What to know about Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial
Alex Murdaugh’s family long dominated the legal scene in his small South Carolina county, but for the last six weeks Murdaugh has been on the other side of the courtroom, standing trial on murder charges in the shootings of his wife and son.
More than 75 witnesses were called and about 800 photographs, reports and exhibits presented as evidence. Jurors visited the crime scene Wednesday before the prosecution and defense gave closing arguments over parts of two days.
After closing arguments wrapped up Thursday, the judge gave jurors his final instructions before turning Murdaugh’s fate over to them, and they headed to the jury room to begin deliberations. It took them under three hours to find him guilty.
As Murdaugh awaits sentencing, here are some takeaways:
What happened with the killings?
Alex Murdaugh called 911 on the evening of June 7, 2021, and said he’d found his son and wife dead when he returned home from a one-hour visit with his mother, who has dementia.
Authorities said Paul Murdaugh, 22, had been shot twice with a shotgun, each round loaded with different sizes of shot, while Maggie Murdaugh, 52, had been struck with four or five bullets from a rifle. A crime scene report suggested both victims were shot in the head after initially being wounded near the dog kennels on the Murdaughs’ sprawling rural property.
Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense at his double murder trial.
Prosecutors took over a year to charge the disgraced lawyer with murder, and decided not to pursue the death penalty. Alex Murdaugh, who is also charged with about 100 counts of financial and other crimes, has adamantly denied any involvement in the killings. He faces 30 years to life in prison.
What was the prosecution’s case?
Prosecutors, who contend Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from his financial crimes, did not present direct evidence against him.
They called 61 witnesses and introduced more than 550 pieces of evidence over 17 days of testimony — from descriptions of the brutality of the killings to numbing details about bank records.
The weapons used to kill the victims have not been produced. But one key piece of evidence showed that Murdaugh had lied to police and put him at the kennels where his wife and son were shot just five minutes before investigators think they were killed, since they stopped using their cellphones.
A prosecutor says that Alex Murdaugh’s theft of millions of dollars was about to be revealed, and that he killed his wife and son to buy time to figure a way out.
It’s a video taken by Paul Murdaugh that was locked in his cellphone until federal agents managed to hack into it a year later. Alex Murdaugh told investigators that he wasn’t at the kennels that evening, but his voice can be heard on the video.
“That changed everything,” prosecutor Creighton Waters said in his closing statement Wednesday.
“I did lie to them,” Murdaugh said when he took the stand in his own defense. He explained that he had been paranoid about law enforcement because he was addicted to opiates and had a bottle of pills in his pocket when he was questioned.
Waters asked jurors why an innocent man who had just seen his slaughtered wife and son — or the state agents investigating their deaths — would be worried about pills.
“He was lying to you when he made that up — just like he has lied to everyone close to him. And he’s good at it,” Waters said.
Murdaugh, 54, was the 72nd witness called during the trial.
His defense team’s first questions were whether he had killed his wife or son, which he denied forcefully. During questioning from his lawyer and cross-examination by prosecutors, he repeatedly said he never would have hurt either family member.
Prosecutor Waters tried one last time: “Mr. Murdaugh, are you a family annihilator?”
South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh now says he lied when he maintained that he wasn’t at the family dog kennels with his wife and son before they were killed.
“You mean, did I shoot my wife and son?” Murdaugh said in a measured tone. “No. I would never hurt Maggie Murdaugh. I would never hurt Paul Murdaugh under any circumstances.”
In his closing argument, Waters pointed out that Alex Murdaugh had nodded as he denied hurting them, just as he had nodded in police videos when he told investigators he hadn’t been at the kennels on the night of the killings.
Murdaugh did admit over and over that he had lied and stolen millions of dollars from his clients and his law firm. Waters detailed almost every victim and asked if he had lied to their faces.
“I took money that wasn’t mine. And I shouldn’t have done it. I hate the fact that I did it,” Murdaugh said. “I am embarrassed by it. ... I am embarrassed for my family.”
Murdaugh is awaiting trial for the many financial crimes he has admitted to, as well as on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, and insurance fraud — the latter over allegations that he’d asked someone to kill him so his surviving son could get his $12 million in life insurance.
What about the defense?
Murdaugh’s defense team has called experts who said investigators didn’t dust for fingerprints, collect or test blood, or photograph evidence with the angles or clarity needed to study it properly later.
The first officer arrived at the family’s rural Colleton County estate 20 minutes after Murdaugh called 911. Almost immediately, the local sheriff turned the investigation over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
The South Carolina jury quickly found Alex Murdaugh guilty of two murder counts after a six-week trial that detailed the once-prominent lawyer’s fall from grace.
It took hours for agents from across the state to get to the crime scene, deep into the South Carolina Lowcountry. During that time, more than a dozen family and friends walked around the site, comforting Murdaugh.
The bodies of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were covered with a sheet, which can absorb fluid, instead of a tarp. That sheet wasn’t saved, meaning hair or DNA from a killer could have been lost. As intermittent rain fell, the runoff from the kennel roof fell on Paul Murdaugh’s covered body.
When state agents arrived, they sent Murdaugh and his entourage to the family home, which witnesses testified hadn’t been searched for weapons, bloody clothes or other evidence, or even checked to see if a suspect was hiding inside.
The defense also called an expert who testified that the killings were likely done by two shooters, as both Paul and Maggie Murdaugh appeared to have been taken by surprise. Their hands were not raised in defense, and the shock wave, blood and gore after Paul Murdaugh was shot in the head at close range with a shotgun probably would have stunned the shooter for at least several seconds, and Maggie Murdaugh would have responded, the expert said.
The jury deliberated for under three hours Thursday before finding Murdaugh guilty of both counts of murder.
The judge said sentencing would take place at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
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