Who were the key players in Alex Murdaugh murder trial?

Who’s who in the double murder trial of disgraced legal dynasty heir Alex Murdaugh

Rachel Sharp
Friday 03 March 2023 18:22 GMT
Bodycam shows Alex Murdaugh as first officers arrive on scene of wife and son’s murders

Disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of the grisly double murder of his wife Maggie and son Paul, who were found shot dead at the family’s sprawling estate in Islandton, South Carolina, on 7 June 2021.

The husband and father – who comes from a long line of prominent attorneys in South Carolina – was accused of shooting Paul twice with a shotgun and Maggie five times with an AR-15-style rifle.

Prosecutors claimed that he was motivated by desperation to distract from his string of alleged financial crimes which were on the brink of being exposed.

For years, the Murdaughs reigned over the local justice system and mingled in powerful circles.

Now, the brutal double murders have brought to light a series of scandals surrounding Murdaugh including unexplained deaths, a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme and a botched hitman plot – in a sprawling saga that touches many across the lowcountry.

Here’s some of the key players in the case:

Alex Murdaugh

Alex Murdaugh, 54, was once a powerful figure in Hampton County, South Carolina, where his family has reigned over the local justice system for almost a century.

Three generations of the family – his father, grandfather and great-grandfather – all served as the solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor’s office. His father Randy held the position until 2006 and was given the highest civilian award the Order of the Palmetto by the South Carolina governor in 2018 for his work. Randy died just three days after Maggie and Paul’s murders.

Due to the Murdaughs’ prominence in the judicial system in the lowcountry, the family held a reputation for being powerful and wielding their influence over matters.

Murdaugh continued with the family tradition working as an attorney in the local prosecutor’s office and also at his own law firm PMPED (the M standing for Murdaugh).

Alex Murdaugh smiles during testimony at his double murder trial

He was married to wife Maggie – whom he met at college - and the couple had two sons Buster and Paul.

After the murders of his wife and son, it transpired that Murdaugh had a two-decade-long opioid addiction and he checked into rehab in September 2021.

In July 2022, he was charged with Maggie and Paul’s murders. The same day, Murdaugh was disbarred from practicing law in South Carolina by the state’s Supreme Court.

Murdaugh was convicted of the murders at the end of a six-week trial on 2 March 2023. The jury deliberated for just three hours, and he was sentenced to life in prison the following day.

On top of the murder conviction, he is also facing around 100 other charges for a botched hitman plot and a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme – where he is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from law firm clients.

Among the victims are the sons of Gloria Satterfield, the family’s longtime housekeeper who died in a 2018 fall at the Murdaugh home. An investigation has been reopened into her death.

Murdaugh is also facing several civil suits.

Paul Murdaugh

Paul Murdaugh, 22, was the younger son of Alex and Maggie Murdaugh who, at the time of his death, was facing trial over the death of Mallory Beach, 19.

On the night of 24 February 2019, Paul was allegedly drunk driving the Murdaugh family’s boat with several of his friends on board.

The boat crashed into some rocks and threw the passengers overboard.

Beach’s body washed up on shore around a week later.

Paul Murdaugh pictured in mugshot for the boat crash

In April 2019, Paul was charged with three felonies over Beach’s death including boating under the influence and was facing up to 25 years in prison.

Paul was shot twice with a shotgun – once in the chest and once in the shoulder.

Investigators in the boat crash case had no choice but to drop the charges when he died. Beach’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murdaughs – which was finally settled in January 2023.

Maggie Murdaugh

Maggie was Alex Murdaugh’s wife and the mother of their two sons Buster and Paul.

The 52-year-old met her husband when they were both students at the University of South Carolina.

She was shot five times with an AR-15-style rifle on the night of 7 June 2021.

According to testimony from the Murdaugh housekeeper Blanca Simpson, Maggie was concerned with the family’s finances – and feared her husband was not being truthful with her about the extent of their situation.

Ms Simpson testified that Maggie had got upset and confided in her a few months before the murders, saying that the family was being sued for $30m in the boat crash lawsuit.

Alex and Maggie Murdaugh pictured together

Maggie told her that she felt “Alex was not being truthful to her about the lawsuit... she said ‘he doesn’t tell me everything’,” testified Ms Simpson.

Maggie’s sister Marian Proctor testified that Murdaugh had an affair about 15 years ago – and Maggie found out about it.

While it was years ago and the couple worked through it, she said it “bothered” Maggie and she had brought it up again around the time of the murders.

She also revealed that the family knew about Murdaugh’s opioid abuse.

Buster Murdaugh

Buster Murdaugh is the eldest – and now only surviving – son of Maggie and Alex Murdaugh.

The 26-year-old stood by his father throughout the growing number of allegations against him – even after his arrest for the murders of his brother and mother.

Buster was also accused of buying alcohol for Paul before the 2019 fatal boat crash.

His name has also cropped up in connection with the mysterious death of Stephen Smith – a 19-year-old who was found dead at the side of a road in Hampton County in 2015.

Buster Murdaugh with his girlfriend during his father’s double murder trial

Buster supported his father in court every day of the murder trial but his apparently bad behaviour cropped up in the courtroom.

In court on the week of 6 February, Buster appeared to “flip the bird” at attorney Mark Tinsley as he took the witness stand about the boat crash lawsuit that he brought against Mr Murdaugh.

Judge Clifton Newman reportedly issued multiple warnings to several members of the Murdaugh family about their behaviour in court and they were moved to the back of the courtroom.

Sources told FITS News that when Buster was asked to move to the back of the courtroom, he allegedly kicked over a water bottle in anger.

The judge warned that he and other family members could be removed from court altogether.

Buster later took the stand in his father’s defence - but showed no emotion when the guilty verdict came down.

Curtis Smith

Curtis “Cousin Eddie” Smith is Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirator in a wild botched hitman plot that became central to the prosecution’s case in the murder trial.

The 62-year-old trucker – a former legal client, distant cousin and alleged drug dealer of Murdaugh – was allegedly paid by Murdaugh to shoot him dead so that Buster could get a $10m life insurance windfall.

The saga unfolded on 4 September 2021 – three months on from Maggie and Paul’s murders and one day after Murdaugh’s law firm PMPED accused him of stealing millions of dollars from clients.

Murdaugh called 911 to say he had been shot in a drive-by shooting while changing a tyre on his vehicle along a road in Hampton County.

Curtis Smith pictured in his mugshot

He was treated at a hospital for what police called a “superficial gunshot wound to the head,” but his story quickly unravelled and he confessed to the assisted suicide plot with Mr Smith.

Mr Smith has been charged over the incident.

He was later hit with charges of helping Murdaugh with a drug and money laundering ring, with authorities alleging he receieved $2.4m in stolen checks from Murdaugh – some of it used to to buy Murdaugh opiates to feed his addiction.

In October 2022, Murdaugh’s attorneys claimed that Mr Smith failed a lie detector test when asked about the murders of Maggie and Paul.

Russel Laffitte

Russell Laffitte is the former Palmetto State Bank CEO.

In November, he was convicted of financial fraud charges in connection to Murdaugh’s alleged white collar fraud schemes.

His conviction came on the basis that he was the co-defendant of Mr Murdaugh in his sprawling multi-million-dollar fraud scheme.

Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte in mugshot

Dick Harpootlian

Dick Harpootlian, 74, was one of Murdaugh’s lead defence attorneys in his murder trial.

Prior to representing Murdaugh, he has had a long career as a prosecutor.

He has prosecuted several high-profile cases including the corruption trial of former University of South Carolina President Jim Holderman and the murder trial of serial killer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins.

As well as being a prominent lawyer, Mr Harpootlian is also a state senator, representing South Carolina’s 20th district.

Jim Griffin

Jim Griffin, 60, was Murdaugh’s other lead defence attorneys in his murder trial.

Mr Griffin has also had a long career focused predominantly on working as defence attorney in white-collar crime cases.

Alex Murdaugh, Maggie Fox, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin talk while on a break during the trial

As well as the murder case, both Mr Harpootlian and Mr Griffin are representing Murdaugh in his slew of other charges including his financial fraud trial.

The duo – who like Murdaugh attended University of South Carolina School of Law – was also previously hired to represent Paul in the boat crash case.

Creighton Waters

Creighton Waters was the lead prosecutor in the murder case against Murdaugh.

As the chief prosecutor for the state’s grand jury, he has worked for the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for more than 24 years.

His case against Mr Murdaugh was centred on the theory that the disgraced attorney killed his wife and son to distract from his string of alleged scandals and financial crimes that were on the brink of being exposed.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters questions witness Chris Wilson during the trial

Judge Clifton Newman

South Carolina Circuit Courts Judge Clifton Newman was the judge presiding over the high-profile murder trial.

He was first elected to the court by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2000 and was re-elected in 2021, with his term due to end in 2027.

Throughout the trial, the judge largely sided with the prosecution in a series of motions and objections – including allowing the state to bring evidence of Murdaugh’s financial crimes as a possible motive for the murders.

Judge Clifton Newman presides over Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial

However, he also awarded some big wins to the defence – including ruling that several witnesses cannot bring evidence about the roadside shooting incident and that Maggie’s sister could not testify about Mr Murdaugh’s alleged affair several years ago.

The judge then did a u-turn on the roadside shooting testimony on 15 February, after the defence brought the incident up – paving the way for the state to also enter evidence.

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