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Judge won't allow gag order for SC lawyer charged with killing wife, son

Alex Murdaugh's attorney argued it was needed to avoid tainting the potential jury pool.

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. — A judge has denied an effort to put in place a gag order in the murder trial of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, who's charged with killing his wife and son. 

Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman issued his decision this week on the request, made by Murdaugh's defense attorneys but also agreed to by the prosecution, to put in place the order. It would have stopped lawyers on both sides of the case from making any comments to the media not made in court. His lawyers also had asked to keep most motions in the case sealed and therefore secret to the public. 

Both moves were needed, his attorney argued, to avoid tainting the potential jury pool and make sure the case wasn't "tried in the media." 

RELATED: SC attorney Alex Murdaugh pleads not guilty to killing wife, son; lawyers agree to keep evidence secret

But Newman disagreed, saying that existing rules of conduct make it clear that attorneys aren't supposed to make comments that would jeopardize a defendant getting a fair trial. And while he said he understood the need to protect a defendant's rights, he also said the public "is entitled to know know how justice is being administered." 

Murdaugh was indicted on July 14 by a Colleton County grand jury on murder charges in the 2021 deaths of his wife, Maggie, and the couple's youngest son, Paul. The indictments say Murdaugh killed his son with a a shotgun and his wife with a rifle. 

Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors have not yet said why exactly they believe the killings took place. But during a hearing on July 20,  the prosecutor said did say that Murdaugh's previous indictments on financial fraud charges "provides the background and motive for June 7."  

RELATED: Alex Murdaugh indicted for murder of wife, son: What happens next?

The murder charges are only the latest indictments to be brought on Murdaugh. He faces numerous charges related to financial crimes where he allegedly stole millions of dollars from clients of his former law firm, including the estate of his former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

SLED has also reopened the investigations of Satterfield's death at Murdaugh's home, and the 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith. Smith's death was initially classified as a hit-and-run after his body was found on a rural Hampton County road. SLED has not released any new details in these cases or how the Murdaugh cases led them to reexamine the deaths.

RELATED: Former housekeeper for Alex Murdaugh to be exhumed by SLED

Before his death, 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh was to have appeared in court on charges relating to a February 2019 boating accident that lead to the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Paul Murdaugh was allegedly driving the boat while drunk when it crashed into the Archers Creek Bridge in Beaufort County.

The South Carolina Supreme Court disbarred Alex Murdaugh on July 12, 2022. He remains in custody at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County after being unable to post a $7 million bond on the financial charges against him.

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