Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced on Friday to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders of his wife Maggie and his son Paul. “You continue to lie”, judge Clifton Newman told Murdaugh during the sentencing hearing.
“I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the night when you are attempting to go to sleep,” judge Newman told Murdaugh. “I’m sure they come and visit you.” Before announcing his sentence, Newman took his time with a long monologue about having worked alongside the former attorney, whose family tried cases in the very courtroom where they stood. Murdaugh, who wore a jail khaki jumpsuit, listened to his fate with a blank stare. “I’m innocent. I would never, under any circumstances, hurt my wife Maggie or my son Paul-Paul,” he insisted when the judge asked if he had anything he wanted to say. “And it might not have been you. It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person,” Newman replied, noting Murdaugh’s decades-long addiction to painkillers.
The Colleton County jury deliberated for less than three hours on Thursday before finding Murdaugh guilty of killing his 22-year-old son, Paul, and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, on June 7, 2021. After hearing 76 witnesses and examining a mountain of circumstantial evidence, the 12 members of the jury determined that Murdaugh committed the double murder that night, in the kennels of the family’s estate, a vast property ideal for hunting and fishing called Moselle and located in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina’s southernmost tip.
The murderer –a fourth generation member of a family of prominent lawyers that dominated life in the area for a century – used a hunting shotgun to kill his wife and an assault rifle to kill his son, the jury said. Then he fabricated an alibi, according to which he did not see his wife and son in the house on the day of the murder when he woke up from his nap and went to see his sick mother. He said that when he returned, he discovered the bodies and called the police. The recording of that call, in which he can be heard using somewhat stilted language, was key to building the prosecution’s case, which succeeded in portraying him as an unrepentant liar.
Another piece of evidence that tore down his account of the events was a one-minute video in which, shortly before the time of the two deaths, his voice is heard at the scene of the crime. His son recorded it for the social media app Snapchat. Nor did it help the defense that Murdaugh was wearing a pristine white shirt when the police arrived on the scene. During the emergency call he made, he told the operator that he had touched the bodies to take their pulse.
Shortly before the judge read his sentence, prosecutor Creighton Waters took the floor and defined Murdaugh as a “cunning manipulator”: a man who lived a double life for years, as an opiate addict mired in a serial scheme to defraud the partners of the law firm that his great-grandfather founded, as well as many of its clients. According to the prosecution, Murdaugh believed that he was on the verge of being caught in all of these lies, so he killed his wife and son to buy time to figure a way out.
“No one knew this man. None of those who thought they knew who he really was actually had any idea,” Walters continued relentlessly. “The depravity, the callousness, the selfishness of these crimes are stunning. The lack of remorse and the effortless way in which he is, 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,” Waters said.
The trial transcended the state borders of South Carolina and captured national attention. The public’s investment in the fall of the renowned attorney and the double murders only grew after HBO Max and Netflix released two docuseries about the story.
Murdaugh’s judicial ordeal is far from over. He still must answer to 99 charges stemming from alleged financial crimes, which amount to $8.8 million. In fact, it was the discovery of these financial crimes that caused Murdaugh’s alibi to begin to unravel three months after the murders of his wife and son. The day of the killings a company employee noticed some $800,000 in missing law firm fees. The discovery of that crime led to others, which ended with his resignation from the firm.
The day after quitting his job, Murdaugh called 911 to say that someone had shot him in the head while he was changing the tire on his car. It was soon proven that the incident was actually part of a plot hatched with a cousin of his, whom he convinced to fake his murder so that his other son, Buster – Paul’s older brother – could collect his insurance. When caught in that lie, he confessed to his years-long addiction to painkillers.
The double murder case has also put the spotlight on two other unsolved Lowcountry deaths: that of the family’s maid and nanny for more than 20 years, Gloria Satterfield, and that of a young man named Stephen Smith.
The Murdaugh family has always insisted that Satterfield died in 2018 when he tripped over dogs and fell down a staircase. An autopsy was never performed, but the victim’s family has recently authorized her exhumation in order to reopen the case. Among the clients Murdaugh defrauded were the victim’s children. Smith’s body was found dumped on a road near the estate. The police received several tips implicating Buster in the death, but chose not to pursue those leads.
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