Disgraced US lawyer Alex Murdaugh will remain in jail for the rest of his life after he was found guilty of the grisly 2021 murders of his wife and son.
It brings to a conclusion a trial that has gripped the US involving a wealthy family who were influential members of the community, immense privilege spiralling into financial misdemeanours, drug use and a deadly boat crash that saw another woman die.
During their four weeks of testimony, prosecutors argued that Murdaugh killed the pair at close range of the family’s sprawling property to cover up his extensive financial misdeeds.
On Friday morning, US time, at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina – 80km inland from Charleston – Judge Clifton Newman sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife Maggie and son Paul, known a “Paw Paw”.
Additionally, he was found guilty of two counts of possession of a weapon in the commission of a crime.
The judge said it was “one of the most troubling cases” he had ever served on.
‘Monster you became’
Murdaugh insisted to the judge he was “innocent” before the sentencing began and that he would “never hurt” his wife and son.
Judge Newman said “it might not have been you”.
“It might have been the monster that you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person.
“I have seen that before. The person standing before me was not the person who committed the crime, though it is the same individual.”
Murdaugh remained impassive as he learned he would spend the rest of life locked away.
The judge acknowledged that he would appeal the guilty finding.
Judge Newman noted that Murdaugh and his family of lawyers had long been on the other side of the bench, defending and prosecuting, and it was “heartbreaking,” to see Murdaugh “go from a grieving father who lost a wife and son to being the person indicted and convicted of killing them”.
“You have engaged in duplicitous conduct here in the courtroom, here on the witness stand, and as established by the testimony, throughout the time leading from the time of the indictment and prior to the time of the indictment to this point in time.”
Murdaugh also did not initially speak or react when the two guilty verdicts were read out on Thursday.
Sitting a few rows back, Alex’s remaining son, Buster, cradled his chin in his hands and also betrayed no apparent emotion.
Murder of son and wife
It came after a six week trial which painted two starkly different images of Murdaugh, 54 — one as a cold-blooded killer and the other as a fumbling, guilt-ridden drug addict who nevertheless loved his family, reported the New York Post.
The saga, which garnered international attention, started on June 7, 2021, when Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and her son Paul, 22, were shot dead by the kennels at the family’s hunting lodge.
The devastating evidence presented by the state included unnerving bodycam footage of Murdaugh standing just feet away from his relatives’ bullet-ridden bodies.
Within moments of the police arriving on the estate, Murdaugh can be heard trying to blame the shooting on the threats Paul had been receiving following a drunken 2019 boat crash that killed his friend Mallory Beach – a claim he later repeated on the stand.
Based on an audiotape of an interview from three days after the murders, lead prosecutor Creighton Watters also told the jury that Murdaugh sobbed “I did him so bad!” when shown images of his son’s mangled body.
Evidence suggests that Paul was shot twice with a shotgun, once at close enough range to completely detach his brain from his head, a forensic expert said.
A defence witness, Murdaugh’s former law partner, later testified that he found a piece of the troubled son’s skol “the size of a baseball” at the scene.
While the defence team refuted the state’s claims about the tearful quasi-confession, Murdaugh himself admitted on the stand that he lied to investigators about his whereabouts on the night of the murders.
Though he initially maintained that he was visiting his mother, who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease, at the time of the killings, Murdaugh testified that he was the voice captured by Paul in a Snapchat video at 8.45pm – just five minutes before experts believe the young man and his mother were gunned down.
Murdaugh maintained, however, that he subsequently visited his mother, and only found his
He frequently sobbed on the stand, and blamed his pattern of deceit on a years-long drug addiction, the same struggle that allegedly drove him to pilfer funds from clients and defraud his family’s law firm.
Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, stood by his emotional father during the trial. The red-headed 26-year-old testified for the defence last month that Murdaugh was “destroyed” and “heartbroken” by Maggie and Paul’s deaths.
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