But for as much attention as the Netflix series, podcasts, other docuseries and live TV coverage of the trial have received at a time of intense public fascination, Furst said that Murdaugh being convicted amounted to “a refreshing moment in this day and age.”
“It’s rare that the court of public opinion and court of law are aligned these days,” Furst said. “In this case, it appeared the court of public opinion and the court of law had this unanimous feeling that this man was lying and involved in the tragic murder of his wife and son.”
While the conviction was decided in court, the Netflix series helped shape the public case against Murdaugh as part of the coverage of a murder trial that involved money, power and politics. Since the trial started Jan. 25, a flood of media outlets covered it aggressively, bringing the story of the powerful Murdaugh family from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina to living rooms across the nation.
Speaking to reporters after sentencing Friday, Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s attorneys, said that his client was “not optimistic” of his chances of acquittal based on the scrutiny of him from the media coverage. He said that the jury was presented a story from the prosecution that could have been consumed from the comfort of their own home.
“They heard everything that would have been in an HBO documentary, a Netflix documentary about the Murdaugh dynasty downfall,” Harpootlian said. “We hoped to get a jury who could have just focused on the murder, but we got a trial that they could have watched on Netflix.”
CNN and Court TV carried Murdaugh’s defense live, and there have been specials on programs such as NBC’s “Dateline.” The case has also led to podcasts and docuseries on HBO Max and Discovery Plus, attracting audiences gripped by the downfall of a wealthy and powerful Southern family. The Murdaugh story is one that yielded both a 7,000-word story in the New Yorker and more than 251 million views in TikTok videos from influencers tagged #murdaughfamily.
Among those influential media spaces is the “Murdaugh Murders,” the popular podcast hosted by reporters Mandy Matney and Liz Farrell that helped introduce audiences to the South Carolina legal dynasty and its alleged crimes for the first time. At nearly 100 episodes, the podcast has 28,000 reviews and ranked first globally in 2021, according to Apple Podcasts.
In a Friday interview, Farrell said she barely slept at her South Carolina home after finding out about the verdict and live-streaming with Matney about what they had just witnessed. Farrell said she was still processing a guilty verdict that she “didn’t think was going to happen.”
“It’s kind of like when you set your expectations low and it exceeds your expectations,” she told The Post, adding that she cried when the verdict was announced. “It’s been crazy.”
What drew the podcasters to the Murdaugh story was what Farrell described as “a delicious, multilevel story,” a gumbo with ingredients that were already inherently interesting — the South, the good ol’ boy culture, true crime. But it was more than that, she said.
“Mandy and I always said this isn’t about true crime and not just about two people who were murdered. It’s about a system that would have let this guy get away with it,” Farrell said. “I don’t think these agencies would have pushed as hard if they weren’t pressured to do so by everyone who covered it.”
While state agencies did not publicly acknowledge the role the coverage of the case had in the investigation, Mark Keel, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, told reporters on Friday that it was the third time in his 12 years in the position that he’s decided to speak publicly on a case.
“It is important for me to speak out,” Keel said at a news conference. “It’s important because the victims in the case, it’s important because Maggie and Paul cannot.”
On Feb. 22, as the trial was nearing a conclusion, Netflix’s “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” premiered in the United States and quickly broke into the streaming service’s top 10. It was the second-most watched TV show in the United States on Friday.
People learned about the Murdaughs through several docuseries. HBO Max’s “Lowcountry: The Murdaugh Dynasty” shows the power of the Murdaugh family and “questions the unchecked power of privilege.” The Discovery Plus series “Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty” outlines the saga in another three-part series.
Furst told The Post that the coverage hit a fever pitch around the time Murdaugh testified in late February, when the case “peaked in absurdity” with his time on the stand.
“In this instance, you had such a saturation — multiple documentaries, so many podcasts, the work that Mandy Matney was doing, the international and national press like The Washington Post,” Furst said. “We knew that we had the largest platform in many ways for the longform story, and we took that very seriously. But it takes reporters and countless different people to actually lead to justice.”
The co-director acknowledged that while it’s humbling to have the success of the series timed to the trial and verdict, “you still have families that have lost loved ones,” including the Murdaughs. He also listed several other deaths connected to the family — Mallory Beach, Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield.
“As much as this is a moment in global news, those families still go to sleep missing their loved ones, and they’re never coming back,” Furst said. “In the end, there is some relief, and that’s when the truth is told and some form of justice is served.”
Before Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison, Farrell wondered on Friday morning what would have happened in this case if authorities had taken Murdaugh’s word and not been pressured by podcasts, docuseries and people who wanted answers.
“Who’s ever seen a story like this before?” she asked.