In the shooting murders of his wife and son, South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh was found guilty of murder on Thursday. The case, which included tales of privilege, greed, and addiction, detailed the disintegration of a wealthy Southern family.
During a six-week trial that lifted the lid on the once-famous attorney’s downfall, the jury took less than three hours to deliberate before finding Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder.
For each murder charge, Murdaugh, 54, faces a sentence of 30 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole when the court reconvenes on Friday at 9:30 a.m. for sentencing.
Judge Clifton Newman refused the defense’s move for a mistrial after the judgment was announced, stating that “the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.”
As the verdict was announced, Murdaugh, who was dressed in a dress shirt and jacket, exhibited a stern expression and a small grimace. Murdaugh was handcuffed and brought from the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies after the hearing was concluded.
On June 7, 2021, his 52-year-old wife Maggie and their 22-year-old son Paul were shot twice each with a shotgun and four or five times each with a rifle at the kennels close to their rural Colleton County home.
The Murdaughs’ murder weapons, as well as other tangible evidence like confessions or blood spatter, were not in the possession of the prosecution. But they also had a ton of circumstantial evidence, including a video that had been kept locked on the son’s phone for over a year and which, according to witnesses, shows the voices of all three Murdaughs.
Although the Murdaugh team was dissatisfied with the decision, defense attorney Jim Griffin assured reporters that no further comments will be made until the sentence.
As the state’s legal team left the courtroom, there was a festive mood. Alan Wilson, the attorney general of South Carolina, expressed gratitude to the prosecution for the preceding six weeks’ worth of late nights spent at a nearby hotel.
“That all paid off. Because we have a responsibility to uphold justice and represent Maggie and Paul Murdaugh,” Wilson added. He said, amid cheers from the audience, “Today’s verdict established that no one — no matter who you are in society — is above the law.
Jurors learned about betrayed friends and clients, Murdaugh’s failed attempt to stage his own death in an insurance fraud scheme, a fatal boat crash in which his son was involved, the housekeeper who died in a fall in the Murdaugh home, the graphic scene of the killings, and Bubba, the chicken-stealing dog, from more than 75 witnesses and almost 800 pieces of evidence.
In the end, the cellphone video shot by Alex Murdaugh‘s son Paul—whom he dubbed “Little Detective” for his talent for discovering painkiller bottles among his father’s possessions after the lawyer had sworn off the pills—seemed to cement the lawyer’s fate.
The testimony came to a head when Alex Murdaugh entered the witness stand. He staunchly maintained his innocence in the shooting murders of his wife and son but admitting to stealing millions from clients and lying to authorities about being at the dog kennels where the shootings occurred.
“Paul and Maggie were not killed by me. Under any circumstances, I would never hurt Paul and I would never hurt Maggie, Murdaugh vowed.
Murdaugh had consistently claimed to authorities that he was not at the kennels at the time of the killings but rather was asleep before going to see his elderly mother that evening. Murdaugh dialed 911 and reported finding the bodies after getting home.
But, in his evidence, Murdaugh acknowledged going to the kennels with Maggie and Paul. There, he claimed to have taken a chicken from a rambunctious yellow Labrador named Bubba (whose name Murdaugh can be heard mentioning on the film) before returning to the house just before the deadly shootings.
Prior to hitting the witness stand on the 23rd day of his trial, Alex Murdaugh lied about being at the kennels for 20 months. He attributed his paranoia and mistrust of law enforcement on his long-term opiate addiction. Once he took that route, he claimed that he felt imprisoned in the falsehood.
Oh, the complicated web we spin. I had to keep lying after I once did so—I informed my family—he admitted in court.
Murdaugh was interrogated by prosecutor Creighton Waters about what he repeatedly referred to as the lawyer’s “new story” of what transpired at the kennels. Waters took Alex Murdaugh through the timeline moment by moment and criticized him for having a “fuzzy” memory of some details, such as his final words to his wife and son.
The defense argued that this type of matching is an imprecise science, but a state agent testified that markings on used cartridges found close to Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched markings on fired cartridges at a shooting range elsewhere on the site.
Alex Murdaugh hails from a family that has long dominated the neighborhood’s legal scene. His father, grandpa, and great-grandfather served as the region’s elected prosecutors for more than 80 years, and by suing railroads, corporations, and other major businesses, his family law company expanded to include dozens of attorneys.
The now-barred lawyer acknowledged taking millions of dollars from the family business and clients, claiming he needed the cash to support his drug habit. He has now been disbarred. Murdaugh was in jail awaiting trial on approximately 100 other accusations, ranging from tax evasion to insurance fraud, before he was accused of murder.
Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son to win sympathy and buy time to conceal his tracks because he was worried that all of his wrongdoings were about to be uncovered.
Waters praised the jury for seeing through what he called Murdaugh’s additional lies.
“We had no doubt that they would expose the final deception that Alex Murdaugh was attempting to execute when we had the opportunity to present our case in court. And they did,” Waters remarked in response to the judgment.
The fact that the court allowed evidence of the financial offenses, which the defense claims had nothing to do with the deaths and were utilized by the prosecution to damage Murdaugh’s reputation, will almost surely lead to an appeal of the verdict.