A jury in South Carolina convicted Alex Murdaugh guilty of killing his wife and son on Thursday, in a case that has captivated the nation with its story of a Deep South legal dynasty brought to its knees by the scandalous web of falsehoods spun by its ruling patriarch.
For almost a century, three generations of Murdaughs chose as elected prosecutors who walked free and who stayed in a cell in South Carolina’s Lowcountry – an area that became known to locals as “Murdaugh Country.” Later, in June 2022, Alex Murdaugh was charged with the murder of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.
Following more than a year of speculation, a jury needed about three hours Thursday evening to find Murdaugh guilty of the pair’s murder. While standing and waiting to learn his destiny, he stiffened his shoulders and mildly trembled.
After the clerk read the guilty decision on all charges, Murdaugh blinked many times. His kid, Buster, was staring into space with his hand on his face. When his cheeks burned, he shut his eyes and wiped his nose.
“Today’s decision demonstrates that no one, no matter who you are in society, is above the law,” stated South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson after the verdict.
Law analysts were somewhat aback by how rapidly the jury reached a decision. Many anticipated the discussions to go until next week, with a potential hung jury leading to even more waiting.
“The rapid conclusion demonstrates that they had no reasonable doubt in their minds,” said Miller Shealy, a law professor at Charleston School of Law. “The jurors didn’t believe it could have been anybody else.”
Shealy and other legal experts believe Murdaugh will appeal the judgment, citing many aspects of the trial that have uncertain legal value.
According to Charleston School of Law professor Constance Anastopoulo, the state implied to the jury at one point that the defendant had the burden of proof to submit evidence. He doesn’t, according to Anastopoulo, and Murdaugh’s attorneys may pounce on this during an appeal.
If the defendant files an appeal, the matter will be heard by the appellate court or the South Carolina Supreme Court. One of Murdaugh’s lawyers, Richard Harpootlian, refused to comment on his client’s future moves.
“We’ll have a statement and a response after the sentence in the morning,” Harpootlian said over the phone Thursday evening to The Washington Post. “We can’t say anything before that.”
Murdaugh, 54, maintained his innocence in the face of widespread media scrutiny and intrigue. Documentaries on Netflix and HBO examined a family that was renowned across South Carolina before the deaths as a strong bloodline that governed the Lowcountry’s court system.
Podcasts dissected the nefarious intricacies of a tragedy interwoven with money and vice: A Deep South lawyer from a well-known family spent millions of dollars while feeding a drug addiction and stealing from clients and legal partners.
Later, according to prosecutors, he became desperate. Murdaugh’s youngest son reportedly wrecked a boat with five other people on board while inebriated, killing a teenage girl.
Authorities claimed Murdaugh’s killing spurred lawsuits and investigations that threatened to unravel his web of falsehoods, so the patriarch fatally shot his wife and one of his adult sons outside the family’s 1,772-acre remote Islandton hunting estate to cover up his wrongdoing.
During the closing address, the state’s main prosecutor, Creighton Waters, summed up his own opinion of Murdaugh: “He is the type of guy for whom humiliation is an incredible provocation.”
Murdaugh faces a sentence of 30 years to life in jail.
On June 7, 2021, his 52-year-old wife Maggie, and their 22-year-old son Paul were shot and died outdoors. At the outset of the trial, his defense counsel said that no physical evidence linked him to the shootings, which occurred around 50 miles from Charleston.
Authorities claim Murdaugh murdered them to seek sympathy and conceal his swindling of over $9 million from law partners and clients, and that he has subsequently attempted to “create an alibi.”
It was a case that looked to be full of mystery.
Last year, as detectives were closing in, Murdaugh escaped a botched hit he planned on himself so his surviving son could receive insurance money.
Murdaugh testified for the first time in court to lying about being at the murder scene immediately before the deaths; he confessed to an opiate addiction; and the jury visited the location of the killings, a huge house known in the Lowcountry as “Moselle.”
Since the trial began on Jan. 25, a stream of media outlets has aggressively covered it, luring people captivated by the demise of a rich and powerful southern family. It’s also a real crime narrative, a genre with a huge fan base and a seemingly insatiable demand for tragic experiences.
Murdaugh’s defense was broadcast live on CNN and Court TV, and there were specials on programs like “Dateline” that detailed what transpired. The New Yorker published 7,000 words on a tale about money, power, and politics.
Other suspicious deaths allegedly linked to the family were their housekeeper Gloria Satterfield and her insurance claim, and an openly gay young man, Stephen Smith, whose suspicious death in 2015 sparked rumors that it was linked to the Murdaughs because Smith was in a relationship with Murdaugh’s older son, Buster.
But, it was the murders of Alex Murdaugh’s wife and kid that elevated local legend to national prominence.
Others involved in the Murdaugh incident immediately responded publicly.
The attorney for the maid who died at Murdaugh’s home, Eric S. Bland, told The Washington Post moments after the jury delivered a guilty judgment that the disgraced former lawyer “will drink from the same cup of justice as every other citizen and other convicted killers.”
During a press conference after the judgment, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson commended Waters, saying he was the perfect prosecutor for the task.
“What a fantastic day for South Carolinians,” Wilson added.
In the last days of the trial, Murdaugh opted to testify, which legal experts viewed as a hazardous decision since it exposed him to cross-examination about how the lawyer took money from clients, including minors and a paraplegic man.
He openly acknowledged these charges, but he insisted that he did not murder his wife and children.
Murdaugh said in court that failed property dealings and his opiate pill addiction pushed him into an Atlanta rehabilitative-care facility three times, triggering a decade-long cycle of borrowing and spending that placed the family in debt.
Murdaugh’s family members have testified for both the prosecution and the defense. Maggie Murdaugh, according to friends and family, was a caring mother who was down to earth. Paul Murdaugh attended the University of South Carolina as a junior.
According to the judge, Alex Murdaugh will be sentenced on Friday at 9:30 a.m.
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“I will make no remark today as to the breadth or the overwhelming nature of the evidence,” Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman said after the jury’s verdict was announced. “All of the evidence points to one conclusion, and that is the one you all arrived upon.”