Former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, who stands accused of killing his wife and son, has asked the judge presiding over the murder trial to allow him to appear in the courtroom without being shackled.
Attorneys for Murdaugh argued in a motion filed in state court on Wednesday that authorities should be forced to unshackle him in any court proceedings where news cameras are present.
"There is no specific, special need to shackle Mr. Murdaugh in the courtroom," the defense attorneys wrote, arguing that he did not pose an escape risk or a threat to others.
The Supreme Court has held that defendants may not be visibly shackled in front of members of a jury so as to avoid any prejudice and to ensure a fair trial. This applies even during the sentencing stage of court proceedings, unless there are special security reasons.
But Murdaugh's attorneys note that murder defendants are typically shackled during pretrial hearings when a jury has not yet been chosen.
Jury selection for the Murdaugh murder trial is not expected to begin until Jan. 23, but his attorneys contend that he should not have to wear shackles during any pretrial hearings because of the intense media interest around the case.
"Most murder defendants do not have TV crews filming every pretrial hearing," defense attorneys wrote, arguing such images could prejudice the minds of potential jurors.
"The issue is how the Court allows the defendant in this case to be displayed to the jury pool in advance of jury selection," they added.
A representative for the South Carolina attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion.
Murdaugh was charged in July over the gruesome killings of wife Maggie and son Paul, who were found shot to death in the family's rural hunting lodge on June 7, 2021.
In another filing earlier this month, Murdaugh's lawyers said he had an alibi for the time of the deaths that involved him driving to visit his mother.
Almost three months after the killings, Murdaugh was arrested and charged with planning his own botched death so that his surviving son, Buster, could receive a $10 million insurance payout.
He’s also been charged with 90 counts of fraud and money laundering connected to insurance payouts managed through his former law firm, including some related to the death of his former housekeeper.
Murdaugh's law license was suspended after his firm discovered he had misappropriated millions of dollars to fund an addiction to oxycodone, for which he subsequently went to rehab. He was officially disbarred in July.