One news cameraman arrived just around 5 Tuesday morning to make sure he was on time.
Others soon followed.
By the time Alex Murdaugh walked handcuffed and shackled into courtroom 3A on Tuesday morning, dozens of still and video cameras and cell phones were pointed in his direction with many more waiting outside the Richland County Judicial Center in Columbia.
The charges, on their face, seemed quite ordinary - obtaining property under false pretenses - and in some ways it was simply the case of a man allegedly caught stealing.
But that’s where the ordinary gives way to the surprising, the shocking, the extraordinary.
Here was Alex Murdaugh, often described as a prestigious lawyer, scion of a great legal family, one of South Carolina’s elite, clothed in a navy jail jumpsuit escorted by sheriff’s officers at every step.
The bail hearing, often a short, routine event, lasted about an hour or so, with Attorney General prosecutor Creighton Waters representing the state, calling Murdaugh’s alleged crimes “a chain of events that I’ve never seen before.”
Sitting behind Creighton’s team was the family of Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh’s long time housekeeper who died after falling at the Murdaugh home in 2018.
It was their property, prosecutors say, Murdaugh obtained under false pretenses.
Waters said it was Murdaugh who told the family they could sue him and win an award from his insurance company following Satterfield’s death, but Waters said Murdaugh then orchestrated a scheme that would allow him to divert the proceeds, about $3.3 million to his personal bank account.
An agent from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, better known as SLED, told Judge Clifton Newman that other investigations into Murdagh were ongoing. Waters called the case “the tip of the iceberg.”
Rather than grant the state’s request to release Murdaugh with a $200,000 surety bond or the defense request to release him on his own recognizance, Newman took a different route.
He denied Murdaugh bail and instead ordered he be held and undergo a psychiatric examination.
The decision surprised longtime court watchers, but attorney Eric Bland, representing the Satterfield family, welcomed the judge’s decision.
“I think It’s a good day for justice,” Bland said as he faced a sea of television cameras and reporters outside the courthouse following Newman’s ruling.
His law partner, Ronnie Richter, agreed.
“The Satterfields got some taste of justice today, so thank you Judge Newman,” Richter said.
A taste of justice?
But Murdaugh’s case has a long way to go and, while Bland and Richter say they expect to receive all of the money owed to their clients, the money isn’t in their hands just yet.
Murdaugh also faces charges related to a conspiracy in which he says he paid another man to shoot him in the head, so Murdaugh’s surviving son could collect the insurance money.
He has lost his ability to practice law in South Carolina and his now former law firm PMPED says Murdaugh stole millions from them.
The June 7 murders of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and his son Paul, the case which seems to have triggered everything that has followed, also remain unsolved.
With each new charge or revelation, interest in Murdaugh grows, but for the good of our state and the people in it, the focus must stay firmly on obtaining true, long lasting justice for the victims and prosecuting wrongdoing at every twist and turn.
“It was important to demonstrate that influence and power does not create a second tier of justice in this state,” Richter told reporters outside the courthouse.
Richter is spot on.
When the spotlight fades and stories of this prominent, wealthy Lowcountry family no longer warrant the front page of national publications, South Carolinians must know that no amount of wealth or privilege can protect those who commit crimes here from finally getting their comeuppance.