WALTERBORO, SC (AP) — Walterboro native Danny Murdaugh is ready for his small South Carolina town to return to normal following the double murder trial of a distant relative that drew global attention and sullied his family’s surname.
He lamented the “circus” brought to Walterboro by the six-week trial of Alex Murdaugh, which ended this week with the disgraced attorney. sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife and son.
The spectacle altered life in Walterboro for over a month as an influx of locals, tourists and media flocked to the otherwise quiet downtown area to join the gripping trial. Teachers adjusted drop-off and pickup routines at the school down the street from the courthouse. On the other side of the street, entrepreneurs parked food trucks to cash in on the crowds. A newly opened pottery gift shop nearby set up a photo opportunity that read “I was at the Murdaugh trial.”
Walterboro Police Chief Kevin Martin said the city incurred $35,500 in overtime pay, facility rentals and technology upgrades related to the trial — not including costs this week.
Regular appearances from elected officials like South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and television personalities like legal analyst Nancy Grace also turned heads.
“The only thing I haven’t seen is elephants and acrobats,” Danny Murdaugh said.
For some, the attention provided a welcome economic jolt. Nyan Tara Ruth, who runs Sister’s Seafood and Soul, said the past six weeks brought her Walterboro-based food truck more business than ever before and helped her through a period of financial trouble.
“I’m sorry that the occasion happened in the murder case,” Ruth said. “But I definitely had the opportunity to set up and I made good money here.”
Rebecca Eggers, an artist who makes clay figures and cartoons at Ahab’s Arts and Crafts Mall near the courthouse, said it was nice to see a buzz around the downtown that is “normally dead.” She called the food trucks a wonderful alternative to other nearby chains.
For some entrepreneurs, the saga’s actual details took a backseat to its boost for business. Jessica Burdick, co-owner of the boutique Twig, said she would only receive trial updates from customers. Between her multiple jobs, she had no time to follow the proceedings intensely.
“It has its element of intrigue,” she said. “But, alas, I have to work.”
Katie Dearbury arrived Friday from Charleston with her 1-year-old daughter. She could not miss the end to a case where she felt like a “13th juror or 14th juror.” Others poured in from around South Carolina and the East Coast, from New York to Florida.
Now that trial put the town billed as “The Porch of the Lowcountry” on the global map, one resident celebrated that she’d never again have to tell someone where Walterboro is located.
Still, by Friday, many residents were ready for the attention to subside. Sandy Alberts, a teacher, said she was looking forward to no longer needing to allow an extra half-hour for travel when making plans downtown.
Eggers said she was ultimately wary of the attention given the circumstances.
“It brought a lot of people into Walterboro,” she said. “Granted, it wasn’t a good type of publicity because a man’s life was on the line.”
“I’m glad things will return to normal,” she added.
Danny Murdaugh said he falls “on the poor side” of the Murdaugh family, which climbed to prominence with members such as Alex Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather serving as the area’s powerful elected prosecutors for more than 80 years.
“He also hurt the Murdaugh family name,” Danny Murdaugh said. “Our life has been an honorable lifestyle. You don’t go out. You don’t cause trouble. We try to help when we can.”
Other Colleton County residents severely impacted by the frenzy were the 12 jurors and the lone alternate left standing by the trial’s end.
After the jury delivered its verdict Thursday, Judge Clifton Newman thanked the members. He noted one juror who faced potential job loss. Before dismissing the jury, Newman also assured them that he would handle any reports of harassment. And he informed them that they would be ineligible for jury duty through the next year and exempt from service for two more years.
“You did not volunteer for this service. You were called upon by being summoned to appear,” Newman said. “Providence has brought you to this moment in time, to these weeks in time.”
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.