South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to consecutive life terms with no chance for parole Friday in the double murder of his wife and son.
The trial, which began on Jan. 25, came to a quick conclusion, with the jury deliberating for just three hours on Thursday and issuing their verdict on the same day they heard closing arguments. Prior to the sentencing, prosecutors described Murdaugh as a “cunning manipulator who placed himself above all others, including his family,” and called for the two consecutive life sentences, the maximum allowed in the case. Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman said Murdaugh engaged in “duplicitous conduct” during the trial.
Murdaugh, 54, was accused of fatally shooting his wife, Maggie, and son Paul, who were found dead in June 2021 at the family’s hunting estate in Colleton County. The disgraced lawyer was convicted on two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the case.
“I’m innocent,” Murdaugh said in brief remarks on Friday, saying he would never hurt his wife or son.
“Where will [the lies] end?” asked Clifton. “It’s already ended for many who have heard you and concluded it’ll never end, but within your own soul you have to deal with that, and I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you, I’m sure.”
Last week, Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense, testifying that he didn't murder his wife and son in what prosecutors alleged was a botched attempt to cover up financial fraud.
Newman said the case was “particularly troubling” because Murdaugh had practiced law in front of him, and it was “especially heartbreaking to see you go in the media from being a grieving father who lost a wife and son to the person indicted and convicted of killing them.” Newman added that appeals were “absolutely” expected.
Before the trial, the Murdaugh family name had been synonymous with the legal profession in South Carolina’s Low Country. From 1920 to 2006, members of the family served as solicitors, or local prosecutors, in charge of prosecuting all criminal cases in a five-county district that locals refer to as “Murdaugh Country.” The family also founded a prominent law firm specializing in personal injury litigation. On Friday, Newman noted that Murdaugh’s family members had prosecuted people who received the death penalty for less heinous acts.
But the image of power and influence surrounding the Murdaugh clan began to unravel in February 2019, when a boat allegedly driven by Alex Murdaugh’s then-19-year-old son, Paul, crashed near Parris Island, S.C., with five passengers. One of those on board, Mallory Beach, also 19, was killed. Four of the five survivors were hospitalized, and Paul Murdaugh’s blood alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit, according to hospital records. He was later charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence and pleaded not guilty, but was killed by his father before he could stand trial.
The Beach family filed a wrongful death suit following the incident, which prosecutors say played a role in the motive for the eventual killings of Paul and Maggie. Prosecutors allege that Alex Murdaugh shot and killed Maggie, who was 52, and Paul, then 22, in a botched scheme to cover up his own financial fraud.
The Murdaugh murder investigation has led authorities to look into two other suspicious deaths in the area. In 2018, the Murdaugh’s former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died after a reported fall while at work. The Murdaugh family said she tripped over their dogs and hit her head.
According to the Satterfield family’s attorneys, Alex Murdaugh told Satterfield’s sons he was responsible for her death and pledged that he was “going to take care of the boys” by suing himself to collect on personal liability insurance. But the family said they never received any money from Murdaugh, and they filed suit against him in 2021. The New Yorker reported in January that Murdaugh stole the settlement money, which totaled more than $400,000. Following Murdaugh’s arrest, police opened a criminal probe into Satterfield’s death.
In July 2015, the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found in the middle of a rural highway in Hampton County, S.C. His death was initially ruled a hit-and-run, but following the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, police have reopened that investigation.
People interviewed in the Netflix docuseries “The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” link Alex Murdaugh’s older son, Buster, to Smith, and Buster is named in reports on the case filed by investigators with the highway patrol.