. (AP) - A juror was removed Thursday from the jury that will soon deliberate the fate of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh in his double murder trial because she discussed the case with other people.
Five jurors have now been removed from the panel over the six-week trial and just one alternate remains as the defense prepared to make its closing argument and deliberations could begin. The other jurors have had to leave because of COVID-19 or other medical problems.
Judge Clifton Newman said it didn’t appear the juror intentionally violated the order he gives each day for the jury not to talk about the case with anyone.
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"Though it does not appear the conversations were that extensive, it did involve the juror offering her opinion on evidence received up to that point in the trial," Newman said.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of either murder count. Investigators said his 22-year-old son, Paul, was shot twice with a shotgun and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle outside dog kennels on their Colleton County property on June 7, 2021.
The judge said he initially was told the juror spoke to two people and state agents interviewed those people. Then, the judge brought the people into his chambers and they waffled on what they initially said.
Still, Newman told the juror he had no choice.
"Intentionally or unintentionally, you’ve had some discussions with some folks not on the jury, which is going to require me to remove you," Newman said.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said he didn’t disagree with Newman’s decision but thinks having two State Law Enforcement Division agents tied to the case — one who testified and a second involved in the investigation — interview the people the juror talked to was "a continuum of a calamity of errors" that included how badly the defense thinks the murder probe has been handled.
Newman also indicated he wasn’t happy with how state agents handled the juror matter.
Newman’s exchange with the juror Thursday was pleasant. He asked her if she needed the bailiff to get any of her things from the jury room. She said she had her purse and a dozen eggs that a fellow juror brought for each juror from his farm.
"We get a lot of interesting things, but now a dozen eggs," Newman said.