COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Former Hampton County lawyer and accused murderer Alex Murdaugh is asking that his shackles be removed during court, specifically “during courtroom proceedings in which news media are present with video cameras.”
In a recently filed motion, Murdaugh’s defense cites previous cases in which shackling was determined to be an “inherently prejudicial practice.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that shackling is only permitted if there is a “special need,” and Murdaugh’s attorneys argue that he has given the court no reason to believe he is a threat to the courtroom or flight risk.
The defense references one case in which the presiding judge, Judge Clifton Newman, pushed back against advice from a sheriff and solicitor to shackle Mikal Mahdi. Mahdi was accused of fleeing from police at a gas station, murdering a law enforcement officer, and going on a “four-state crime spree.” During the trial, he snuck “a functioning, homemade handcuff key” into the court room by hiding it in his mouth, according to the motion.
In that case, Newman allegedly told the sheriff “I would not want to have him shackled in the presence of the jury with his shackles being visible due to the effect that it may have on his right to a fair trial.”
Murdaugh’s defense claims “there is no apparent reason why a more stringent rule should apply to Mr. Murdaugh, who has not evaded law enforcement or engaged in any activity threatening law enforcement or court personnel.”
The motion acknowledges that “murder defendants in South Carolina are always shackled in pretrial court appearances,” but quickly dismisses the norm as “irrelevant.” The defense argued that the media attention on the case makes it unique.
“The issue is how the Court allows the defendant, in this case, to be displayed to the jury pool in advance of jury selection,” the motion reads, “not evenhandedness regarding the relative physical comfort of criminal defendants across South Carolina.”
Murdaugh is expected to have a pretrial status hearing at 2:00 p.m. Friday in Columbia. It was previously scheduled for Friday morning in Colleton County.