Alex Murdaugh: Disgraced US lawyer sentenced to life without parole for murdering wife and son

The case was one which involved greed, privilege and addiction, as Charlie Frost reports.

Disgraced US lawyer Alex Murdaugh has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering his wife and son.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder at the end of a six-week trial that pulled back the curtain on the once-prominent lawyer’s fall from grace.

When Judge Clifton Newman asked Murdaugh if he had anything he wanted to say before sentencing him to two consecutive life terms on Friday, the 54-year-old took the moment to reiterate his innocence.

“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,” when taking large amounts of opiates, Newman replied, noting Murdaugh's decades-long addiction to painkillers.

Earlier on Friday as Judge Newman read the verdict he denied a defence motion to declare a mistrial, saying “the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.”

Murdaugh appeared stoic with a slight grimace as the verdict was read, concluding a case that gripped the nation and became the subject of a Netflix documentary.

Once the hearing ended, Murdaugh was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies.

Alex Murdaugh is led outside the Colleton County Courthouse by sheriff's deputies after being convicted of two counts of murder. Credit: AP

His 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle and their 22-year-old son Paul was shot twice with a shotgun at the kennels near their rural Colleton County home on June 7, 2021.

Prosecutors didn’t have the weapons used to kill the Murdaughs or other direct evidence like confessions or blood spatter.

But they had significant circumstantial evidence, led by a video locked on the son's mobile phone for more than a year - video shot minutes before the killings that witnesses testified captured the voices of all three Murdaughs.

Defence lawyer Jim Griffin told reporters the Murdaugh team was disappointed in the outcome but had no further comment until sentencing.

Alex Murdaugh stands in the courtroom at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro. Credit: AP

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson thanked the prosecution for the past six weeks of late nights spent at a local hotel.

“It was all worth it. Because we got to bring justice and be a voice for Maggie and Paul Murdaugh,” Mr Wilson said.

“Today’s verdict proved that no one - no matter who you are in society - is above the law,” he added, a line met with applause from spectators.

Through more than 75 witnesses and nearly 800 pieces of evidence, jurors heard about:

  • betrayed friends and clients;

  • Murdaugh’s failed attempt to stage his own death in an insurance fraud scheme;

  • a fatal boat crash in which his son was implicated;

  • the housekeeper who died in a fall in the Murdaugh home;

  • the grisly scene of the killings;

  • and Bubba, the chicken-snatching dog.

In the end, Murdaugh’s fate appeared sealed by the mobile phone video taken by his son Paul, who he called “Little Detective” for his knack for finding bottles of painkillers in his father’s belongings after the lawyer had sworn off the pills.

Buster Murdaugh, the son of Alex Murdaugh, listens to the verdict of his fathers case. Credit: AP

Testimony culminated in Murdaugh’s appearance on the witness stand, when he admitted stealing millions from clients and lying to investigators about being at the dog kennels where the shootings took place but steadfastly maintained his innocence in the deaths of his wife and son.

“I did not kill Maggie, and I did not kill Paul. I would never hurt Maggie, and I would never hurt Paul - ever - under any circumstances,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh had told police repeatedly after the killings that he was not at the kennels and was instead napping before he went to visit his ailing mother that night. Murdaugh called 911 and said he discovered the bodies when he returned home.

But in his testimony, Murdaugh admitted joining Maggie and Paul at the kennels, where he said he took a chicken away from a rowdy yellow Labrador named Bubba - whose name Murdaugh can be heard saying on the video - before heading back to the house shortly ahead of the fatal shootings.

Murdaugh lied about being at the kennels for 20 months before taking the stand on the 23rd day of his trial.

'I didn't shoot my wife or my son any time'

He blamed his decades long addiction to opioids for making him paranoid, creating a distrust of police. He said that once he went down that path, he felt trapped in the lie.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Once I told a lie - I told my family - I had to keep lying,” he testified.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters grilled Murdaugh about what he repeatedly called the lawyer’s “new story” of what happened at the kennels, walking him moment by moment through the timeline and assailing his “fuzzy” memory of certain details, like his last words to his wife and son.

A state agent also testified that markings on spent cartridges found around Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched markings on fired cartridges at a shooting range elsewhere on the property, though the defence said that kind of matching is an inexact science.

Alex Murdaugh comes from a family that dominated the local legal scene for decades - and his trial is the subject of a Netflix documentary called 'Murdaugh Murders A Southern Scandal'.

His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were the area’s elected prosecutors for more than 80 years and his family law firm grew to dozens of lawyers by suing railroads, corporations and other big businesses.

The now-disbarred attorney admitted stealing millions of dollars from the family firm and clients, saying he needed the money to fund his drug habit.

Before he was charged with murder, Murdaugh was in jail awaiting trial on about 100 other charges ranging from insurance fraud to tax evasion.

Prosecutors told jurors that Murdaugh was afraid all of his misdeeds were about to be discovered, so he killed his wife and son to gain sympathy to buy time to cover his tracks.

Murdaugh’s lawyers will likely appeal the conviction based on the judge allowing evidence of the financial crimes, which they contend were unrelated to the killings and were used by prosecutors to smear Murdaugh’s reputation.

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