Alex Murdaugh, the once prominent member of a South Carolina Lowcountry legal dynasty, has been convicted of murdering his wife and son in June 2021.
Murdaugh, 54, was found guilty on Thursday on all four charges against him in connection with the deaths of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, near the dog kennels of their South Carolina estate on June 7, 2021.
The Colleton County jury reached a verdict at 6:41 p.m. after deliberating for nearly three hours, with no questions from Judge Clifton Newman. Murdaugh appeared emotionless as the verdict was read to the packed courtroom. A few rows behind him sat his only surviving son, Buster, holding his hand and looking down.
Murdaugh will be sentenced Friday morning, where he could face up to 30 years in prison.
“Rarely does a jury reach a decision that quickly,” Randall Kessler, an Atlanta trial attorney and professor at Emory Law School, told The Daily Beast after the verdict. “Clearly this is the rare occasion where minimal deliberation was required and no one on the jury had to be convinced by the others.”
Kessler added that it was “one of the quickest verdicts and shortest deliberations of a public murder trial ever” and that the swift decision means the jury rejected Murdaugh’s “full testimony.”
“A swift verdict like this leaves little doubt that they didn’t believe a word he said,” Kessler said.
Attorneys for Murdaugh said they were “disappointed with the jury’s verdict” and added that they “will have no further comment until after sentencing.”
How the Murdaugh saga unfolded: from a boating accident to murder
The conviction marks the end of what is being considered South Carolina’s “trial of the century” and the prosecutor’s first victory in their series of cases against Murdaugh. In addition to the double homicide case, Murdaugh also faces separate charges related to a failed suicide plot in September 2021 so that his only surviving son, Buster, would inherit his $12 million insurance payout.
He also faces 100 charges for a slew of alleged financial crimes, ranging from defrauding millions from his former law firm to diverting a plea deal intended for his late housekeeper’s children for his own enrichment. Lawyers for several of those alleged victims applauded Thursday’s verdict, saying Murdaugh “will drink from the same cup of justice as every other citizen and other convicted murderers.”
“His power, prestige and money afforded him no special treatment,” Eric S. Bland and Ronald L. Richter wrote in a statement. “The people have spoken. Alex’s life of lies and deceit ended today. Maggie and Paul have won. Justice prevails.”
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Daily Beast that the swift verdict is a credit to the “prosecutor who is doing an incredible job on a difficult and circumstantial case.”
“A swift 3-hour verdict in a 28-day trial means it didn’t even come close,” he added. “Murdaugh and the defense completely ruined the case with his lie to the police and his testimony.”
In the murder trial, prosecutors alleged that Murdaugh fatally shot his wife and son with two different guns in a gruesome attempt to win public sympathy and dodge questions about his alleged yearlong scheme to embezzle money from his former law firm and clients.
“The pressure on this man was unbearable, and they all culminated the day his wife and son were murdered by him,” prosecutor Creighton Waters said during closing arguments Wednesday. “That pressure builds and that person becomes a family destroyer.”
However, his defense team insisted that Murdaugh had no motive to kill his family and that the prosecution has no hard evidence to tie their client to the murders. During the closing arguments, attorney Jim Griffin spent time tearing down the prosecution’s case — and offering another theory about who killed Paul and Maggie.
“The most logical thing here is that there were two shooters,” Griffin said Thursday. “There were two guns. One gun had a high capacity. If you go there to execute someone, one gun is enough.
During the six-week trial, jurors learned the broad strokes of all of Murdaugh’s alleged crimes — and even learned from his former best friend, who told jurors that the former attorney stole $192,000 from him. Jurors also heard from Murdaugh himself, who admitted to lying to prosecutors about his whereabouts on the day of the murders and opened up about his years of addiction to opioids that often led to tension within his household.
“I lied to them,” Murdaugh told the jury of his past conversations with law enforcement officials. “As my addiction evolved over time, I would find myself in these situations or circumstances where I would have paranoid thoughts.”
Three of Murdaugh’s relatives also took the stand, including his brother and his only surviving son, both of whom testified on his behalf. Maggie’s sister, Marian Proctor, testified on behalf of the prosecution, revealing to jurors what Murdaugh had said about the killer’s mindset after the murders.
“He said he didn’t know who it was, but he felt like whoever did it had been thinking about it for a long time,” Proctor said.
The testimonies of dozens of other witnesses mostly related to the day Maggie and Paul were murdered. Prosecutors showed jurors hundreds of pieces of evidence, including cell phone records, ballistics and autopsy reports to show that the former attorney was the only one who could have “brutally and maliciously” killed Maggie and Paul.
“No one knew who he was. No one knew who this man was. He avoided accountability all his life. He relied on his last name. He wore a badge and authority. He lived a rich life,” said Waters.
Several witnesses at the trial also testified to Murdaugh’s long-standing alleged embezzlement scheme, including Jeanne Secinger, the CEO of his family’s former law firm. Seckinger told jurors that hours before the murders, she confronted Murdaugh about the whereabouts of approximately $792,999 in legal fees that had gone missing in a case he had handled.
“He looked at me with a pretty dirty look, one I hadn’t seen before, and said, ‘What do you need now?'” Seckinger told the jury. “My concern was that he had stolen fees and they were personally paid to him.”
However, after the murders, Seckinger said any questions about the missing funds disappeared as the law firm rallied around Murdaugh. (Murdaugh was finally fired in September 2021, the day before he hatched his failed assisted-suicide insurance plan.)
The most crucial piece of evidence for the prosecution, however, was a video Paul took in the dog kennels minutes before his murder. In the video, Paul’s parents can be heard talking in the background about one of their dogs – a conversation that destroyed Murdaugh’s previous alibi that he was sleeping in the main house at the time of the murders. On the witness stand, Murdaugh admitted to being in the kennels prior to the murders, but insisted his wife and son were still alive when he left.
“On June 7, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I don’t think I was capable of reason. And I lied about being down there. And I’m so sorry I did,” Murdaugh told the jurors in the stands before apologizing to his family. “I would never do anything intentionally to hurt them, ever.”
In his closing arguments, Water also poked holes in Murdaugh’s testimony on the stand, specifically his revelation that he was in the kennels minutes before his wife and son were killed.
‘Why would he lie about that, ladies and gentlemen? Why would he even think to lie about that if he was an innocent man? Waters said. “It makes no sense, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a new story that fits facts he can no longer deny.”
However, the defense spent most of their case summoning witnesses who poked their own holes in the prosecution’s forensic evidence, exposed the flaws in the murder investigation, and spoke of their client’s devotion to his family. During the closing arguments, Griffin admitted that Murdaugh is not the perfect client and that he lied to investigators while in a state of drug-induced paranoia.
“That’s what addicts do,” Griffin said. And why did he lie? That is certainly a valid question. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t be sitting there right now if he hadn’t lied.’
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