The Mercury News
Murdaugh's fall from grace ends in life sentence
WALTERBORO, S.C. >> One of the last pieces of a legal dynasty that doled out justice in rural South Carolina for decades crumbled Friday as lawyer Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of his wife and son at their sprawling estate.
In the quiet Lowcountry that Murdaugh's family had dominated since the days of Jim Crow, a judge talked to Murdaugh in a way that few probably have — not in his days playing college football, making millions as a high-powered attorney or gaining favor because of his name — and reminded Murdaugh that he had to remove the portrait of the defendant's grandfather from its place of honor in that same courtroom to ensure a fair trial.
At sentencing, Murdaugh maintained his innocence, just as he did when he testified in his own defense during the six-week trial. But Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman wanted to know if he saw the mangled bodies of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh as he tried to sleep or thought about how he disgraced his family's three-generation reputation for justice through lying, stealing and — eventually — murder.
“As I tell you again, I respect this court. But I am innocent. I would never under any circumstances hurt my wife Maggie and I would never under any circumstances hurt my son Paul-Paul,” Murdaugh responded.
“And it might not have been you. It might have been the monster you become,” Newman said.
Murdaugh faced the judge in the Colleton County courtroom on the circuit where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather tried cases as the elected prosecutor for more than 80 years. Murdaugh's family founded the area's most powerful law firm a century ago in neighboring Hampton County. For decades, that meant that practically anyone who ended up in court — whatever side of the law they found themselves on — would have a Murdaugh either watching their back or staring them down. Prosecutor Creighton Waters noted that stare each day in court.
“I looked in his eyes. He liked to stare me down as he would walk by me during this trial. And I could see the real Alex Murdaugh when he looked at me,” Waters said.
Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in this case, and Newman handed down the harshest possible sentence he could — consecutive life sentences without parole.
“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,” the judge said.
Waters said none of the victims of the crime — members of Murdaugh's family and the parents and relatives of his wife — wished to speak on behalf of the prosecution before sentencing. Murdaugh's brother and surviving son sat behind him in the courtroom every day.