January was another busy month at Luna Shark, but we’ve narrowed it down to five things you need to know as we step into February.

Hello and welcome to Luna Shark’s January Soundbites. I’m Beth Braden, journalist and researcher for the True Sunlight Podcast hosted by Mandy Matney and Liz Farrell. January was another busy month at Luna Shark, but we’ve narrowed it down to five things you need to know as we step into February. 

Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial was unequivocally denied after a day-long hearing in Richland County on January 29.

Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin’s assertion that there were bombshell revelations to be made in Alex Murdaugh’s quest for a new trial never materialized as Justice Jean Toal questioned  the deliberating jurors and the lone alternate who remained at the end of the six week trial. Like so many Murdaugh-related matters, the day was chaos from the beginning as Dick Harpootlian requested that Cup of Justice co-host and attorney Eric Bland be moved out of his seat to put more distance between him and the only juror who testified that Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill tried to influence their testimony. Other hiccups during the day included the allegation that two of the jurors were watching the evidentiary hearing on their phones while waiting on their turn to be questioned by Justice Toal. The two jurors who admitted to using their phones told the court that what they saw did not influence their testimony. Ultimately, Justice Toal denied Alex Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial. His attorneys are vowing to appeal. 

Justice Jean Toal: 

But I will say this about the record now that I have read it. And I will say this, about the testimony that I heard Friday and today. Judge Newman said it best in his sentencing when he discussed the weight and the measure of the case presented the testimony and evidence submitted in this case when it was tried. It is a very compelling case supporting the verdict that the jurors reached. He said it with a lot more detail than I do but now that I’ve read the record, I say as the successive trial judge, I agree that the evidence was overwhelming and the jury verdict not surprising. This matter is now adjourned.

Soak Up the Sun premium members received lots of supplemental content ahead of the evidentiary hearing. To give our audience a feel for what Justice Toal is like on the bench, we compiled videos we called Justice Toal’s greatest hits and streamed them on YouTube. Those links are available by clicking on premium video in the members’ lounge at Luna Shark Media.com. Mandy wrote a 10-things-to-know article after the first part of the evidentiary hearing on January 26, and I compiled a guide to the jurors that included the affidavits and statements they have submitted in the months since the jury tampering allegations first arose. 

The Next Generation is Getting Pesky 

You may remember last year when 11-year-old Josie Duda started a petition when she realized South Carolina is currently the only state in the country without a woman on its Supreme Court. And she’s not the only young person who cares about the issues. When Mandy attended the first part of the Murdaugh evidentiary hearing on January 26, she was shadowed by a Hampton County 8th grader named Colton who wants to be a journalist. 

Mandy Matney

Alex wasn’t there yet. When we sat down, and Colton, this eighth grader looks at me and he’s like, it’s Alex Murdaugh gonna sit right there? And I was like, yeah, do you want to move? Because I totally understand if that makes you feel uncomfortable. And he was like, No, we’re not moving anywhere. I was like okay let’s do this.”

You can hear more about that in Cup of Justice episode 66

Cup of Justice Celebrated 1 Year in its Own Feed

January marked 12 months of Cup of Justice being an independent show that  debuted at number 1 just before the Murdaugh trial began last January. We appreciate the support of our listeners as we work to expand the scope of COJ to highlight more voices and more perspectives.  In fact, Georgia attorney Noah Pines recently joined Mandy and Eric on COJ to discuss his quest to get an innocent man out of prison. 

Mandy Matney

So tell us about joey.

Noah Pines

So Joey Watkins was a teenager up in a small town in North Georgia called Rome, Floyd County. And, you know, if you asked Joey what kind of kid he was, he would probably say he was a little bit of a rebel and a little bit of an ass to a bunch of people. But you know, that’s just kind of the, he was a teenager. Rome is a small town. And he dated, everybody dated everybody. I mean, his trial, like everybody who testified had dated somebody else. But there’s a gentleman by the name of Isaac Dawkins, who was killed and he was killed while driving his truck down a road, like a four lane, divided highway, you know, median in the middle with grass. And they didn’t have any suspects. You know, there was a car that was in the area, a blue car. And that’s not what Joey drove. But people just started saying, you know, Joey, Joey, Joey.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Noah Pines on COJ 65….And for a more in depth look into Noah and the case against Joey Watkins, Soak up the Sun Premium Members can read Luna Shark Contributor Sam Berlin’s article in our member’s lounge. 

Stay Tuned for other guests to grace our studio like Tamron Hall, Sunny Anderson and more. 

We now know happened during the Judicial Merit Selection Commission Hearings 

Candidates to fill judicial seats in South Carolina appeared before the JMSC in early November but the transcripts, video footage, and accompanying exhibits weren’t available until January 11 — and that’s by design. Second circuit solicitor David Miller has been a frequent subject of True Sunlight after he agreed to a slap-on-the-wrist plea deal for thrice-accused rapist Bowen Turner. Victim advocate and attorney Sarah Ford presented a 400-page exhibit of what it was like trying to communicate with Miller via email as Turner repeatedly violated conditions of his probation. Karl Stoller, the father of Dallas Stoller, one of Turner’s alleged victims, also testified about Miller’s inaction and lack of communication.  You can watch this hearing by visiting Luna Shark’s YouTube page or find the Premium link in your feed. :

Karl Stoller:

And we made we were allowed to give a victim’s impact statement to the judge at that hearing, which I think we all know, that’s a joke. That amounts to…the decision is already made before you’re allowed to speak as victim. That’s a fact. Okay. So it has about as much bearing on it. Excuse me, but (inaudible) me. 

Even with Karl Stoller’s testimony the JMSC found David Miller qualified to be a judge. His appointment is set to be voted on by the general assembly during the first week of February. Keep an eye on our social media feeds for a Call to Action with wording on how you can contact members of the SC general assembly and voice your opinion on Miller. If you miss this one, follow us on Facebook and Instagram so you can join in when we all need to band together to be pesky. 

We FOIAd and Found Out 

A FOIA request to SLED returned hours of never-before-seen interviews with Alex Murdaugh, Randy Murdaugh, John Marvin Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh, and Rogan Gibson in the days after the murder of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh. Among the more interesting things we learned is the fact that John Marvin, Alex’s younger brother, took an interesting route to Moselle on the night of the murder. Instead of going the most direct way from his house in Okatie, he took the route that caused him to pass right by Almeda, the home of his mother and father. Here’s Liz from True Sunlight episode 32. 

LunaShark journalist Beth Braden mapped all of this out for us so we could try and understand this (another feature for premium members!). 

Let’s talk about why getting this straight is important.

But first I should note that John Marvin Murdaugh has not been charged with anything and there have been no formal accusations made about his actions on the night of the murders.

But there have been questions since the very beginning.

In fact, both Randy and Buster were asked about the truck John Marvin was driving that night.

Why?

Well, it’s all very confusing. 

Again, there’s no evidence of Paul going to Almeda that night and yet John Marvin’s truck was at Moselle.

This is not something that was brought up at trial, by the way. At no point did the prosecution point out that there was a discrepancy here. We’re just saying, we don’t see where in testimony or in the documents we’ve received from our FOIA — including the full timeline of events that evening — it says that Paul was at Almeda to pick up the truck.

Another reason there have been questions could be because there are three suggested routes to Moselle from John Marvin’s house in Okatie. John Marvin didn’t take any of them, instead opting for a route that didn’t significantly lengthen the trip, but it did take him past Almeda. 

Our Soak Up the Sun Members joined Mandy, Liz, and I for an afternoon of live chats on Youtube as we watched the interviews. Soak up the Sun Premium members can find the links to rewatch those interviews by clicking the premium video tab in the members lounge at lunasharkmedia.com. 

We also learned that SLED agents had Stephen Smith on the brain in the aftermath of the homicides – he came up in interviews with John Marvin and Buster. Stephen’s case is one we are excited to get back to in February as we go back to the beginning  — 4 a.m., July 8, 2015 on Sandy Run Road — and start over as we push for justice. We have a playlist of all of Stephen Smith’s episodes available on our website so you can refresh your memory as we get back to the case. We will also be going back to the Grant Solomon case as we continue to look for answers about what happened the day that first responders found him under his pickup truck in a ditch in Gallatin, Tennessee.

We have a great line up of Cup of Justice guests and True Sunlight content in February. One of our planned COJ guests is McKenzie Fultz, AKA Freedom Barbie, a private investigator and makeup influencer with more than 300,000 followers on TikTok. We also plan to publish an interview with Joey Watkins, the man wrongly imprisoned for murder who was eventually freed by the work of attorney Noah Pines, who was featured on COJ 65

For our Soak up the Sun Premium Members, mark your calendars. Mandy’s hitting the road with a variety of appearances planned in the next few months.. 

Luna Shark invites premium members and Invited Club members to the Capital City Club Confidential in Columbia, South Carolina  on Thursday, February 15th from 6:30-8:30pm. Mandy will join attorney and Legal Director of the South Carolina Victims Assistance Network, Sarah A. Ford for an evening reception and examination of state government, true crime and social media. Premium Members can RSVP at no charge at lunasharkmedia.com/events

In March, Mandy heads out west to the Tucson Festival of Books March 9th and 10th for two moderated conversations. On Saturday, Mandy will join Anne Segal and true crime authors Jana Monroe and Sarah Viren to discuss corruption and crimes motivated by greed. Then on Sunday, Mandy discusses sexism in the workplace, the true crime world and justice systems that need changing with Michael Finkel, Harold Schechter and Mort Rosenblum. 

Later in April we’re heading to Wichita for Mandy to speak at the Kansas Governor’s Victim Rights Conference. Then we’re on to Nashville, Napa, Maui, Washington DC, Baltimore and Missouri later this year.  If you have a suggestion for an event nearby or something entirely new, visit lunasharkmedia.com slash new events to submit your idea. 

As we grow, more and more of these in person events will be reserved just for Premium Members and you can join as a Soak Up The Sun Member with 50% off the first month at https://lunashark.supercast.com/

And until next month, stay pesky. 

Contact Beth Braden

Beth Braden

Beth Braden is an award-winning journalist whose mastery of the deep dive is evident in her work.

In addition to Braden’s experience writing about local government, crime and courts, and engaging features from her home state of Tennessee, her byline appears on several internationally-known websites. She is passionate about communicating complex information in an easy-to-understand manner and loves to pore over public records.

Braden joined Luna Shark Media in 2023 armed with a love of truth as she seeks out data from the darkest places, drags it into the light, and provides illuminating analysis. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, strange museums, and good cups of coffee.

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