2 Takes on the Speedy Murdaugh Verdict

3 hours may not have been long enough for jury to consider issues raised by data from devices
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2023 11:27 AM CST
Alex Murdaugh Verdict Should Have Taken Longer
Alex Murdaugh stands in the courtroom at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, SC, Thursday, March 2, 2023.   (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)

After a six-week trial with testimony from 75 witnesses, the jury found Alex Murdaugh guilty in less time than it would have taken them to watch Avatar 2. Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times, who uses they/them pronouns, says that while they have "little quarrel" with the decision to find Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son in 2021, they expected the jury to take a lot longer than three hours to deal with questions raised by data from smartphones and other devices. Arguments from both sides involved a lot of data, and "both sides raised important points about what the digital records prove and do not prove in a high-stakes case—and I expected a jury to have a hard time getting to the bottom of these issues," Manjoo writes.

"Unlike the jury, apparently, I worry that the evidence our devices produce can just as easily muddy the picture of a crime as clarify it," writes Manjoo. They write that prosecutors often "seemed to be finding patterns in the data that didn’t necessarily hold true," making Manjoo "wary that authorities can build outlandish stories from our data." For example, Manjoo writes, prosecutors pinpointed the time of death both victims at just after 8:49pm—because that was when they last unlocked their phones. Car tracking data and activity tracking from Murdaugh's iPhone also played big roles in the prosecution's case, and Manjoo says they "expected the jury to spend some time pondering the perfectly innocuous explanations for many of them."

"When I’m on a plane, my iPhone sometimes thinks I’m driving; when I’m in a car, my Apple Watch sometimes praises me for working out," Manjoo writes. "Why should we believe these devices are good enough for a murder conviction?" But while Manjoo is worried about the implication for future cases, David Lauderdale at the Charlotte Observer sees the speedy verdict as a sign things have changed in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where Murdaugh "was running around with a badge from the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which was run by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather."

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The jury, Lauderdale writes, "saw right through the age old Murdaugh game plan," which involves trying to point the finger at somebody else, manipulating witnesses and evidence and trying to bully opposing counsel. "Everyone has believed for generations that the Murdaughs were untouchable and could either get you in trouble or get you out of trouble," he writes. But this time, the jury heard from "courageous witnesses" who said Murdaugh tried to get them to "change the truth to fit his alibi"—and they weren't swayed by high-powered defense attorneys or testimony from Murdaugh himself. "In sum, Alex Murdaugh was seen by the jury as a total fraud," Lauderdale writes. "Would that the old Lowcountry system of so-called justice can now also been seen as a total fraud." (Murdaugh received two life sentences Friday.)

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