Portrait of Alex Murdaugh’s grandfather will be removed for murder trial, SC judge says

Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

He stares, alert and unblinking through his glasses at the courtroom, a lit cigar held loosely in one hand, in his dark suit a stern angel of justice.

But the portrait of Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, Jr. will not hang in its usual place on the wall of the Colleton County courtroom when his grandson, accused double murderer Alex Murdaugh, goes on trial in January.

At a whirlwind hearing Friday, Murdaugh’s defense attorneys consented to the removal of the portrait of the longtime 14th Circuit solicitor.

Broad shouldered, bald, and with a familiar Murdaugh family face, the large oil portrait hangs on the back wall, staring across the room at the judge in the main courtroom of the Colleton County courthouse.

Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh served as 14th Circuit solicitor, or prosecutor, from 1940 to 1988. In his nearly 50 years on the job, he only ran opposed twice.

He was known for his love of chewing tobacco, his courtroom prowess and his flair for acting out murders before spellbound juries.

“Once, in a murder case, he drew an imaginary box with his finger in front of the jury box and said, ‘This is where Johnny is laying in his grave right now’,” recalled Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling, 72, in a 2019 story in The State newspaper Swerling battled Buster Murdaugh Jr. in criminal trials.

“And when the jury came back with the guilty verdict, they all avoided stepping on that imaginary box Buster had drawn.”

His 48 years in office were interrupted only once.

In 1956, Murdaugh was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly warning a bootlegger to move his whiskey still over county lines. Murdaugh resigned office after the indictment but a few months later, after he was acquitted, he ran for office again and won.

While serving as solicitor for Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, Murdaugh also grew the family law firm from his father’s one-man practice into a powerhouse institution specializing in personal injury litigation. In that era, elected solicitors were allowed to practice law on the civil side too.

His son, Randolph Murdaugh III, also served as solicitor from 1988 to 2006. Murdaugh served as a volunteer, part-time solicitor after graduating from the University of South Carolina law school in 1994.