Guilty on all counts! South Carolina prosecutors proved, beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, that Alex Murdaugh murdered his wife and son. It took the jurors less than three hours to convict him of firing two shotgun blasts into his 22-year-old son Paul and firing four to five rifle shots into his 52-year-old wife Maggie. He testified in own defense and attempted to persuade jurors that he had nothing to do with the abhorrent crimes. Jurors rejected his testimony. There are many lessons from this trial. Here are just three main ones.
Lesson #1: You never really know anyone
So many people couldn’t see how anyone, especially Alex Murdaugh, could be capable of committing these horrific acts. After all, he claimed to love and adore his wife and son. Several people testified that he never showed any ill-will or hatred towards either of them. Even the kennel video played at the trial revealed a very calm Murdaugh who was engaged in a discussion about whether their dog Bubba had eaten a chicken. It’s hard to reconcile that moments later, he brutally took the life of his precious family members.
The lesson is that anyone is capable of anything. You never know what is going on in somebody’s mind and what they could do. Murdaugh proved to be capable of committing monstrous acts. His case serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate what someone is capable of, even when you think you know them.
Lesson #2: Jurors generally get it right
The Criminal Justice System is filled with examples where jurors seemingly get it wrong, resulting in miscarriages of justice. Some point to the high-profile trials of OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony, Rodney King Cops, and/or George Zimmerman as proof that the system is fallible. While studies have shown that jury trials have resulted in both innocent people being convicted and guilty people being acquitted, the evidence seems to suggest that jurors generally get it right. That’s been my experience as a trial lawyer for 30 years. Robots cannot be utilized for jury duty. Thus, human error occasionally results, in spite of how tragic that is. In the Murdaugh case, however, it appears they got it right. They didn’t mistake the many questions that they still had about the case as reasons to doubt his guilt. They convicted him in spite of not knowing every single fact surrounding the crimes. They only took three hours because that’s all that they required. They got it right.
Lesson #3: Prosecutors aren’t the best at cross examination
Kudos to the Murdaugh prosecutors for working hard to convict a guilty defendant. They earned this victory and I commend them. However, just because they won doesn’t mean that they did everything brilliantly. In fact, I thought their cross examination of Murdaugh was poor. They asked too many open ended non leading questions that afforded Murdaugh wide latitude to explain and further attempt to humanize himself. Also, the cross examination lasted way too long. Obviously, Murdaugh failed in his attempt to look innocent, however, that’s because Murdaugh is Murdaugh. I don’t credit the prosecutor with the fact that Murdaugh wasn’t worthy of belief. Murdaugh prosecutors didn’t seem like they were prepared to cross examine Murdaugh. They looked like they were surprised that he chose to take the stand and were winging it. Cross examination questions must be carefully crafted after great thought and delivered very carefully. That wasn’t done. This didn’t surprise me. Most prosecutors aren’t very good at cross examination. For example, in spite of his victory against Jodi Arias, former prosecutor Juan Martinez’s cross of her was abysmal. It went on ten times too long and made it clear that Martinez’s ego was not his amigo. Prosecutors would be better served if they utilized a consultant to assist them with the art of cross examination.
I am pleased that Murdaugh was convicted and will die in prison. Even though I’m a criminal defense attorney, I also am a fair minded human being, father and advocate. I never like to see jurors get it wrong. In this case they didn’t. There were numerous lessons learned as a result of this high profile case. I’ve provided just three. I’d love to hear what you learned from it. Do share.