Wendell Butterfield spent the majority of Alex Murdaugh’s six-week murder trial sitting on a gallery seat right behind the disgraced former lawyer.
Butterfield, an 80-year-old South Carolina state constable with more than 50 years in law enforcement, wasn’t simply a bystander. The former judge, who also has a degree in theology, had a task to do: he was the security guard for Judge Clifton Newman, Court of Clerk Becky Hill, and the court reporters.
Yet, people viewing the proceedings online were drawn to Butterfield’s somber presence behind Murdaugh: that, and his brilliantly colored clothes, particularly one in yellow.
“For the Murdaugh Murders Movie Casting. “Who should play Mr. Fashionista?” wondered one Twitter user. “His daughter thinks Clint, but I believe Eastwood is becoming a touch old these days.”
“Dr. Wendell Butterfield’s clothing was telling,” said another. Today it brought sunlight.”
Butterfield, who accepted the courtroom job only weeks before the trial started in January, told The Daily Beast that he was surprised to find that the clothing his wife chose for him received so much attention.
He said that when he came to the courtroom every morning to a sea of onlookers and media from all across the nation, he wasn’t thinking about his clothing.
Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial Explained
“I had no clue my outfit selections were causing such a sensation,” he said. “It’s been strange.”
Hill told The Daily Beast that inviting Butterfield, who has worked as a Marine, in the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department, and with Homeland Security performing audits, to join the courthouse security team was a no-brainer.
“He takes pride in his uniform and the way he looks and is always immaculately dressed in starched shirts and pants, a crisp blazer, a tie, and shoes that are shined,” she said, adding that Butterfield arrived at work “every morning before time to report with his coffee in one hand and my sweet tea in the other.”
Butterfield’s security position also gave him a front-row seat to one of South Carolina’s most anticipated murder cases, he said. Although focusing on the safety of Hill, Newman, and other courtroom personnel, he claimed he was also keeping a careful eye on Murdaugh and the 12-person jury.
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“There were a few moments when Murdaugh seemed preoccupied and anxious. “He was listening to witness testimony, and I could tell when he wasn’t happy with what was being stated,” Butterfield said, adding that Murdaugh’s “body language would shift from time to time.”
“Murdaugh seemed to be quite interested in discussing various topics with his lawyers on occasion, but the subject of the talk is unclear,” he continued.
First, he was stationed to the side of the courtroom, “out of everyone’s sight,” according to Butterfield. But, he was not “overjoyed” with his seat location since it was too far away from the persons he was responsible for guarding and did not provide a decent view of the events.
“So I picked the first seat in the second row, just behind Murdaugh, so I could run immediately through the gate if something happened,” he stated. “But I didn’t like the idea that the camera was directly in my face.”
Butterfield said that the trial’s live webcast did not prevent him from “concentrating on what I was doing.”
He claimed he paid careful attention to hundreds of witnesses as prosecutors presented their case that Murdaugh murdered his wife and kid on June 7, 2021, at the dog kennels of their family’s hunting ranch. He also said that he saw how the jurors and Murdaugh himself reacted to the trial.
“What struck me the most was that the majority of the jury was paying attention to everything that was said,” Butterfield observed. “They were engrossed.”
He said that he thought it was a “really horrible idea” for Murdaugh to take the stand in his own defense. Other jurors have now concurred with Butterfield’s interpretation, stating they did not think Murdaugh’s emotional testimony was actual.
“The defense attempted to persuade him out of it,” he continued. “But he knew what he wanted to do, and he was going to do it regardless of what anybody told him.”
Butterfield claimed his family would sometimes visit him in the courtroom as he worked, including his wife, who sat next to mystery author Rhonda Rich one day.
“They clicked,” Butterfield said.
He said that the only significant uproar in the courtroom came from Murdaugh’s relatives.
As his sister “came up to the defense table,” Butterfield recalled, the family was instructed not to interact with Murdaugh. Despite a strong warning, Murdaugh’s sister subsequently delivered a book to one of his defense team’s legal clerks.
“The clerk eventually gave it to Murdaugh, and it was discovered. “The book was taken, and Murdaugh’s sister was informed that this was the second time the family had been warned and that if anything happened again, she would be barred from entering the courts,” Butterfield added. “She wasn’t thrilled about it.”
According to Butterfield, court authorities finally placed Murdaugh’s family several rows behind the defense table to guarantee there was no contact for the duration of the trial.
Murdaugh was convicted of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent felony by a jury that deliberated for just about three hours on Friday.
Murdaugh was “gritting his teeth” when the decision was announced, according to Butterfield.
The following day, the full courtroom was buzzing with excitement as Murdaugh was sentenced. After a stinging reprimand, the court sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.
“There was no applause, yelling, or anything like that in the courtroom,” stated Butterfield. “Everyone knew Newman wouldn’t let it happen.”
Butterfield said he’s been blown away that his dress choices have become the “talk of the town on all the major social media sources” since the trial ended. Shanna Ayer, his daughter who initially exposed him to his internet popularity, told The Daily Beast that he was enjoying his time in the limelight.
“I was quite proud of him and thrilled that he was being highlighted as the finest dressed in the courtroom,” Ayer said. “My father is a wonderful guy who takes great delight in all he does. He is quite modest, but he certainly deserves all of the attention and acclaim.”
But, Butterfield noted that he had a different favorite memory from the trial.
“The instant it was finished,” he chuckled.
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