Mallory Beach wrongful death trial: Hampton County preps for influx of media, visitors

Unless a South Carolina circuit court judge grants a recent motion to change venue, small, rural Hampton County is about to play host to the next internationally followed, highly publicized trial in the Alex Murdaugh legal saga, and all of the logistical and financial challenges that will come with it.

The Beach family wrongful death suit is currently scheduled to begin Aug. 14 in Hampton County Court of Common Pleas and is expected to last at least two weeks, with Judge Daniel D. Hall presiding. It is a civil case four years in the making that helped expose the Murdaugh scandals and may nearly rival convicted murderer and confessed fraudster Murdaugh's murder trial of the spring in terms of impact and media attention.

In a case involving Hampton County families that made international news, 19-year-old college student Mallory Beach died in February 2019 after a boat owned by Murdaugh and allegedly piloted by his intoxicated son, Paul Murdaugh, crashed into bridge structures along Archers Creek in Beaufort County.

Mallory's mother, Renee Beach, filed the first version of a wrongful death suit against Murdaugh and other parties they felt were responsible for her daughter's death in Beaufort County in March of 2019, then later transferred the suit to Hampton County. While Paul Murdaugh was criminally charged in the case, he was murdered, along with his mother, Maggie, before he could stand trial.

The Hampton County Courthouse may be the scene of the next legal showdown in the Murdaugh-related criminal and civil saga, unless pretrial motions have an impact on the venue and trial date.
The Hampton County Courthouse may be the scene of the next legal showdown in the Murdaugh-related criminal and civil saga, unless pretrial motions have an impact on the venue and trial date.

Now, after several co-defendants in the case settled and were dropped from the lawsuit, a final courtroom showdown looms ahead, pitting the Beach family and their late daughter's estate against Murdaugh, who is accused of allowing and condoning his late son's alcohol abuse and reckless boating, and Gregory M. Parker/Parker's Corporation, which is accused of selling alcohol to Paul Murdaugh and other underaged boaters involved in the crash.

Murdaugh himself will be deposed in preparation for this trial, and may even be transported from state prison, where he is serving two life sentences, to testify, say attorneys.

Like the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh in Colleton County, which lasted six weeks and cost taxpayers roughly a half million dollars, this trial will be a major logistical and financial challenge for rural, cash-strapped Hampton County.

Hampton County begins preparing courthouse, jury notices

Hampton County Clerk of Court Mylinda Nettles told The Hampton County Guardian this week that she has reached out to Colleton County officials for their advice and guidance in planning for this trial, which is expected to draw media from around the country and possibly elsewhere in the English-speaking world, along with throngs of spectators.

Nettles has also reached out to the town of Hampton police, the Hampton County Sheriff's Office, and the S.C. Department of Transportation to help plan for the expected influx of visitors.

"I have put together a committee to help me because we can't handle it by ourselves," said Nettles. "We are trying to mimic what they did in Colleton County, as far as with the media, the food trucks and the public."

Mallory Beach's high school yearbook photo (bottom, second from left).
Mallory Beach's high school yearbook photo (bottom, second from left).

Nettles said that, while details are still in the planning stages, there will be a security perimeter established around the Hampton County Courthouse for the trial, with partial street closures and designated media, jury and public parking, on a first-come basis.

Court TV requests live stream of Mallory Beach trial

Court TV has also submitted a media request to live stream broadcast the trial nationally, and pool photographers have also submitted media requests. Nettles said it is unclear yet what cameras Judge Hall allows in the courtroom, or if the media will be allowed to use cell phones or laptops in the courtroom.

Nettles is also looking at the possibility of using the Palmetto Theater on nearly Lee Avenue, Hampton, as a media overflow room.

Prepping for jurors

Meanwhile, the Clerk of Court staff are preparing to draw the names of 600 potential jurors on Tuesday, July 11th, and those jury notices will be mailed out later that week.

"We are doing our best to prepare," Nettles added. "We hope we are accommodating to all of our citizens and our guests, and we hope to put our best foot forward in Hampton County."

Will Murdaugh family portraits stay? Could a motion change the venue?

When asked if portraits of Alex Murdaugh's father, grandfather and great-grandfather, who all served as 14th Circuit Solicitors for a combined 85-plus years (1920-2006), would be removed from their places of honor on the walls of the courthouse, she responded, "That decision has not been made."

A portrait of Randolph "Buster" Murdaugh Jr.
A portrait of Randolph "Buster" Murdaugh Jr.

However, all of this planning and preparation may be for naught.

On Friday, July 7, attorneys for Parker's filed two surprise, bombshell pretrial motions: a second motion to have their case tried separately from Murdaugh (the first motion was denied) and a motion to change venue and transfer the case entirely out of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hampton, Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton and Allendale counties.

It is unclear as of this printing when Hall will hear these latest motions, and how possible rulings could impact the trial date and Hampton County.

Follow Michael DeWitt's reporting as The Hampton County Guardian/Greenville News and the USA Today Network continue to follow this developing legal case, and you can follow DeWitt on Facebook and on Twitter at @mmdewittjr for the latest updates.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Mallory Beach wrongful death trial: Hampton preps for media, visitors