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Jury finds Alex Murdaugh guilty of killing wife and son

Jurors spent only about three hours deliberating whether the prominent attorney killed his wife and son nearly two years ago at the family's South Carolina hunting estate.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a legal dynasty that wielded power for nearly a century in the Palmetto State's Lowcountry, was found guilty Thursday night in the brutal murders of his wife and son.

News of verdict arrived before 7 p.m. Thursday — a little less than three hours after deliberations began in a trial that stretched on for more than a month. The defendant was stone-faced as the verdict was read. He slightly nodded his head as a court clerk read the guilty verdicts to two counts of murder and two firearm offenses.

Judge Clifton Newman denied a final motion from Murdaugh's defense attorneys seeking to vacate the convictions. He decided to delay sentencing until Friday morning.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a press conference outside the Colleton County Courthouse that prosecutors poured their "blood, sweat and tears" into the case as they worked to give a voice to the victims — Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

"We can’t bring them back, but we can bring them justice," he said.

Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor on the case, said justice was done that night.

“It doesn’t matter who your family is," Waters said. "It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or people think you have. It doesn’t matter how prominent you are. If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder — then justice will be done in South Carolina.”

He declined to answer questions about sentencing.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Jim Griffin vainly excoriated the missteps in the double murder investigation that compounded as the 54-year-old ex-attorney became the sole suspect in his wife and son’s slayings.

A state prosecutor parried the defense’s final attacks in rebuttal arguments before the jurors were charged with making “one of the most important decisions” of their lives in a case that has absorbed the nation’s attention.

Murdaugh admitted last week on the witness stand he lied, cheated and stole. He confessed to abusing powerful narcotic drugs and staging his own suicide in an attempt to fleece his insurance company. He robbed his former law clients and stole from the family’s century-old law firm, causing the business to collapse in scandal.

But as defense attorney Jim Griffin reminded the jury in closing arguments, the defendant was not on trial for any of those crimes.

Murdaugh was charged with the murders on allegations he fatally shot his wife and youngest son the night of June 7, 2021, at the family’s hunting estate in Colleton County.

The ginger-haired ex-attorney called 911 shortly after 10 p.m. to report finding the bodies near the estate's dog kennels. Sheriff’s deputies who first arrived discovered one of the community's most prominent men in the midst of a gruesome crime scene that was called a “butchering” by defense attorney Dick Harpootlian.

The 22-year-old son was blasted twice by a shotgun loaded with buckshot and steel birdshot. The buckshot peppered his chest while the birdshot blew his blood and brains across the kennel's feed room. Maggie was shot at least four times with a .300 blackout rifle not far from her son. The final shot was to the back of the 52-year-old woman’s head.

Jurors toured the hunting estate on Wednesday morning. The feed room’s window was still cracked from the gunfire that echoed across the 1,772-acre estate that night, photos show. A plant pot with the name of Murdaugh’s eldest son, Buster, sat on the porch of the family's cream-colored house nestled among the pines and marshlands in the rural Lowcountry.


The family’s roots run deep in the community. Murdaugh’s great-grandfather ran a lucrative law firm in the small town of Hampton while he served as the elected solicitor, or top prosecutor, for five counties across the region, including Colleton. His son and grandson served after his death, creating an unbroken chain of authority that bestowed power on the family for nearly a century as they built their fortune litigating personal injury cases.

The 12 jurors and six alternates on the jury were among the few called for duty who said they did not know the family or the highly publicized crime. Five of the jurors were dismissed as the trial that began in January stretched into its sixth week.

The last juror was sent home on the eve of deliberations. Newman told the courtroom Thursday morning that an investigation determined the juror had discussed the case with at least three people during the proceedings.

Newman informed the woman she would be dismissed and asked her if she had any items in the jury room a bailiff could collect for her.

The woman told the judge among the items she left behind was “a dozen eggs,” causing an eruption of laughter in the courtroom. She explained it was a gift from a fellow juror as the judge chuckled and asked a bailiff to retrieve her items.

It was a rare moment of levity in the high-stakes affair. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office announced before trial it would not seek the death penalty for Murdaugh, but he faces 30 years to life at sentencing.

An argument for innocence

The attorneys wrestled over the case’s facts in their final arguments as they attempted to sway the men and women toward their preferred verdict.

Jim Griffin argued that circumstantial evidence and faulty forensic work were woven together into a wooly story meant to convict an innocent family man of gunning down the ones he most cherished.

Murdaugh repeatedly asked investigators to obtain his cellphone and vehicle data in the days and weeks after the murders — evidence that could have exonerated him and focused the investigation back on finding the real assailants, Griffin said. Authorities instead dithered and delayed, allowing crucial evidence to be erased from Maggie's cellphones.

Griffin accused state police of “fabricating” evidence in the case, an allegation the former prosecutor said he did not make lightly.

He pointed to a forensic expert’s report claiming there was high-impact blood spatter on the shirt Murdaugh wore the night of the murders, which would suggest he was in close proximity to the victims when they were shot. The state’s forensic testing showed there was no blood on the shirt at all, however, a contradiction that was only discovered by the defense attorneys a few months before trial.

Prosecutors decided not to introduce the blood-spatter evidence at trial, but the faulty findings were previously used to secure Murdaugh’s indictments in the case.

Murdaugh lied regarding his whereabouts the night of the murders, Griffin acknowledged. If not for that lie, the defense attorney said he would likely not have been in trial for the past month.

But that is what addicts do, he argued. Murdaugh lied because he had a “closet full of skeletons” and hoped to avoid scrutiny that would expose his long-secret pill addiction and the millions of dollars he stole from his former legal clients at the family’s law firm.

The state has argued the opposite — Murdaugh killed his family members to keep his myriad crimes hidden as questions swirled about his finances and money missing from the law firm.

Griffin mocked the motive as ridiculous. Murdaugh committed the murders, sparking a media firestorm that brought even more scrutiny upon the family, to delay investigations into the thefts for — maybe a few weeks, Griffin asked incredulously.

Murdaugh asked his drug dealer to shoot him in the head during the Labor Day weekend in 2021 after the law firm discovered the thefts and forced him to resign. He survived the shooting and initially claimed he did not know his assailant, but later confessed he staged the suicide so his son could collect from his multimillion-dollar life insurance policy.

“When Alex is facing financial collapse, he doesn’t go and kill somebody else — he tries to end it himself,” Griffin told the jury.

Griffin choked on his words as he concluded his defense of the man who wept on the witness stand last week as he lovingly spoke of his wife and son.

He told the jurors they were about to make "one of the most important decisions" of their lives.

“Soon you will have the most powerful voice in this courtroom,” he said. “With your words, you can let everyone know that in a court of law only evidence and the burden of proof matter – not opinion, innuendo and, most of all, not theories layered on top of speculation.”

'Your greatest power'

Prosecutor John Meadors offered the state’s rebuttal arguments. The folksy attorney sometimes yelped and other times whispered as he paced before the jury box in an energetic presentation prosecutors hoped would stick in jurors' minds as they mulled the evidence.

He said when he first heard the evidence against Murdaugh he knew it was a "common sense case.” The jurors would need to use their everyday life experiences to weigh the evidence and ultimately determine who was telling the truth.

“Credibility. Believability. That really does sum it up,” Meadors said.

There was no guide to being a juror, Meadors said, but he talked about two books his parents gave him when he was young.

When he left for college, his mother gifted him a copy of the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit." Inside, she inscribed a simple lesson for her son: “Always be real.”

This trial was about a defendant who was never real, Meadors said. His defense attorneys blamed everybody else but the man who lied to investigators and his family as he desperately tried to conceal the truth — he killed Maggie and Paul.

The prosecutor said his father gave him a book, too — J. Martin Kohe's “Your Greatest Power.”

A person’s greatest power, Kohe claimed, was the power to choose, Meadors explained. We make decisions, both good and bad, every day of our lives. And ultimately we must live with the consequences of those decisions.

Murdaugh loved his wife, Meadors conceded. He loved Paul, too.

But he loved someone else more — himself. He loved the lavish lifestyle he built on lies and fraud more than his wife and son, the prosecutor said.

“And he exercised his greatest power of choice to make sure that life continued,” Meadors said, or at least he tried to.

Now, the jurors could exercise their greatest power – the power to reach a verdict, Meadors said. He asked they find Murdaugh guilty and end his lies once and for all.

Categories:Criminal, Trials

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