WALTERBORO, S.C. — It's a tight ship operation in Walterboro, South Carolina, this week at the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. Security is of utmost importance when dealing with a nationally spotlighted double homicide court trial.
There's been a 24/7 security presence at the courthouse these past three days of the trial, and that will remain throughout.
Locals in town have been taking notice of the law enforcement presence.
"They're running a good job up there. They're running a fabulous good job," Walterboro resident Peter Ferguson said.
"Because I frequent this area, I've actually had the opportunity to just see on one occasion him going from the van to the courthouse, and it appeared to me that he had on handcuffs," Hampton County resident Janice Steve said.
This security detail preparation process took two months to plan in a coordinated effort between Walterboro police, the Colleton County Sheriff's Office and county and city leaders.
Gates have been put up, certain roads around the courthouse are closed, and parking spots have been rearranged, some of which are designated for law enforcement.
"That is simply because if we have an incident, a medical emergency, something that we need to get inside the courthouse and we need to bring in equipment, ambulance, whatever, we needed somewhere that we could position it that it wouldn't obstruct traffic or interfere with anything else," Colleton County Deputy Jason Chapman said.
Chapman is a captain with the Colleton County Sheriff's Office. He explains that he's a supervisor of the investigations division there. He oversees special operations and the tactical team. Over the course of the next few weeks, he is the designated security lead for the exterior of the Colleton County courthouse.
Of course, one of the highest priorities for these security specialists is transporting Alex Murdaugh.
There are three main vehicles that transport him to the courthouse every day. Chapman explains that the door they've been using to move Murdaugh in and out is not the typical door they use for trials, but that it was more easily accessible because of the road closure adjacent to the main gate in the back of the courthouse. He tells News 19 they'll be using this door permanently throughout the trial.
"When it's time for him to be moved, it's orchestrated. Obviously y'all notice, but we have a team standing outside. When he's brought out by the bailiffs and the deputies from inside, the custody changes there. The only ones that don't change are two detention transport officers are with Mr. Murdaugh the entire time he's away from the detention center," Chapman said.
Chapman explains that in peak moments, when Murdaugh is arriving and leaving the courthouse, there could be upwards of 24 security personnel on scene inside and outside.
During regular hours of the day, there are about a dozen security personnel inside and half a dozen outside.
Chapman tells News 19 Murdaugh arrived to the Colleton County Detention Center early Monday morning before trial from Richland County. He said during his time at the jail, he's been treated the same as any other detainee, with the same visitation rights, same food, everything.
"He'll remain here just for logistics, with Columbia being 90 minutes away. It's not feasible to go there and back. It'd be too tough on him and everyone else involved to drive back and forth to trial, so he'll stay here until the trial is completed," Chapman said.
The only exception is he's allowed some extra time with his lawyers if requested, like a debrief after proceedings to prepare for the next day, but that would also be allowed for any other detainee going to trial.
According to the Colleton County Detention Center, Alex Murdaugh is being kept in a cell at the facility, only 0.2 miles from the courthouse. He's next to other cells and detainees. There aren't any specific isolation areas inside. But at this time Alex Murdaugh is still in a quarantine status, which is standard procedure for any new detainee. Following quarantine, he'll be moved to another part of the jail.
"I've been in a courtroom on every level from local to state to federal, hundreds and hundreds of times. I've never been anywhere and seen anything like this," Chapman said.