Gets life

Alex Murdaugh is taken to the Colleton County Courthouse for sentencing on Friday. Joshua Boucher/The State/Pool

WALTERBORO, South Carolina — Alex Murdaugh, former South Carolina attorney and convicted murderer, was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of life in prison Friday.

Murdaugh was convicted on Thursday of the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul after a six-week trial at the Colleton County Courthouse. Jurors took less than three hours to return a unanimous guilty verdict for both slayings. He was remanded to the custody of the S.C. Department of Corrections.

In a short pre-sentencing statement at the courthouse Friday, Murdaugh maintained he had not pulled the trigger at the family’s rural estate on June 7, 2021.

“I’m innocent,” Murdaugh, 54, said. “I would never hurt my wife Maggie or my son Pau Pau,” using the nickname Murdaugh frequently used for his youngest son on the witness stand.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked Judge Clifton Newman for the maximum sentence of life in prison. Murdaugh’s defense team of Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian plan to speak later Friday, and Waters indicated no victims had wanted to speak at sentencing.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” Waters said.

The closest surviving relative of Maggie and Paul is their son and brother, Buster Murdaugh, who testified in his father’s defense and has appeared daily in the courtroom in support of his father.

“At this time, our request is for prayers and privacy,” a Murdaugh family member told The State Media Co. after sentencing.

A jury of seven men and five women took less than three hours before unanimously finding Murdaugh guilty of two murders on June 7, 2021, at the family’s rural Colleton County estate, called Moselle.

The first was the execution-style slaying of his youngest son Paul, 22, with a shotgun inside the feed room at the family’s dog kennel, followed by the gunning down of his wife, Maggie, 52, with a high-powered rifle.

The verdict was a victory for South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who was often seated at the prosecution table throughout the trial and even questioned a witness late in the case, and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, whose investigation of the slayings was often questioned and maligned by the defense. It was also a repudiation of Murdaugh himself, formerly a successful attorney and outwardly devoted family man.

As the verdict was read Thursday, Murdaugh stood stoic in the same courtroom where his father, Randolph, and his grandfather, “Buster,” brought cases as the circuit solicitor against thousands of accused criminals over the years. Murdaugh’s great-grandfather, the original Randolph Murdaugh, was solicitor from 1920 until his death in 1940.

Murdaugh’s defense team made one final move after the verdict to have Newman set aside the verdict and declare a mistrial.

Newman refused.

“The evidence of guilt is overwhelming and I deny the motion,” he said. “All the evidence pointed to one conclusion, and that is the conclusion you all reached.”

Addressing Murdaugh at Friday’s sentencing, Newman called Murdaugh’s conduct “duplicitous,” both leading up to the indictment and throughout the trial. He said Murdaugh’s story of a “normal” day leading up to the murders was “not credible, not believable,” and he was unable to convince anyone else of his story.

He said Murdaugh’s family “controlled justice in this community for over a century, a man whose grandfather’s portrait hangs at the back of the courthouse, which I had to order removed to ensure a fair trial was had by both the state and the defense,” Newman said.

“As a well-known member of the legal community, you have practiced law before me,” Newman continued. “It was especially heartbreaking for me to see you go from being a grieving father who lost a wife and son to being the person indicted and convicted of killing them.”

The case against Alex Murdaugh

For six weeks, in the 201-year-old Colleton County Courthouse, some 90 miles south of Columbia, lead prosecutor Waters successfully argued a case with one major hurdle: no direct evidence.

The state’s case against Murdaugh was almost entirely circumstantial.

Prosecutors had no evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, that would have clearly linked the defendant to the crimes and allowed the state to conclusively prove Murdaugh’s guilt. Even the weapons used to kill Paul and Maggie were missing — hidden or destroyed by Murdaugh, prosecutors contended.

To overcome that hurdle, prosecutors introduced hundreds of pieces of evidence, ranging from police interrogation videos, gunshot residue tests, car and cellphone data and — most importantly — a cellphone video taken from Paul’s phone that showed Murdaugh at the dog kennels in the minutes just before his wife and son were murdered.

Murdaugh had repeatedly told investigators that he hadn’t seen Paul or Maggie for at least an hour before they were believed to have been killed. Murdaugh’s alibi was that he was napping at home, before he drove to his ailing mother’s house in a nearby unincorporated community, Almeda, where he visited 30 to 40 minutes.

However, the digital data, along with Paul’s video, showed Murdaugh to be a liar and shredded his claim that he was not at the kennels the night of the killings, prosecutors showed.

In the end, what may have been Murdaugh’s Achilles heel was himself, and his admitted lies on the witness stand.

In testimony that was in turn tearful, defiant and litigious, the disbarred attorney denied killing his wife and son.

But in five hours of cross-examination by Waters, Murdaugh offered a stunning series of admissions.

He confessed, for the first time, to lying about his alibi and to a decade’s worth of thefts from his clients and his law firm, which he said was driven by a need to cover a $50,000-a-week addiction to prescription painkillers.

Even before he took the stand, Murdaugh’s defense team had little room to maneuver.

Newman granted the prosecution’s wish list of motions.

He allowed them to introduce a landslide of witnesses who testified about Murdaugh’s financial crimes, leading Harpootlian to protest that it was more of a “Madoff trial than a murder trial.” Bernie Madoff was imprisoned for orchestrating a $64.8 billion Ponzi scheme, the largest in history.

While not required to prove motive, Waters repeatedly accused Murdaugh of being a “family annihilator,” driven to commit a biblical act of destruction when the facade of his successful life began to crack.

Ballistics experts also matched a family gun to the weapon that killed Maggie, and the state used family’s phones and data from Murdaugh’s car to map out a minute-by-minute timeline of events, casting doubt on the defense’s improbable claim that Murdaugh missed the killings by mere minutes.

Alex Murdaugh claims innocence

Newman said he didn’t question the state’s decision not to seek the death penalty against Murdaugh, but he said many defendants who had been sentenced in the Walterboro courthouse had received death for less heinous offenses.

Newman asked Murdaugh what he meant when he said on the witness stand, “What a tangled web we weave” in reference to his previous lies.

“When I lied, I continue to lie,” he said.

“And the question is, when will it end,” Newman said, noting the jury determined “you lied throughout your testimony” and that many would say “you continued to lie in your statement to the court” at sentencing.

SLED Chief Mark Keel made a rare appearance at a press conference Friday, praising his agents for their work on the case.

“They are dedicated public servants, and for that I’m grateful,” Keel said. “They worked tirelessly to ensure justice was done for Maggie and Paul.”

As Murdaugh continues to face a slew of other charges for theft and financial crimes for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from his law partners and clients, Keel said he wanted to tell “anyone who aided or assisted Alex Murdaugh in committing any crime that justice will be served.”

Newman on Friday said he could only imagine that Paul and Maggie “visit you every night when you go to sleep, and will continue to do so.”

“I respect this court, but I am innocent,” Murdaugh said in one last act of defiance.

“It might not have been you,” Newman said in response. “It might be the monster you become when you take 50, 60 opioid pills. You become a different person.”