Alex Murdaugh has been found guilty of murdering his wife and son after jurors deliberated for less than three hours.
The disgraced legal scion, 54, trembled as he stood as the verdict was read at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, after six weeks of harrowing testimony.
Murdaugh, 54, brutally shot and killed his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the family’s sprawling hunting estate in Moselle, South Carolina, on the night of June 7, 2021.
The disbarred attorney lied to police about his whereabouts that night before making the stunning decision to take the stand last week, claiming his opioid addiction had left him paranoid.
But the state convinced jurors he killed the pair to distract from the millions he stole from his law firm and a looming lawsuit over Paul’s drunken boat wreck that threatened to ruin him financially.
He faces up to 30 years to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of murder and two gun charges.
Murdaugh arrives at the courthouse on Thursday with his coat draped over his cuffs. His defense puts down their closing arguments
Buster, Paul, Maggie and Alex Murdaugh at Lake Kiwi in May 2021 to celebrate the birth of Maggie’s niece’s child
Prosecutor Creighton Waters told the jurors’ closing argument yesterday: “The pressure on this man was unbearable and they all reached a climax the day his wife and son were murdered by him.”
On the day of the murders, he was faced with more than $792,000 that had gone missing in a recent case. In the months that followed, it would be revealed that he stole more than $10 million from his company’s clients and partners.
Three days after the murders, he was due to appear in court for a hearing in a lawsuit over his son’s drunken boating accident, which had killed a teenage girl two years earlier.
The patriarch of the family, Randolph III, whom Murdaugh had continually turned to for huge six-figure loans and relied on emotionally, was gravely ill with cancer. He died three days after the murders.
In addition, prosecutors say Murdaugh’s opioid pill addiction was on the rise and, in the defendant’s own words, “withdrawal would make him do anything.”
“No one knew who this man was,” Waters told the court.
He closed the speech with the fiery plea: “This defendant has fooled everyone. Anyone who thought they were close to him he fooled them all and he also fooled Maggie and Paul and they paid for it with their lives. Don’t be fooled either.’
In closing argument earlier on Thursday, Murdaugh’s lawyer accused investigators of fabricating evidence. He said the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the state’s version of the FBI, failed to secure the crime scene and examine key evidence that could have exonerated Murdaugh, focusing instead on him due to close scrutiny to his financial misdeeds.
“That made him an easy, easy, easy target for SLED,” said Jim Griffin, arguing that Murdaugh could have been ruled out as a suspect. “SLED has failed miserably to investigate this matter.”
Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of an influential legal family in an area west of Charleston, has been accused of fatally shooting his wife Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, in dog kennels on their estate on the night of June 7, 2021.
He faces 30 years to life in prison if found guilty by the jury, which will begin deliberations later on Thursday.
The case has attracted significant media attention given the family’s immense political power in and around Colleton County, where the trial is taking place. For decades until 2006, family members served as the area’s leading plaintiff, and Murdaugh was a prominent personal injury attorney in the Deep South state.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors attempted to portray him as a serial liar and argued that only he had the means and ability to commit the murders. They say he shot his wife and son to distract from a litany of financial crimes, including the theft of millions of dollars from his lawyers and clients – money used to fuel a years-long addiction to opioids and an expensive lifestyle support.
In his rebuttal on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General John Meadors stressed that the prosecution did not have to prove motive, but said all the evidence pointed to Murdaugh — who, he said, cared about himself above all else — was the killer.
“I don’t know why he killed his wife and son. I don’t need to say why. I think he did it to protect the one he loved the most, the one he loved the most, so he could change his lifestyle retain.” and don’t be embarrassed financially,” Meadors said.
For their part, Murdaugh’s lawyers have tried to portray their client as a loving family man who, while struggling financially and suffering from an opioid addiction that led him to lie and steal, would never harm his wife and child.
They have put forward alternative theories, with Murdaugh testifying that he believed someone was upset about a fatal boating accident in 2019 where Paul likely wanted revenge on his son.
Griffin described the state’s alleged motive as ludicrous, arguing that the murders would only draw more attention, not less, to allegations of Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds.
Buster Murdaugh, his girlfriend Brooklynn White and Alex’s sister Lynn
Buster Murdaugh, his girlfriend Brooklynn White and Alex’s sister Lynn arrive at court on Thursday
Griffin repeatedly stressed the high legal bar in criminal cases of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, underlining the challenge faced by prosecutors who have based their case on circumstantial evidence rather than direct evidence.
“If there is reasonable reason to hesitate to write ‘guilty,’ then the law requires you to write ‘not guilty,'” he said.
Griffin also outlined a handful of examples where he claims the state fabricated evidence. They include the claim that Murdaugh had blood splattered on his shirt at high speed, a claim contradicted by testing by SLED.
One of the state’s strongest pieces of evidence is Murdaugh’s admission from the witness stand last week that he lied about his whereabouts the night of the murders, telling investigators he was not in the dog kennels before the murders. Murdaugh changed his account after the jury listened to audio evidence placing him at the crime scene minutes before it happened.