CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh, the once-powerful scion of a Lowcountry legal dynasty, will stand trial Monday in Walterboro on accusations he gunned down his wife and youngest son nearly two years ago at the family’s rural hunting lodge.
The trial is expected to be one of the most closely watched in South Carolina’s history, the climax of a lurid saga that transformed the life of a feared trial lawyer into a macabre morality play amid allegations of corruption, addiction and murder.
Prosecutors say blood spatter evidence, GPS data and a cellphone video all connect Murdaugh to the killings, but it was unclear in the days before trial what evidence would be admitted. Murdaugh’s veteran defense attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, have aggressively challenged the admissibility of the alleged blood spatter found on the shirt Murdaugh wore the night of the killings.
State grand jury chief prosecutor Creigton Waters told Colleton County Judge Clifton Newman at a hearing last month his team did not know whether they would use the blood spatter as evidence. But prosecutors have offered a motive for the killings: The imminent threat of “personal, legal and financial ruin” drove the 54-year-old disbarred attorney to commit the heinous crimes, according to court filings.
Murdaugh shot his loved ones to draw attention away from his own misdealings, prosecutors argue, as multiple investigations threatened to expose the attorney’s decadeslong grift of law clients that netted him nearly $9 million. The case’s roots run deeper than the heinous killings, according to prosecutors, and help explain why a seemingly respectable man might murder his wife and son.
Murdaugh has maintained his innocence since his indictment in July. His defense attorneys requested a speedy trial, arguing investigators were too quick to blame the father for the double homicide.
“Alex wants his family, friends and everyone to know that he did not have anything to do with the murders of Maggie and Paul,” the attorneys said in a statement after his arrest. “He loved them more than anything in the world.”
Murdaugh called 911 the night of June 7, 2021, to report finding the bodies of Maggie Murdaugh and their son, Paul, outside the family’s 1,772-acre hunting estate in unincorporated Colleton County.
“I need the police and ambulance immediately,” he told dispatchers, his voice quivering in the recorded call. “My wife and child have been shot badly.”
State and local investigators swarmed the compound in the days after the killings. The mother and son were found dead near some dog kennels on the property. Maggie Murdaugh, 52, was shot five times with a rifle, while two shotgun blasts ended her 22-year-old son’s life.
The news stunned residents of the nearby town of Hampton, where the Murdaugh clan had established a formidable legal dynasty over the past century. Beginning in 1920, three generations of Murdaughs were successively elected solicitor for the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, prosecuting crimes in five counties across the southern part of the state. A portrait of Murdaugh’s grandfather hung on the wall of the courtroom where he was indicted on the murder charges.
In 2006, Randolph Murdaugh III left the solicitor’s job to practice in the family’s law firm – Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick — founded in 1910 by his great-grandfather. There, he worked with his two sons, Alex and Randy, both of whom specialized in personal injury.
PMPED built its reputation on eye-popping awards from suits targeting large corporations. In 2002, Forbes magazine wrote about the firm’s use of a state loophole that allowed South Carolina residents to file their suits against out-of-state companies in any county they pleased, as long as the company did business there. With a sympathetic Hampton County jury hearing its cases, PMPED attorneys could earn a million-dollar award when someone slipped at a big-box store as far away as Greenville.