Life sentence for ex-lawyer who killed his wife and son
A shackled Alex Murdaugh continued to claim his innocence yesterday as he was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul. The disgraced legal dynasty heir was told he will spend the remainder of his life behind bars after being convicted in a trial that has gripped the US.
Dressed in a prison jumpsuit, it was a far cry from the powerful and wealthy lifestyle that Murdaugh once enjoyed as the heir of a family that reigned over South Carolina’s legal system. While his surviving son Buster and other family members looked on from the public gallery, Murdaugh stood and addressed the court – once again insisting his innocence of the 7 June 2021 murders.
“I’m innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie and I would never hurt my son PawPaw,” he told the court. Judge Clifton Newman said that other convicts had been sentenced to death in less serious cases – including by lawyers in the Murdaugh family – but that prosecutors had taken the death penalty off the table. “Over the past century, your family – including you – have been prosecuting people here in this courtroom, and many have received the death penalty – probably for lesser conduct,” he said.
Addressing Murdaugh head on, the judge told him that his case was “one of the most troubling cases” he had ever handled – pointing out the fact the killer was a high-powered lawyer from a prominent Southern family. “We have a wife who has been killed, murdered, a son savagely murdered, a lawyer – person from a respected family who has control of justice in this community for over a century – a person whose grandfather’s portrait hanged at the back of the courthouse – that I had to have ordered removed in order to ensure that a fair trial was had,” the judge said.
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were gunned down on the family’s 1,700-acre estate. Paul was shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun while he stood in the feed room of the dog kennels – the second shot to his head blowing his brain almost entirely out of his skull. After killing Paul, prosecutors said Murdaugh then grabbed a .300 Blackout semiautomatic rifle and opened fire on Maggie as she tried to flee from her husband. She was shot five times including twice in the head after she had fallen to her knees.
Prosecutors said that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from his string of financial crimes – at a time when his multimillion-dollar fraud scheme was on the brink of being exposed. Jurors were told that on the day of the murders, Murdaugh was confronted by his law firm about missing money that he had stolen.
Three days after the murders, a hearing was also slated to take place in a lawsuit over a fatal boat crash. In February 2019, Paul had allegedly been drunk-driving the family boat when it crashed, killing his 19-year-old friend Mallory Beach. While Paul was facing charges over the crash, Murdaugh was being sued by the Beach family, and their attorney had filed a motion to gain access to his finances.
Over four weeks and 61 witnesses, prosecutors laid out this alleged motive for the murders as well as presenting the bizarre hitman plot as part of his pattern of making himself a victim. On 4 September 2021 – one day after he was ousted by his law firm for stealing funds – Murdaugh claimed he was the victim of a drive-by shooting. He kept up the story for days, with jurors being shown a police sketch of an imaginary man he claimed ambushed him.
Days later, he confessed that he had orchestrated the plot, claiming he had asked his alleged drug dealer and distant cousin Curtis Eddie Smith to shoot him in the head so his surviving son Buster would get a $12m life insurance windfall. The defence sought to paint Murdaugh as a flawed character and an opioid addict – but one who loved his family and could never have carried out the murders. While Murdaugh confessed on the witness stand about lying about his alibi, he sought to convince jurors that he was not the “family annihilator” the prosecution painted him to be.
The murders of Maggie and Paul shocked the community in Hampton County, South Carolina, but also brought to light a series of scandals surrounding Murdaugh. As well as the boat crash case, the fraud scheme and the botched hitman plot, there are at least two other unexplained deaths with some tie to him.
An investigation was reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County. The gay 19-year-old had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-andrun. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events. An investigation was also reopened into the death of the Murdaughs’ longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died in 2018 in a trip and fall accident at the family home. Murdaugh
then allegedly stole around $4m in a wrongful death settlement from her sons.
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