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Posted March 3, 2023 03:02 AM
A South Carolina jury has found once-prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh guilty on all counts in the deaths of his wife and son.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before convicting him on two counts of murder and two counts of using a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Murdaugh showed little emotion as the verdicts were read.
Sentencing is set for 9:30 a.m. ET on Friday.
The 54-year-old took the stand in his own defense. He was found guilty of using a rifle to kill his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and a shotgun to kill his son Paul, 22. They died on the night of June 7, 2021, at the family's sprawling Moselle hunting estate in South Carolina's Lowcountry region.
Before he was disbarred, Murdaugh was an influential attorney in South Carolina and belongs to one of the most prominent families in the state.
He faces a sentence of 30 years to life in prison for each murder conviction. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
"Justice was done today," prosecutor Creighton Waters said after the verdict. "It doesn't matter who your family is. It doesn't matter how much money you have or people think you have. It doesn't matter what you think how prominent you are. If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina."
Judge Clifton Newman described the evidence of guilt in the case against Murdaugh as "overwhelming" and denied a request from the defense to declare a mistrial.
The judge's comments concluded the six-week trial, which captivated South Carolina — and the nation. Media coverage included live broadcasts of the trial itself, true crime podcasts and a docuseries on Netflix.
Murdaugh admitted to lying about his alibi, but insisted he did not kill his wife and son.
Earlier in the day, Murdaugh's defense team made its final bid to prevent him from spending decades in prison, delivering their closing argument in the trial of the disbarred South Carolina attorney charged in the murders of his wife and son.
A defense attorney for Murdaugh sought to sow doubt about the work by police and forensics teams, saying they fell far short of preserving evidence from the crime scene. Murdaugh's lies and revisions to his alibi stemmed from paranoia induced by his opiate addiction, the defense insisted.
In response, the prosecution urged the jurors to pay attention to "common sense" and "facts," after hearing an abundance of testimony about Murdaugh's character.
Prosecutors said the once influential lawyer lied to those close to him when he stole millions of dollars from his colleagues and clients and — in an act of desperation, as his financial pressures were mounting — fooled his wife and son, too, when he killed them.
Murdaugh's defense says investigators fabricated evidence
Defense attorney Jim Griffin said law enforcement was biased against Alex Murdaugh from early on — adding that they later fabricated evidence against him. Pulling at threads of the prosecution's case, Griffin said state investigators "failed miserably in investigating this case."
Had the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, done a "competent job" of gathering evidence, Griffin said, Murdaugh would have been excluded from the list of potential suspects long ago.
"Unless we find somebody else, it's gonna be Alex," Griffin said, giving his version of investigators' thinking. Saying his client's opioid habit made him "an easy target for SLED," Griffin added. "They started fabricating evidence against Alex."
SLED took samples from Alex Murdaugh's clothes, but they never took DNA samples off Maggie and Paul's clothes, Griffin said. Once investigators seized on the idea that tests showed high-velocity blood spatter on Alex Murdaugh's T-shirt, he added, they refused to dismiss that idea and pursued it "with vengeance."
But when the state was faced with mixed results and questions over tests of Murdaugh's shirt, Griffin said, they embraced a "Mr. Clean theory," which purported that Murdaugh committed the grisly murders, quickly washed himself off with a hose and got into a golf cart "butt-naked, I guess," to drive back to the house, before leaving to visit his mother.
Griffin accused the agency of a list of failures, saying the state never explained if tests were performed on hair he said was found in Maggie's fingers. He also faulted the way Maggie's phone was secured after it was found on June 8, accusing investigators of not preventing the device from continuously pinging GPS locations — which, he said, eventually overwrote data from the night of the murders.
As for the lies Murdaugh admitted telling, Griffin said his client lied because "that's what addicts do." He added that Murdaugh had "a closet full of skeletons" that he didn't want exposed.
Prosecution says to focus on what is real
Prosecutor John Meadors — a veteran of murder trials, who emerged from retirement to join the state's case earlier this year — delivered the rebuttal closing argument. In a speech rife with dramatic flair, Meadors called on the 12 jurors to look past the lies the trial has exposed, including Murdaugh's fluctuating alibi.
All Murdaugh had done when he testified, Meadors said, was to corroborate that he is a liar.
"That's what's real," Meadors repeated as he urged the jury to focus on the facts of the case, not what he deemed the defense's efforts to undermine them. He repeatedly invoked "credibility and common sense."
Meadors also mocked the defense's theory of what happened that night. If Murdaugh didn't commit the murders, Meadors said, some unknown attacker or attackers would need to know precisely when he was leaving his wife and son at the dog kennels, and to also know that guns would be there to carry out an execution-style killing.
"Does that make any sense whatsoever?" Meadors asked.
He noted that South Carolina law doesn't require the state to prove premeditation or motive in a murder case. But, he added, he believes the motive and other elements of the case against Murdaugh are proven, adding, "Nobody else could've done it."
"Thank God for Bubba," Meadors says of Murdaugh's dog
The prosecutor recalled testimony from a friend of Paul's who said he and Paul shot his .300 Blackout rifle — which prosecutors say was used to kill Maggie — a month or two before the murders. That proves the gun, which has not been located, had recently been at Moselle, Meadors said.
"That's powerful. You can feel it like the rain," he said.
"This is an episode of Columbo, except this is real," Meadors said, adding that just like the killers in that TV detective show, Murdaugh made crucial mistakes.
Meadors concluded by citing what he called "beautiful" and "perfect" testimony that came from the victims: the video Paul took proving his father was lying, and the bullets around Maggie's body that showed the murder weapon was a family gun.