Alex Murdaugh found guilty of murdering his wife and son
WALTERBORO, SC — Alex Murdaugh, the fourth-generation attorney whose family has long been influential in small-town South Carolina courtrooms, was convicted Thursday of murdering his wife and son, sealing the dramatic downfall of a man who had substantial wealth and powerful connections, but lived a secret life in which he stole millions of dollars from clients and colleagues and lied to many close to him.
The guilty verdict follows a nearly six-week trial, more than 20 months after the fatal shooting in June 2021 of Mr Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and their youngest son, Paul, 22. , in the rural area of the family. The gruesome crime had reverberated across the state, in part because of the rich history of the Murdaugh family, which controlled a regional prosecutor’s office in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region for more than 80 years and ran a influential law firm even longer.
“Today’s verdict proves that no one, no one – no matter who you are in society – is above the law,” State Attorney General Alan Wilson said during an interview. a press conference after the verdict.
In finding Mr. Murdaugh guilty, the jurors rejected his claim that he had left the kennel where the crimes occurred several minutes before the shooting, a claim that Mr. Murdaugh made on the witness stand only as an alternative after prosecutors released a video contradicting his longtime date. pretend he hadn’t been there at all. The crucial minute-long video recorded at the kennel caught Mr Murdaugh’s voice in the background. He was taken by Paul Murdaugh in one of his last moments of life, an act that inadvertently helped secure his father’s conviction.
Prosecutors argued that Mr Murdaugh killed his son with a shotgun and then shot his wife with a rifle when she ran to see what happened. Prosecutors said Mr Murdaugh quickly set about creating an alibi, texting and calling his slain wife and visiting his sick mother a short drive away.
Mr Murdaugh stood silent in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. His eldest son, Buster Murdaugh, who had testified to how distraught his father had been after the murders, sat in the courtroom with a hand over his mouth.
The jury also found Mr Murdaugh guilty on two counts of possession of a weapon while committing a violent crime.
Judge Clifton Newman said he would sentence Mr Murdaugh on Friday morning. The minimum sentence for murder is 30 years in prison, and prosecutors have said they will seek life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dick Harpootlian, one of Mr Murdaugh’s lawyers, said he planned to appeal the verdict.
The trial was a judgment call for Mr Murdaugh, who long avoided legal consequences for his theft and lying – things he admitted on the witness stand – as he lived a life of privilege and wealth.
In addition to the stolen money, he earned millions of dollars in actual income in some years as an attorney for his family’s firm.
Mr Murdaugh once dreamed of following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather and becoming the region’s top prosecutor, but instead he served only as a as a pro bono prosecutor, working on a handful of cases for two decades. Nonetheless, he kept a prosecutor’s badge on his car’s dashboard and had blue flashing lights installed – a sign prosecutors said he considered himself above the law.
Mr Murdaugh was disbarred last summer after being charged with multiple financial crimes, including theft, in total, of around $8.8 million. Mr Murdaugh claimed he took the money to pay for an opioid addiction that sometimes cost him tens of thousands of dollars a week.
A prosecutor, John Meadors, gave a brief rebuttal argument on Thursday, urging jurors not to believe claims of innocence Mr Murdaugh had made on the witness stand. The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating shortly before 4 p.m.
The motive had been a question from the beginning of the affair. Prosecutors argued that Mr Murdaugh carried out the murders in a futile effort to win sympathy and to prevent his long-standing embezzlement from coming to light.
But another of Mr Murdaugh’s attorneys, Jim Griffin, told jurors on Thursday that the idea that Mr Murdaugh would try to evade scrutiny of his finances by placing himself in the middle of a murder investigation put a a severe test of credulity.
“Why, why, why would Alex Murdaugh on June 7th execute his son Paul and his wife, Maggie, whom he adored and loved?” Mr Griffin asked, noting the number of people who knew the Murdaugh family and testified to their romantic relationship.
Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, noted that Mr Murdaugh had admitted on the witness stand that he had told many lies over the years to cover up his financial malfeasance and addiction to painkillers. Mr Waters urged jurors to avoid becoming the next to believe his lies. “Don’t let him fool you, too,” he said.
Mr Waters told jurors a ‘perfect storm’ had approached Mr Murdaugh – and, by extension, his wife and son – on the day of the murders. Earlier in the day, Mr Murdaugh was confronted by the chief financial officer of his law firm, who accused him of pocketing a six-figure check which he was supposed to hand over to the law firm.
The confrontation, Mr Waters said, was one of two inquiries into Mr Murdaugh’s finances that led him to fear the walls were closing in. The other was an effort by another lawyer, Mark B. Tinsley, who sued Mr Murdaugh over his son’s involvement in a 2019 drunken boating accident that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old woman . Authorities said the boat was driven by Paul Murdaugh and that Mr Tinsley had a lawyer force Mr Murdaugh to release detailed financial records so he could search for Mr Murdaugh’s personal assets.
Initially, prosecutors said Mr Murdaugh’s scheme worked: For several months after the murders, investigations into his finances were halted. But then, in September 2021, an employee of his law firm found a missing check in Mr Murdaugh’s desk, leading the firm to discover he had siphoned off millions of dollars. They forced him to resign.
The following day, in a series of bizarre events, Mr Murdaugh reported being shot in the head on the side of a rural road. It turned out, as Mr Murdaugh admitted from a drug treatment center a few days later, that he had in fact asked a distant cousin, Curtis Eddie Smith, to kill him. Mr Murdaugh said he wanted to portray her death as murder so that his surviving son, Buster, could collect his insurance policy.
Much of the trial focused on Mr Murdaugh’s lies, including one he repeated to police in three interviews after the killings, in which he claimed he had not been at the family kennel .
Mr Murdaugh made the risky decision to take the witness stand in his own defense last week and said, in tearful testimony, that he had lied to police because he feared he would become a suspect if he admitted to being at the kennel that night. He said he had been there for a few minutes but then left and went to see his sick mother who lived about 15 minutes away. He said he returned about an hour later to find his family dead.
Mr Griffin addressed Mr Murdaugh’s initial statements to police directly on Thursday, saying the kennel video turned out to be the backbone of a case that lacked any other evidence. But as a lifelong drug addict, Mr Murdaugh had grown accustomed to lying, he said.
“Frankly, he probably wouldn’t be sitting there if he hadn’t been lying,” Mr. Griffin said, pointing to his client, who was seated at the defense table in a brown blazer and white shirt. carefully watching the procedure. Mr Griffin added: “He lied because that’s what addicts do. Addicts lie. He lied because he had a closet full of skeletons.
Throughout the trial, lawyers for Mr Murdaugh argued that the police had been sloppy in their investigation and had focused almost exclusively on Mr Murdaugh instead of searching for other suspects. Mr Griffin described the police investigation as being driven by the concept that ‘unless we find someone else, it will be Alex’.
In his testimony, Mr Murdaugh said he believed the killings were likely carried out by someone seeking revenge for the boating accident.
Mr Griffin had raised problems with the investigation in his closing arguments, including that the lead agent, David Owen of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, had given false testimony about the weapons found on the property to the grand jurors who had indicted Mr. Murdaugh. He also noted that police had mistakenly believed for months that blood spatter had been found on Mr Murdaugh’s shirt, when in fact more rigorous tests carried out later showed no trace of blood. blood.
He also criticized the prosecution for their claim that Mr Murdaugh’s inconsistent comments about the timeline of his movements suggested he was the killer.
“Can you imagine what he saw?” Mr Griffin said, choking back tears as he described Mr Murdaugh returning home to find his wife and son killed. “And it’s evidence of guilt that he doesn’t remember the sequence at that time?” Is it proof of guilt or is it proof of trauma? »
But Mr Waters hammered Mr Murdaugh on his previous deceptions, repeatedly asking Mr Murdaugh when he was on the stand if he looked his customers in the eye when he stole their money and suggesting that he was also lying to the jury.
“He deceived them all,” Mr Waters said of the victims of Mr Murdaugh’s deception. “He also cheated on Maggie and Paul, and they paid for it with their lives.”
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