Each morning, at around 6am, the crowd starts to gather, a loose line forming outside the Colleton County Courthouse for the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh.
Mr Murdaugh, scion of a legal dynasty, has pleaded not guilty in the fatal shootings of his wife and son.
The trial in Walterboro, South Carolina – which has ended its third week – is just one piece of his stunning downfall, which features accusations of corruption and a faked assassination.
The case has captivated the state.
“It’s the only thing happening in Walterboro – the only thing that’s ever happened in Walterboro,” said Cassie Headden, as she waited in line on Friday morning.
Spectators say they were fascinated by both the alleged crimes and the dramatic downfall of a storied southern family. From 1920 to 2006, three generations of Murdaughs served consecutively as chief prosecutors for the area, while their private family litigation firm earned them a small fortune.
“They ruled this area for years and years, and now that’s starting to crumble – at least it looks like it,” said Wally Pregnall, who travelled from Charleston to watch the trial.
Others have come in from across the country – California, Idaho, Wisconsin and Maine – turning this small city in the southern part of the state into a true-crime tourist destination.
One group of friends carpooled an hour’s drive from Hilton Head Island to watch together; another family drove two hours from Aiken, South Carolina, and took the day off work. Earlier this week, a local middle school teacher brought her class of teenagers in as a field trip.
“I feel like it’s being a part of history and we just wanted to be here to witness it,” said Monica Petersen outside the court on Friday.
The regulars carried snacks and water in clear plastic purses – the only type of bag allowed in court – and packed coats and scarves to stay warm inside the heavily air conditioned courtroom. Some brought notebooks, scribbling along to the proceedings, after willingly giving up their mobile phones, which are banned for spectators.
“We’ve joked that if John Grisham wrote this novel that people would have said he’s lost it, because it’s too unbelievable,” said Walt Flowers, also from Charleston.
What is Alex Murdaugh accused of?
Over three weeks, Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, has called dozens of witnesses and pulled from a mountain of evidence in an attempt to prove that Mr Murdaugh fatally shot his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the dog kennels on the family’s 1,700 acre hunting estate, Moselle.
Mr Murdaugh, prosecutors allege, was stealing from his family firm – millions of dollars over a decade. The murders, they argued, were a desperate attempt to earn sympathy and prevent his financial crimes from coming to light.
His lawyer, state Senator Dick Harpootlian, has rejected this theory in court, arguing his client – a loving family man – could not have murdered his family.
“He didn’t kill – butcher – his son and wife,” Mr Harpootlian said in court. “And you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.”
Next week, prosecutors are expected to call Curtis Eddie Smith – known as Cousin Eddie – who is alleged to have tried to shoot Mr Murdaugh on a rural road just three months after his wife and son were killed. Mr Murdaugh has admitted he organised the botched hit on himself so that his surviving son could collect $10m (£8.4m) in life insurance payments.
But Mr Smith said he never agreed to the hit, and the gun went off by mistake: “If I shot him, he’d be dead.”
Mr Murdaugh also faces separate charges for insurance fraud, theft, lying to the police and other crimes. He has yet to enter a plea in those cases. In court, friends and former colleagues testified that Mr Murdaugh confessed and apologised for stealing. His lawyer has told media the stolen money was used to feed an opioid addiction.
What have we learned in the trial so far?
The proceedings have been tedious at times, with hours of repetitive testimony regarding minute details of Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial misdeeds.
But other witnesses have provided an intimate look at the Murdaugh family’s private life, revealing details of the final moments of Maggie and Paul’s life.
Testifying on Friday, Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, who worked as a housekeeper for the Murdaughs, testified that Maggie had texted her the evening she died from the family’s beach home on Edisto Island. Maggie wanted to stay the night at Edisto, Ms Turrbiate-Simpson said, but Mr Murdaugh had asked her to come back to Moselle.
“She sounded like she didn’t want to come home,” Ms Turrubiate-Simpson said of Maggie. “She liked being at Edisto.”
And mobile phone evidence from that same night – a Snapchat video filmed by Paul and sent to a friend – placed Mr Murdaugh with his family minutes before prosecutors say they were killed. Mr Murdaugh had previously said he had not been at the dog kennels that night at all.
The prosecution is expected to rest next week, giving the defence a chance to mount its case.
Mr Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
Source: BBC News