On Thursday, Alex Murdaugh, a former esteemed attorney in South Carolina, was found guilty of two counts of murder in the fatal shootings of his wife and son.
The trial, which lasted six weeks, exposed the downfall of a once-powerful Southern family and featured testimonies of addiction, greed, and privilege. The jury only deliberated for a short period of time before reaching a verdict.
The trial included over 75 witnesses and almost 800 pieces of evidence, with stories of betrayed clients and friends, a failed attempt by Murdaugh to fake his death for insurance fraud, a fatal boat crash involving his son, a housekeeper’s death, and the gruesome details of the murders.
Murdaugh now faces the possibility of serving 30 years to life in prison without parole, a sentence that will likely be handed down shortly after the verdict, unless delayed by the presiding judge. Additionally, the trial highlighted the story of Bubba, a dog that was infamous for stealing chickens.
The decisive piece of evidence that seemingly sealed Alex Murdaugh’s fate was a cellphone video taken by his son, who had a talent for finding bottles of painkillers in his father’s belongings despite Murdaugh’s assurances that he had stopped using them.
Murdaugh’s testimony was the culmination of the trial, during which he confessed to stealing millions from his clients and lying to investigators about his whereabouts during the shootings at the dog kennels.
Despite maintaining his innocence in the deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, Murdaugh stated on the witness stand that he would never hurt either of them. Maggie, 52, was shot multiple times with a rifle, while Paul, 22, was shot twice with a shotgun at the kennels located near their rural Colleton County home on June 7, 2021.
The prosecution lacked direct evidence such as confessions, blood spatter, or the murder weapons, but they presented a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence, primarily focused on the video that Paul had recorded on his cellphone in the minutes leading up to the killings. Witnesses testified that the voices of all three Murdaughs could be heard on the video.
Following the murders, Alex Murdaugh, who was 54 at the time, repeatedly told the police that he had not been at the kennels, but instead, had been taking a nap before going to visit his sick mother that night.
When he called 911, he claimed to have discovered the bodies upon his return home. However, during his testimony, Murdaugh admitted to being with his wife and son at the kennels. He recounted taking a chicken from a disruptive yellow Labrador named Bubba, whose name can be heard on the video, before returning to the house shortly before the fatal shootings occurred.
Murdaugh had lied about his whereabouts for 20 months before confessing to being at the kennels on the 23rd day of his trial. He attributed his deception to his addiction to opioids, which had lasted for decades, causing him to become paranoid and lose trust in the police. According to Murdaugh, once he started lying, he felt trapped and could not find a way out of it.
During his testimony, Murdaugh explained how he felt compelled to keep lying once he started, saying “Oh, what a tangled web we weave”. Prosecutor Creighton Waters cross-examined Murdaugh about his revised account of what happened at the kennels, scrutinizing his recollection of certain details, such as his final words to his wife and son, which he characterized as “fuzzy”.
Additionally, a state agent testified that spent cartridges found near Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched cartridges fired at a shooting range elsewhere on the property. However, the defense argued that such a match was not a precise science.
Murdaugh’s family had been prominent in the local legal scene for generations. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were the elected prosecutors for over 80 years, and his family’s law firm grew to include dozens of lawyers by suing corporations, railroads, and other large businesses.
Murdaugh, who is now disbarred, admitted to stealing millions of dollars from the family law firm and clients, using the money to support his drug addiction. Prior to being charged with murder, he was in jail awaiting trial on nearly 100 other charges, including tax evasion and insurance fraud. Prosecutors claimed that Murdaugh killed his wife and son out of fear that his numerous wrongdoings were about to be discovered, and that he hoped the murders would generate sympathy and buy him time to cover his tracks.