The Washington Post
S.C. jury finds Murdaugh guilty of killing wife, son
Case of a legal dynasty’s disgraced patriarch has engrossed the country
A South Carolina jury found Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son Thursday in a case that has riveted the public with its tale of a Deep South legal dynasty brought low by the scandalous web of lies woven by its reigning patriarch.
For nearly a century, three generations of Murdaughs decided as elected prosecutors who in South Carolina’s Lowcountry walked free and who lived in a cell — a jurisdiction that came to be known to locals as “Murdaugh Country.”
Then, in June 2022, Alex Murdaugh was indicted in the killing of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.
After more than a year of intrigue, a jury took only three hours Thursday evening to find
Murdaugh guilty of slaying the pair. He tensed his shoulders and shook lightly while standing and waiting to hear his fate. Murdaugh blinked repeatedly as the clerk read the guilty verdict on all counts. His elder son, who goes by Buster, had his hand on his face and stared into space. He squeezed his eyes and wiped his nose as his face reddened.
“Today’s verdict proves that no one, no one, no matter who you are in society, is above the law,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said after the verdict.
Legal observers were surprised at how quickly the jury came to a verdict. Many expected deliberations to stretch into next week, and a possible hung jury that would lead to yet more waiting.
“The quick decision shows they didn’t have any reasonable doubt in their minds at all,” said Miller Shealy, a law professor at Charleston School of Law. “The jury didn’t buy that it could be anyone else.”
Shealy and other legal experts said they expect Murdaugh to appeal the ruling, noting various points in the trial with questionable legal merit. At one point, Charleston School of Law professor Constance Anastopoulo noted, the state implied to the jury that the defendant had a burden of proof to provide evidence. He doesn’t, Anastopoulo said, and Murdaugh’s lawyers could seize on that point during a potential appeal.
Should the defendant appeal, the case will go to the appellate court or possibly the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s attorneys, declined to say what his client’s next steps will be.
“We’ll have a statement and a reaction after the sentencing in the morning,” Harpootlian told The Washington Post over the phone on Thursday evening. “We can’t speak before that.”
The 54-year old Murdaugh maintained his innocence amid intense news media coverage and nationwide fascination. Documentaries on Netflix and HBO scrutinized a family that, before the killings, was known across South Carolina as a powerful dynasty that ran the Lowcountry’s legal system. Podcasts parsed sordid details of a tragedy intertwined with wealth and vice: A Deep South lawyer from a regionally famous family squandered millions as he fed a pill addiction and stole from clients and law partners.
Then, prosecutors said, he got desperate. Murdaugh’s youngest son allegedly crashed a boat while drunk with five others on board, killing a teenage girl. The death — a scandal in its own right — triggered lawsuits and investigations that threatened to unravel Murdaugh’s web of lies, authorities said, and so the patriarch fatally shot his wife and one of his adult sons outside the family’s 1,772-acre rural Islandton, S.C., hunting estate to cover up his misdeeds.
The state’s lead prosecutor, Creighton Waters, summed up his own estimation of Murdaugh during the closing statement: “He is the kind of person for which shame is an extraordinary provocation.”
Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison.
Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were shot and killed outside the estate on June 7, 2021. His defense attorneys said at the trial’s start that no physical evidence tied him to the shootings, which took place about 50 miles from Charleston. Prosecutors said Murdaugh killed his family members to gain sympathy and obscure his having swindled his law partners and clients out of nearly $9 million, adding that he’s since tried to “manufacture an alibi.”
It was a case that seemed to contain endless intrigue.
As investigators closed in last year, Murdaugh survived a failed hit he ordered on himself so his surviving son could collect insurance money.
The trial has provided many dramatic moments: Murdaugh admitted for the first time in public to lying about being at the crime scene shortly before the killings; he confessed to an addiction to opiates; and the jury took a trip to the scene of the killings, a sprawling estate known in the Lowcountry as “Moselle.”
Since the trial started Jan. 25, a flood of media outlets have covered it aggressively, attracting audiences gripped by the downfall of a wealthy and powerful Southern family. It is also a true crime story, a genre with a massive following and an audience with a seemingly insatiable appetite for traumatic stories.
Networks like CNN and Court TV have carried Murdaugh’s defense live, and there have been specials on shows like “Dateline” detailing what happened. The story of money, power and politics earned 7,000 words in the New Yorker.
The documentaries plumbed other suspicious deaths allegedly tied to the family: 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 tied to the Murdaughs because there was word that Smith was in a relationship with Buster Murdaugh. But ultimately, it was the deaths of Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son that turned local lore into a national story.
Public reaction poured in quickly from others invested in the Murdaugh scandal.
Moments after the jury returned a guilty verdict, Eric S. Bland, the attorney representing the housekeeper who died at Murdaugh’s property, told The Post that the disgraced former lawyer “will drink from the same cup of justice as every other citizen and other convicted murderers.”
Wilson also praised Waters at a news conference after the verdict was read, saying he was the right prosecutor for the job.
“What a great day for the people of South Carolina,” Wilson said.
In the last days of the trial, Murdaugh decided to take the stand in what legal experts described as a risky move, opening him to cross-examination that mostly focused on how the lawyer stole money from clients, including teenagers and a quadriplegic man. He freely admitted to these accusations, but he maintained that he didn’t kill his wife and son.
Murdaugh said in court that bad land deals and his addiction to opiate pills forced him into an Atlanta rehabilitation facility three times and spurred a decade-long cycle of borrowing and spending that put the family in poor financial standing.
Members of the Murdaugh family have testified for both the prosecution and the defense. Friends and family have told news outlets that Maggie Murdaugh was a loving mother who was down to earth. Paul Murdaugh was a junior at the University of South Carolina.
Alex Murdaugh is set to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Friday, according to the judge.
“I will make no comment now as to the extent or the overwhelming nature of the evidence, but certainly the verdict you reached is supported by the evidence,” Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman said after the jury’s verdict was read. “All of the evidence pointed to only one conclusion, and that’s the conclusion that you all reached.”