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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Alex Murdaugh sentenced to life in prison for murders of wife and son

The disbarred attorney denied killing his wife and son on the witness stand last week, but admitted he lied about his whereabouts on the night they were brutally murdered.

WALTERBORO, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison Friday for the murders of his wife and son, closing a chapter in the nearly two-year saga that garnered national attention while shining a light on the ex-attorney's unusual influence in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

The 54-year-old defendant was led into the Colleton County courtroom handcuffed and wearing a tan jailhouse jumpsuit.

He maintained his innocence in a brief statement to the court.

“I would never hurt my wife Maggie and I would never hurt my son Pawpaw,” he said, referring to his 22-year-old son, Paul.

Murdaugh was convicted Thursday evening of the murders of his wife and son after a six-week trial that featured testimony from dozens of witnesses, including the disbarred attorney himself.

On the witness stand, Murdaugh denied shooting his loved ones at the family’s sprawling hunting estate in Colleton County, but confessed to a bevy of other misdeeds, including the theft of millions of dollars from former clients of his family’s law firm.

He also admitted to lying to investigators regarding his whereabouts the night of the murders. The defendant’s voice was heard on a cellphone video Paul recorded at 8:44 p.m. on June 7, 2021, at the estate’s dog kennels, witnesses testified. The mother and son would stop using their cellphones minutes later, suggesting they were murdered around that time.

Murdaugh called authorities after 10 p.m. that night to report finding the bodies near the kennels. His 52-year-old wife was repeatedly shot with a .300 blackout rifle, while their youngest son was blasted twice with a shotgun.

Prosecutors alleged the defendant shot his loved ones in a desperate bid to derail investigations into his financial misdeeds. The chief financial officer for the family’s law firm confronted Murdaugh on the day of the murders over a $782,000 missing legal fee. An investigation later determined the ex-attorney pocketed the fee, as well as millions of dollars more in the decade before the slayings. Meanwhile, a judge was mulling whether to expose Murdaugh’s perilous finances in a lawsuit tied to a 2019 boat crash that killed a 19-year-old girl.

The prominent attorney earned millions of dollars from his work litigating private injury cases, but had less than $100,000 in his checking accounts at the time of the murders, records showed.

The defendant remains charged with dozens of counts of fraud and theft from the financial investigation.

Judge Clifton Newman said the disbarred attorney engaged in “duplicitous conduct” during the trial that disgraced the law profession.

A portrait of Murdaugh’s grandfather, a former solicitor, typically hangs in his courtroom, the judge said. Three generations of Murdaughs served as solicitors, or elected prosecutors, for the region while the family ran the lucrative law firm.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office said before trial it would not seek the death penalty for Murdaugh. He did not question the state’s decision, Newman said, but he noted the defendant’s forefathers sent men to death row — “probably for lesser conduct.”

Murdaugh testified he lied about being at the kennels because his decadeslong pill addiction made him paranoid and he did not trust state investigators. He paraphrased a quote from novelist Walter Scott while on the stand: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"

Newman asked the defendant why he said that.

“I lied and continued to lie,” Murdaugh responded.

Newman wondered when the lies would end. He told the defendant his wife and son’s murders will continue to haunt him at night.

“All day and all night,” Murdaugh acknowledged.

Why not appeal for mercy, the judge wondered.

“I’ll tell you again — I respect this court, but I’m innocent,” he said. “And I would never, under any circumstances, hurt my wife Maggie. And I would not, under any circumstances, hurt my son Pawpaw.”

Newman acknowledged it might not have been the seemingly gregarious family man who committed the murders, but instead “the monster you become” when he took dozens of opioid pills a day.

“Maybe you become another person,” Newman said.

The judge then ordered Murdaugh to serve two consecutive life sentences.

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said at a press conference they would appeal the verdicts. The judge’s decision to admit evidence of Murdaugh's financial misdeeds at the trial prejudiced the jury, Harpootlian said.

Murdaugh’s family members did not speak on his behalf at the hearing. Defense attorney Jim Griffin said it would have been useless given Newman's reputation for handing down harsh sentences.

“We could have had Mother Teresa up there speaking about Alex — he was getting a double life sentence,” Griffin said.

Family members attended every day of trial expecting to hear “proof positive” that the family patriarch slayed his wife and son, Griffin said.

“After six weeks of trial, they came away more convinced he did not do this,” he said.

Members of the Murdaugh family declined to address the media after the hearing.

The attorneys said they did not regret putting their client on the stand. His credibility and character became an essential component of the trial when the judge admitted evidence of the financial crimes, Harpootlian said. The defense did not seek to have the case tried elsewhere after a study conducted in a different county found that 8 out of 10 people were familiar with the case, he said.

The state did not offer any plea deals before the trial, Griffin said.

Newman told jurors they were free to speak about the case after they were released. Craig Moyer, a carpenter who served on the jury, told ABC News the kennel video convinced him of the defendant’s guilt.

The first vote in the jury room showed two jurors leaned not guilty and a third was uncertain, he said. They reached the unanimous verdict after less than an hour of deliberations.

Moyer said he did not believe Murdaugh was sincere in his testimony. Sitting only feet away, he said he could tell Murdaugh was not shedding tears on the witness stand.

“All he did was blow snot,” the juror said.

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Categories / Criminal, Regional, Trials

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