Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison Friday after a jury returned a quick guilty verdict this week, convicting him of murdering his wife and son.
Judge Clifton Newman noted the defendant’s trial was difficult for the community, recognizing the Murdaugh family “controlled justice” in the area for more than a century — a reference to Murdaugh’s father and grandfather, who served as district attorneys.
Despite noting the family’s legal reputation and his professional exchanges with Murdaugh when he was practicing law prior to his downfall, the judge didn’t hold back and gave Murdaugh the maximum sentence for killing his wife, Maggie, and son Paul, which was two life sentences to run consecutively.
“This has been perhaps one of the most troubling cases not just for me as a judge, for the state, for the defense team, but for all of the citizens in this community, all of the citizens in this state … throughout the nation,” the judge said. “It was especially heartbreaking for me to see you.”
Judge Newman added, “It might not have been you — it might have been the monster you become when you take … opioid pills. I sentence you for the term of the rest of your natural life.”
Murdaugh stood in silence as the judge read his punishment. Moments before he stressed he didn’t kill either Maggie or Paul.
“I am innocent. I would never hurt my wife, Maggie, and I would never hurt my son,” he said.
Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, had asked the judge to issue two life sentences since the state chose not to pursue the death penalty.
“I could see the real Alex Murdaugh when he looked at me,” the prosecutor told the judge. “The lack of remorse and the effortless way in which he lies — including here sitting right over there in this witness stand. Your honor, a man like that, a man like this man, should never be allowed to be among free law abiding citizens again,” Mr. Waters said.
Twelve jurors returned a verdict fast Thursday, finding Murdaugh guilty of killing Maggie, 54, and Paul, 22, at the family’s rural Colleton County property on June 7, 2021.
The trial, which began Jan. 25 and lasted six weeks, drew national attention since Murdaugh was from a legendary South Carolina family of attorneys, who had served as local district attorneys since the 1920s.
The defense team, consisting of attorneys Richard Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, moved for a mistrial and requested the verdict be tossed, but the judge denied their request.
Nearly 80 witnesses testified during the trial, with Murdaugh taking the stand in his own defense.
He told the jurors that he was an opioid addict and committed financial crimes but insisted he did not kill his wife and son.
“I did not kill Maggie, and I did not kill Paul. I would never hurt Maggie, and I would never hurt Paul — ever — under any circumstances,” he told jurors.
Murdaugh did not show any emotion — just blinked several times — when the guilty verdict was read.
The attorney’s fall from grace began in 2019 as he tried to shield Paul from legal trouble after a boating accident that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach, his son’s friend.
The state told the jury that Murdaugh sought sympathy for the death of his family members ahead of news coming out that he had committed a number of financial crimes, suggesting sympathy was the motive for the slayings.
The two victims were shot by different guns — which were never entered into evidence by the prosecution — at the family dog kennels on the property.
Murdaugh insisted that the different weapons suggested there were two shooters, and he didn’t do the shooting. He said people who were upset with Paul over the boating accident likely committed the murders.
The lawyer had told law enforcement that he was napping while his wife and son were at the kennels before heading out to check on his mother, who had dementia, only later returning to the property to find the two dead.
But a cellphone video recorded by Paul minutes before his death was played during the trial, with the jurors hearing three voices, including Murdaugh’s, revealing that he was in fact at the kennels and had lied to law enforcement for months about his whereabouts.
Murdaugh has been accused of stealing millions of dollars from clients and partners and committing alleged tax crimes over the course of a decade. He was removed from his law firm and eventually disbarred.
His fall from grace was detailed in a Netflix documentary, which also highlighted the death of the family housekeeper after she tripped and fell at the family’s home. Murdaugh filed insurance claims following the death, but never handed the funds over to her family.
He admitted to several financial crimes on the stand, meaning that even if he had been acquitted of the family killings, he still faced decades in prison.
Those cases are still pending, and legal experts say his testimony during the murder trial admitting to the financial wrongdoing can be used in later cases.
“His testimony should be fully admissible in later trials. Given the utter collapse of his personal and financial affairs, such later lawsuits may seem like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point. However, it could be used in proceedings seeking any remaining property and assets by victims of his fraudulent conduct,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.