US lawyer Alex Murdaugh found guilty of killing wife, son: The case that rocked America


A nearly six week-long trial came to a dramatic close on Thursday when a jury found prominent United States lawyer Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son — in a case that captivated and baffled Americans and others the world over.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Alex Murdaugh (54), guilty of two counts of murder — of his wife Maggie (52), and their younger son, Paul (22) — and now awaits his sentencing. He faces 30 years to life in prison without parole for each murder charge.

Murdaugh, who stood stony-faced while hearing the verdict, had pleaded not guilty to killing his wife and youngest son. Prosecutors, however, had argued that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to hide his secret life in which he stole millions of dollars from clients and colleagues and lied to many of those closest to him.

The case sparked interest around the world and also inspired the popular docuseries on Netflix called Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.

As the trial caps months of drama, here is the background and facts of the case.

Who is Alex Murdaugh?

At the centre of this entire drama is 54-year-old Alex Murdaugh, whose family was among South Carolina’s wealthy and well-heeled. Three generations of Murdaugh’s family served as elected prosecutors in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region. As State newspaper in Columbia once said, ‘Before the killings, the family name was known in South Carolina for three things: power, justice and big money.’

Generations of Murdaughs, as the Washington Post reported, send thousands of people to prison and the family’s legal firm — named PMPED for its partners’ initials — won millions of dollars in civil lawsuits, mostly stemming from fatal collisions.

Alex Murdaugh with wife Maggie and son Paul. Image Courtesy: Murdaugh Facebook

Alex Murdaugh never ran for the prosecutor job, but he did serve as a volunteer prosecutor and sometimes helped his father with cases. He was officially removed from that volunteer role in September, The Island Packet newspaper reported. Murdaugh was a personal injury lawyer and won many cases.

He married Margaret ‘Maggie’ Kennedy Branstetter in 1993 and the couple had two sons — Richard Jr, known as “Buster,” in 1996, and Paul in 1999. The family lived on a sprawling property called Moselle in Islandton, about 50 miles from Charleston. Moselle included a four-bedroom home, a farm, two miles of river and dog kennels.

What happened to the Murdaughs on 7 June 2021?

On 7 June 2021 at 10.01 pm, a distraught Alex called 911 and said that he had just arrived home and found the bodies of his wife Maggie and son Paul on the ground “out at my kennel.” He sobbingly told the dispatcher “my wife and child have been shot badly”.

“I’ve been up to it now, it’s bad,” Alex Murdaugh told the dispatcher. He said that neither his wife nor his son was breathing, and he implored the emergency responders to hurry. “Are they close, ma’am?”

Once law enforcement officials arrived at the scene of the deaths, Alex told them that he found them near the dog kennels. He added that his son Paul had been getting threats because of a fatal boat accident, which had taken place in February 2019 that led to the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach, and injured several others. Paul at the time of his death was out on bail after being charged in 2019 with drunkenly crashing the boat.

Investigations into the deaths of Maggie and Paul revealed that the duo were killed around 9 pm on 7 June and a coroner’s report stated that they were both shot multiple times, albeit with separate guns.

A hose in the dog kennels at the Murdaugh Moselle property in Islandton, South Carolina. This is where prosecutors say disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh shot and killed his wife and son. AP

What investigations revealed?

After the deaths, no arrests were made, and no suspects were publicly named. However, three months later, in September, an employee at his law firm found a cheque that was to be addressed to the firm was made out to Alex. That led to more investigations and financial wrongdoing was unearthed, forcing Alex to resign.

On 4 September 2021, in the most bizarre turn of events, Alex claimed a stranger shot him while he was pulled over on the road. He was taken to a hospital, but his story soon began to fall apart. It was revealed that Alex had asked his distant cousin and friend Curtis Edward Smith to shoot him so that his older son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect on his life insurance policy. He apologised for the incident and entered rehabilitation for opioid addiction.

In July last year, Alex was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon while committing a violent crime. He insisted he was not involved in the deaths, but state prosecutors argued he shot the pair at close range with a rifle and shotgun.

The prosecution in their case argued that Alex murdered his wife and son to distract from his financial misdeeds. To prove their case, the prosecutors called on more than 60 witnesses, but were unable to find the murder weapon.

Alex Murdaugh in his testimony on the murders admitted to being at the kennels where the deaths took place. He also admitted to lying to investigators, attributing it to his opioid addiction. AP

The most significant evidence that went against Alex was a video taken by Paul at the dog kennel minutes before he died. Alex can be heard in the background. This despite Alex insisting through the trial that he wasn’t at the scene of the crime.

The lead prosecutor Creighton Waters in his closing argument said, “After an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes, and also whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him.”

Alex’s defence, however, had said that he was a loving husband and father who fell victim to sloppy law enforcement work.

In a very risky move, Alex also testified in the trial during which he acknowledged that he had indeed been at the dog kennels shortly before his wife and son were killed. He also admitted to lying to investigators because of his addiction to prescription pain-killers that made him “paranoid”. Additionally, he disclosed years of theft from clients to fund his addiction. However, he clarified that none of this meant that he was guilty of murdering his wife and son.

What next?

Alex Murdaugh now awaits his sentencing, which is due to take place on Friday. As New York Times reports the trial was a reckoning for Alex Murdaugh, who long avoided legal consequences for his stealing and lying as he led a life of privilege and wealth.

The murder trial bring an end to the dramatic case which had everything — misuse of power and murder.

With inputs from agencies

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US lawyer Alex Murdaugh found guilty of killing wife, son: The case that rocked America
US lawyer Alex Murdaugh found guilty of killing wife, son: The case that rocked America
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