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Murdaugh Trial Watchers Affirm That 'Jurors Notice Everything'

In the decades-long debate over the wisdom of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, one argument for doing so is that allowing cameras in court is a way to educate members of the public on how our justice system works. The reality is often less high-minded, reports Reuters. Consider the ongoing trial of disbarred lawyer Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of murdering his wife and son. Watching a livestream broadcast offers a window into how onlookers view the proceedings before South Carolina Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, posting real-time reactions as the case unfolds. Examples: “Love the shoes, so stylish.” “Is the witness wearing makeup?” “He never blinks. Like a lizard.” “This tie and suit color is SO South Carolina.” “Is he single?” “I'd bet my cat he's got bourbon in his coffee mug.”

Trials in long stretches can be undeniably dull. It’s more fun to discuss someone’s hairstyle than listen to droning testimony about cell phone triangulation. Our justice system should be more than a vehicle for mass entertainment -- reality TV, with lower production costs – especially considering the almost unfathomable nature of the accusations. The trial, which started Jan. 25, is being livestreamed by multiple outlets. By 2006, all 50 states allowed some type of camera presence in their courtrooms, though federal courts have been considerably more reluctant to greenlight broadcasts. There’s a long-standing tension – one that actually precedes the advent of television -- between trials as civic education and lurid entertainment. The American Bar Association opposed photographic and broadcast coverage of courtroom proceedings in 1937, in response to the media frenzy over the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby -- the original “trial of the century.” Murdaugh trial viewers mercilessly dissect what participants are wearing, their posture, their speaking voice, their gestures. It reinforces what many litigators have said over the years: Jurors notice everything. And also, apparently, so do people watching on their computers.


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