Murdaugh case chronicled the unravelling of a powerful southern family
The once-powerful South Carolina attorney, Alex Murdaugh, was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the shooting deaths of his wife and son. His stunning fall also marked the end of a century-old South Carolina legal dynasty.
South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to two consecutive life in prison terms on Friday in the shooting deaths of his wife and son in a case that chronicled the unravelling of a powerful southern family with tales of privilege, greed and addiction.
Murdaugh, 54, was sentenced by Judge Clifton Newman to life without the possibility of parole in the same courtroom his father, grandfather and great-grandfather each tried cases as the elected prosecutor for more than 80 years. His grandfather's portrait hung in the back of the room until Newman ordered it taken down for the trial.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours Thursday before finding Murdaugh guilty as a result of investigations stemming from the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul. The South Carolina lawyer also stole millions of dollars from largely poor clients' settlements and staged an attempt on his life to secure his surviving son, Buster, a $12 million US life insurance payout, according to authorities.
"I'm innocent. I would never hurt my wife, Maggie, and I would never hurt my son Paw Paw," Murdaugh said in brief comments on Friday, using his nickname for his deceased son.
His 52-year-old wife was shot four or five times with a rifle and their 22-year-old son was shot twice with a shotgun at the kennels near their rural Colleton County home.
Prosecutors didn't have the weapons used to kill the Murdaughs or other direct evidence like confessions or blood spatter. But they had a mountain of circumstantial evidence, led by a video locked on the son's cellphone for more than a year — video shot minutes before the killings that witnesses testified captured the voices of Alex, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
Testimony culminated in Murdaugh's appearance on the witness stand, where he steadfastly maintained his innocence in the deaths of his wife and son.
Admitted lying about whereabouts
Murdaugh had told police repeatedly after the killings that he was not at the kennels and was instead napping before he went to visit his ailing mother that night. Murdaugh called 911 and said he discovered the bodies when he returned home. But in his testimony on the 23rd day of trial, Murdaugh admitted joining Maggie and Paul at the kennels, but said he headed back to the house shortly ahead of the fatal shootings.
He blamed his decades-long addiction to opioids for making him paranoid, creating a distrust of police. He said that once he went down that path, he felt trapped in the lie.
WATCH | Murdaugh takes the stand in his defence:
Alex Murdaugh, a once prominent South Carolina attorney, denied killing his wife and son as he testified in his own defence at his double murder trial. Prosecutors allege Murdaugh killed his youngest son, Paul, and his wife, Maggie, as part of an elaborate cover-up scheme.
Through more than 75 witnesses and nearly 800 pieces of evidence, jurors heard not just about the grisly crime scene, but about betrayed friends and clients, Murdaugh's failed attempt to stage his own death in an insurance fraud scheme, a fatal 2019 boat crash in which Paul was charged, and the 2018 death of housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in a fall at the Murdaugh home.
The now-disbarred attorney admitted stealing millions of dollars from the family firm and clients, saying he needed the money to fund his drug habit.
That list included the family of Satterfield. Murdaugh is accused of pocketing a multimillion-dollar wrongful death insurance payout related to the 57-year-old housekeeper's death.
Before he was charged with murder, Murdaugh was in jail awaiting trial on about 100 other charges ranging from insurance fraud to tax evasion.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters said none of the victims of the crime — members of Murdaugh's family and the parents and relatives of his wife — wished to speak on behalf of the prosecution before sentencing.
"The depravity, the callousness, the selfishness of these crimes are stunning," said Waters, who called Murdaugh a "cunning manipulator."
The Murdaugh family law firm grew to dozens of lawyers over the years by suing railroads, corporations and other big businesses. Another brother remains at the firm founded a century ago.
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