Alex Murdaugh freezes as guilty verdict threatens life sentence for murders and cheers erupt outside court

The 54-year-old disbarred attorney was convicted of two counts of murder after a dramatic six-week ‘trial of the century’

Rachel Sharp
Friday 03 March 2023 07:10 GMT
Alex Murdaugh found guilty for murder of wife and son
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Shamed legal dynasty heir Alex Murdaugh has been found guilty of the brutal murders of his wife and adult son.

The 54-year-old disbarred attorney was convicted of two counts of murder and two weapons charges after a dramatic six-week “trial of the century” inside the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.

He faces up to life in prison on the charges.

Murdaugh appeared emotionless as the guilty verdicts were read out to deafeningly silent court, as his and Maggie’s only surviving son Buster, 26, looked on from the gallery.

Buster – who has stood by his father throughout the trial and testified in his defence – also gave little reaction at the moment that his father was convicted of killing his mother and brother in a horrific attack on the family estate.

In convicting Murdaugh, the jury determined beyond a reasonable doubt that he shot dead his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, on the grounds of the wealthy family’s 1,700-acre Moselle hunting estate in Islandton, South Carolina, on 7 June 2021.

Paul was shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun while he stood in the feed room of the dog kennels – the second shot to his head blowing his brain almost entirely out of his skull.

After killing Paul, prosecutors said Murdaugh then grabbed a .300 Blackout semiautomatic rifle and opened fire on Maggie as she tried to flee from her husband.

She was shot five times including twice in the head after she had fallen to her knees.

“The evidence of guilt is overwhelming,” said Judge Clifton Newman after the verdict was delivered.

“You all responded and gave due consideration to the evidence. I will make no comment now as to the extent of the overwhelming nature of the evidence, but certainly the verdict that you have reached is supported,” he said.

“The circumstantial evidence, direct evidence, all of the evidence pointed to one conclusion, and that’s the conclusion that you all reached.”

Alex Murdaugh, centre, is handcuffed in the courtroom after a guilty verdict of his double murder trial was read aloud at Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina
Alex Murdaugh, centre, is handcuffed in the courtroom after a guilty verdict of his double murder trial was read aloud at Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina (AP)

The defence team made a last-ditch motion for a mistrial which was swiftly denied by the judge.

“The case properly went to the jury, and the verdict was proper,” he said.

“The evidence of guilt is overwhelming, and I deny the motion.”

Murdaugh turned to his son Buster and mouthed “it’s okay” before he was led away in handcuffs.

He will return for sentencing at 9.30am on Friday morning, where victim impact statements will be read out.

He faces a mininum of 30 years and maximum of life in prison on each murder count.

The weapons charge carries a five-year sentence, which can be served concurrently or consecutively with the murder charges.

The prosecution team was met with cheers as they held a press conference outside the courthouse and said that the verdict shows that “no one is above the law”.

“What a great day for the people of South Carolina,” said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, as the crowd cheered.

“Today’s verdict proves that no one, no one, no matter who you are in society is above the law,” he said.

AG Wilson, who made a brief appearance in court to question the final witness in the state’s case in the trial, praised the lead prosecutor Creighton Waters and thanked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for its investigative work.

Alex Murdaugh led away in handcuffs after being found guilty of murder of wife and son

He said the justice system “gave a voice to Maggie and Paul Murdaugh who were brutally mowed down on June 7 2021 by someone who they trusted and they loved”.

The press conference was peppered with references to the power the Murdaugh family has long wielded over the lowcountry after running the legal system for the best part of the last century.

“Justice was done today. It doesn’t matter who your family is. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter how big or prominent you are, if you break the law and murder, justice will be done in South Carolina,” said Mr Waters.

The jury reached its unanimous verdict after hearing almost six weeks of testimony and spending less than three hours deliberating on the case that has enthralled the country for almost two years.

In a dramatic two days in the courtroom, Murdaugh took the stand in his own defence and sought to convince jurors that he was not the “family annihilator” the prosecution painted him to be.

In a bombshell moment, he confessed that he had lied for the past 20 months about his alibi on the night of the murders.

He admitted for the first time that he was there at the kennels with the two victims that night – and that he had lied for 20 months to law enforcement officials investigating the case, his family members and close friends and colleagues.

Alex Murdaugh reacts as he is found guilty of murder
Alex Murdaugh reacts as he is found guilty of murder (Colleton County Court)

Murdaugh made the sudden admission after jurors saw a damning cellphone video taken by Paul just minutes before he and his mother were killed.

The video, taken at 8.44pm, filmed a dog inside the kennels on the grounds of the Moselle estate.

Off-camera, three voices are heard: Paul, Maggie and Alex Murdaugh.

During dramatic testimony, multiple witnesses identified Murdaugh’s voice in the footage – before he then also confessed it was him.

Since the 7 June 2021 murders, he had claimed that he had never gone to the dog kennels with his wife and son that night.

He claimed that he had stayed at the family home, napped on the couch and then driven to visit his mother at his parents’ home in Almeda. When he drove home, he claimed he went down to the kennels, placing a dramatic 911 call claiming to have discovered the bodies of the two victims.

Despite confessing to lying, Murdaugh continued to plead his innocence in Maggie and Paul’s murders and broke down in tears on the stand speaking about them.

However, he also admitted to stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and to orchestrating a bizarre botched hitman plot three months after the murders.

He is awaiting separate trials in both of those cases.

Prosecutors said that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from his string of financial crimes – at a time when his multi-million-dollar fraud scheme was on the brink of being exposed.

Jurors were told that on the day of the murders, Murdaugh was confronted by his law firm CFO about missing money that he had stolen.

Three days after the murders, a hearing was also slated to take place in a lawsuit over a fatal boat crash.

Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh left to right
Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh left to right (Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook)

In February 2019, Paul had allegedly been drunk driving the family boat when it crashed, killing his 19-year-old friend Mallory Beach.

While Paul was facing felony charges over the crash, Murdaugh was being sued by the Beach family, and their attorney had filed a motion to compel to gain access to his finances.

Over four weeks and 61 witnesses, prosecutors laid out this alleged motive for the murders as well as presenting the bizarre hitman plot as part of his pattern of making himself a victim when accountability came knocking on his door.

On 4 September 2021 – one day after he was ousted by his law firm for stealing funds – Murdaugh claimed he was the victim of a drive-by shooting.

He kept up the story for days, with jurors being shown a police sketch of an imaginary man he claimed ambushed him.

Days later, he confessed that he had orchestrated the plot claiming he had asked his alleged drug dealer and distant cousin Curtis Eddie Smith to shoot him in the head so his surviving son Buster would get a $12m life insurance windfall.

Beyond Murdaugh’s other crimes, the state also presented jurors with a trove of circumstantial evidence tying him to the murders and revealing how he manufactured an alibi and covered his tracks in the aftermath.

Prosecutors said that he killed Maggie and Paul with “family guns”, trying to throw investigators off the scent by using two different guns.

After carrying out the attack, they believe he changed out of his bloody clothing – with jurors seeing a Snapchat video taken by Paul showing Murdaugh in one outfit just one hour before the killings. In bodycam footage when the first officer arrived on the scene, he was in a new outfit.

He is also believed to have taken the guns to his parents’ home to hide them.

A blue raincoat was later found in his parents’ home covered in gunshot residue. The state claims Murdaugh used the coat to move and hide the firearms used in the slayings.

Throughout the defence’s case, they sought to paint Murdaugh as a flawed character and an opioid addict – but one who loved his family and could never have carried out the murders.

Among the 14 witnesses called to try to convince jurors of his innocence was Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster and brother John Marvin, who said that he was left “heartbroken” by the murders.

Murdaugh’s conviction marks the latest twist in the saga of the man who was once the powerful heir to a South Carolina legal dynasty.

Video shows Paul Murdaugh minutes before he and his mother were murdered

His family had reigned over the local justice system for almost a century, with three generations of the family all serving as the solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor’s office.

Murdaugh continued with the family tradition working in the local prosecutor’s office and also at the law firm PMPED, which was founded by his grandfather.

The murders of Maggie and Paul shocked the Hampton County community but also brought to light a series of scandals surrounding Murdaugh.

As well as the boat crash case, the fraud scheme and the botched hitman plot, there are at least two other unexplained deaths with some tie to Murdaugh.

Days on from the murders, an investigation was reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County.

The openly gay 19-year-old had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.

An investigation was also reopened into another mystery death connected to the Murdaugh family – that of their longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

She died in 2018 in a mystery trip and fall accident at the family home. Murdaugh then allegedly stole around $4m in a wrongful death settlement from her sons.

Murdaugh is now also facing around 100 charges over the multi-million-dollar fraud scheme and roadside shooting cases.

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