2023’s most-watched trials offer lessons in life, and death


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It’s no surprise murder trials capture widespread interest. The details leading up to the crime as well as evidence uncovered during the investigation allow everyday people to feel like part of the process. Plus, there’s an underlying urge to know why.  

As legal teams present their cases, there are general lessons viewers can glean from these types of cases. Here are some of the most watched trials in 2023 and what they say about what’s affecting the legal process today and a look into what leads people to commit such heinous crimes. 

1. State of South Carolina v. Alex Murdaugh  

Few trials got more attention this year than the Murdaugh murder case. With streaming services sharing documentaries and insights into the details of this family, it was hard for the public to not be intrigued.  

MATTHEW GUERRA, BOYFRIEND OF SLAIN PREGNANT TEEN SAVANAH SOTO, CONFIRMED DEAD BY GUNSHOT WOUND TO HEAD: POLICE

Charges were brought against disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh who was accused of killing his wife and youngest son in June 2021 to allegedly cover up his financial crimes. As a wealthy, generational attorney in the Lowcountry, his case garnered even more attention due to the alleged scandal of it all. 

Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh arrives in court in Beaufort, S.C. Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. Murdaugh appeared publicly as a convicted murderer for the first time at the state court hearing regarding the slew of financial crimes allegedly committed by the disbarred South Carolina attorney. (AP Photo/James Pollard)

According to AP reports, prosecutors claimed Murdaugh was “a drug addict who helped run a money laundering and painkiller ring and stole millions from settlements he secured for mostly poor clients to fund an increasingly unsustainable lifestyle.” 

In September 2023, after six weeks of testimony, a jury found Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of using a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. It only took less than three hours of deliberation in this first phase of the trial. However, he faces over 100 charges regarding his alleged financial crimes. 

With multiple types of charges linked to one person, the importance of creating context through admissible evidence is key. Upon the ruling from the judge on the Murdaugh murder trial to allow financial crime evidence, it became a pivotal moment for the prosecution.  

But more than the legal aspect alone, the story of Alex Murdaugh is not a new one. In a desperate attempt to secure money and power, he allegedly went beyond what was ethical, moral, and eventually, legal to get what he wanted.  

Keeping up appearances in the face of society has only been heightened since social media has entered the scene. And some people will do anything to keep up the facade.  

2. State of Florida v. Sheila Keen-Warren  

Deemed the “Killer Clown” murder trial, the case of Sheila Keen-Warren went to trial this year. She was accused of dressing up as a clown and killing her future husband’s wife more than 30 years ago. Sheila “pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal that will likely see her released from prison in no more than two years,” according to AP. 

The murder of Marlene Warren went cold from 1990 to 2014. However, in 2017, new DNA analysis allegedly linked Sheila to the murder and led to her subsequent arrest. DNA technology has been a highlight in many cold case murders and have brought cases back to light.  

It has been used in recent years to convict the Golden State Killer. And since there is no statute of limitations for murder in the U.S., evolving technology continues to be a strategic tool even decades later. 

Marlene Warren posing for aphoto

Photo shows Marlene Warren, who was shot and killed in the entryway of her Wellington, Florida, home in the infamous ‘Killer Clown’ case of 1990. (Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office)

New laws, new technology, and new developments can occur at any time, which can flip a case on its head.  From a legal standpoint, new evidence could reopen a case. And from a general standpoint, new information could be the last missing puzzle piece to fix a long-held problem. 

3. State of Indiana vs. Richard Allen 

Delphi, Indiana, became a prominent place on the map after Richard Allen was arrested for the 2017 murders of Abby William and Libby German. The public sensation surrounding the case led to gag orders and a judge recusal. Though arrested and charged on October 28 with two counts of first-degree murder, Allen pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

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There has been a weapon identified that matched a round within two feet of the victim’s bodies, and though Allen says he was on the trail where the bodies were found, he denies being involved in their murder. In the latest trial development, defense attorneys for Allen have filed a motion to withdraw from the case. 

Media influence has had such a strong hold on trials in recent years. With conspiracy theories and misinformation accessible online, it’s hard for juries to remove themselves from public opinion.   

In September 2023, after six weeks of testimony, a jury found Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of using a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

What’s our fascination with ‘true crime?’ 

While the extreme nature of these crimes doesn’t compare to everyday lessons, each of these trials show that they weren’t committed by happenstance. There were other factors leading up to it, which at any point could have been course-corrected but weren’t.  

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The reason why there is such a fascination with “true crime” and these scandalous types of trials is because there could be elements which people can relate to or have witnessed in their own peer group.  

And though sensational murder trials are thankfully not the norm, the steps that lead there might not be as uncommon as one might think. 





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