Harpootlian addresses SC Senate colleagues, critics after Murdaugh trial

Senator says critics don’t understand how legal system works
The Richland County Democrat thanked his colleagues and had words for critics who reached out during the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 3:49 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 5:16 PM EST

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who represented convicted killer Alex Murdaugh in his murder trial, took the floor of the state Senate Tuesday afternoon.

The Richland County Democrat thanked his colleagues in the Senate for the emails they sent inquiring about his wellbeing during what he called a “maelstrom of a trial.” He also gave his observations about the trial and the legal process as he reflected on his almost 50-year law career.

“‘Fun’ is the wrong word, but it’s still enjoyable today for me as it was almost 50 years ago when I began this process of trying cases,” he said. “That process, if it operates correctly, can be so satisfying to the lawyers.”

He also addressed a fellow senator’s question about the integrity of the system.

“Now, I disagree with Judge [Clifton] Newman on some of the rulings he made. He ruled and we objected; it’s in the record,” he said. “The Supreme Court, Court of Appeals have a chance to look at that, and maybe even federal court. But that’s not based on bias. He just had a view of the law different from what I had.”

The six-week trial ended on Thursday with Murdaugh being convicted on two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the June 7, 2021, shootings of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul, at the family’s Colleton County hunting property.

Newman sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences on Friday. Harpootlian and fellow defense attorney Jim Griffin told reporters Friday afternoon that they plan to file an appeal on behalf of their client.

Harpootlian also addressed criticism he received from people who sent messages that called him a “piece of scum” or expressed hope that he would die of “rectal cancer.”

“Not all of them wished rectal cancer on me, but most were fairly critical,” he said.

But he said he believes those people have a “misapprehension” of the nation’s justice system.

“While they’re very familiar with the Second Amendment, they apparently haven’t read the Fourth, the Fifth, the Sixth and the Eighth Amendments that [guarantee our freedoms] of ourselves and our property,” he said. “You don’t have to convince me you’re innocent for me to represent you. That’s not the issue. The issue is, can the state prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Once you decide that position, you are free to do what is in your client’s best interest.”

He said over his career, he has prosecuted a case that put a man in the state’s electric chair and defended a man who was sentenced to the electric chair.

“I’ve done both sides. I’m not a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan. This is not what this is about,” he said. “So those out there -- this may appear on YouTube somewhere -- who don’t understand that, read a book.”

He also had three words for people he said slept outside for nights to get a seat in the gallery during the trial: “Get some help.”