“It just escalates. It escalates.” Alex Murdaugh commented on his addiction to oxycodone during the trial. This quote pretty much encapsulates his family and their actions in South Carolina as of late. Viewers from across the United States have been watching the Murdaugh trial unfold before their eyes over the past year. Every time it seems like something could not get worse, it does. In the South, this trial and the events leading up to it have been one of the biggest headlines ever. The situation surrounding the Murdaugh family is a complex one that requires some backstory before diving into the current verdict and possible future implications.
Background on Alex Murdaugh:
Who is Alex Murdaugh? He is the son of Randolph Murdaugh, a former Solicitor of the 14th Judicial Circuit Court in low-country South Carolina. Before his father, the Murdaugh men acted as Solicitors in their home county for generations. Born in Hampton County, South Carolina, Murdaugh attended the University of South Carolina for his Bachelor's degree and, subsequently, his Law degree. After school, he joined Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), his family’s law firm, where he specialized in personal injury law.
Overview of the situation:
Since 2015, Murdaugh and his family have been involved in several scandals. In June of 2021, Murdaugh's wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and their son, Paul Murdaugh, were found dead at their family home in Colleton County, South Carolina. Alex Murdaugh was the one who discovered their bodies and called 911.
Not long after the deaths of his wife and son, Murdaugh resigned from his law firm, PMPED, and claimed to have entered rehab for substance abuse. In September 2021, he was found shot while changing a tire. Murdaugh was quickly brought to the hospital and recovered from the “superficial” wound. Many thought it was the murderer coming to finish the job done on his wife and kid. Nonetheless, Murdaugh was eventually accused of conspiring to stage his own shooting. All of this was an attempt at collecting a $10 million life insurance policy he had out on himself and his family. After this came to light, Murdaugh was “charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, filing a false police report,” and more financial-related crimes in connection to his staged shooting. On top of these charges, Murdaugh’s law firm accused him of embezzling millions of dollars and abusing settlements from the estate of his late housekeeper.
The Murdaugh Family Murders:
This brings us to the Murdaugh family murders. With Maggie and Paul Murdaugh dead, all of South Carolina and surrounding states were watching intently to see what would happen. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) took over the Murdaugh case shortly after the shooting, as the local authorities were not properly equipped to deal with this big of a case. Because authorities had reason to believe Murdaugh was embezzling and had tampered with prior investigations, it only took a short time before suspicion turned to him.
On top of the deaths of Maggie and Paul, in June of 2021, SLED reopened the case of Stephen Smith’s death –a nineteen-year-old who supposedly died in a hit-and-run in 2015– as Smith’s mother alleged the Murdaugh’s involvement in her son’s death.
There are many theories as to why Alex Murdaugh may have played a role in the death of Smith, as well as his wife and son’s murder. One theory suggests that he may have had financial troubles and thus hoped to gain access to insurance policies or settlements. The family was supposedly in debt, so this is not horribly out of the realm of possibility. Another theory suggests Murdaugh committed these crimes in hopes of protecting his family’s reputation. Because of the long legacy of the Murdaugh family, it seems possible that Murdaugh was willing to turn to dramatic measures to protect what control they had left.
On top of motive, his legal knowledge and resources gave him the skills necessary to commit the murders and get away with them. Murdaugh also had access to various firearms, some of which are the same type reported to be used in the murders of his family. The cherry on top is Murdaugh’s history of drug and alcohol abuse, which very easily could have impaired his judgment, making him prone to impulsive and violent decisions.
The Alex Murdaugh Trials:
The list of evidence against Murdaugh is long. Beginning with his financial troubles and ending with the fact that the family owned the same firearms used in the murders. Murdaugh’s former law firm has stated that he was embezzling from them and misusing funds from the estate of a former client. Both Maggie and Paul had large life insurance policies in place at the time of their deaths. This could have furthered his financial motives for killing both family members. SLED found that there is significant evidence that Murdaugh was in the vicinity of the house when Maggie and Paul were killed. On top of this evidence, a source told The Island Packet –a southern newspaper in Beaufort County, South Carolina– that the weapon used in the killings was a shotgun owned by the Murdaugh family. Initially, the evidence and case against Murdaugh were entirely circumstantial.
Summary of the Trial:
In early September 2021, Alex Murdaugh, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, after he arranged for acquaintance Curtis Edward Smith to kill him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh was granted bond under the condition that he receives drug and alcohol testing, location monitoring, and surrender his passport to authorities.
In October of the same year, Murdaugh was arrested again after being released from a drug rehabilitation center in Florida. This time, the court refused bond.
In November 2021, Murdaugh’s financial crimes-related charges reached 27.
In July of 2022, Murdaugh was officially disbarred by the Supreme Court and later charged in connection to the murders of his wife and son.
By the end of 2022, Murdaugh charged with over 100 financial-related charges.
Starting in January of 2023, the murder trial began. The prosecution claimed to have ballistics, cell phone data, and other evidence on their side, while Murdaugh continued to tout that he is a good father and husband and would never hurt his family. Both Maggie and Paul’s phones gave damning evidence against Murdaugh.
In early February, the courtroom had to be evacuated due to a bomb threat.
In week three of the trial, the Defense brought out an expert –forensic engineer Mike Sutton– claiming Maggie and Paul were likely killed by someone around five-foot-three. While Murdaugh is six-foot-four. Murdaugh then takes the stand in his own defense, where he admits to lying to authorities about where he last saw Paul and Maggie alive. It was no surprise to many North and South Carolina residents that Murdaugh took the stand with a certain level of theatrics, as the Murdaugh lawyers are known for their dramatic statements in court.
On March 3rd, 2023, the jury found Murdaugh guilty of the murder of his wife and son. The judge, Judge Clifton Newman, later sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life in prison sentences.
Implications for the Murdaugh Family and the Community:
What does this mean for the rest of the Murdaughs? The charges have had devastating impacts on the Murdaugh legacy and family in general. The family now faces the loss of their credibility and their reputation, as the public in South Carolina are suspicious of their motives. The Murdaugh family legacy no longer holds the same weight it did three years ago and will probably never recover.
What does this decision mean for the community? There is general shock and disbelief felt by most in the surrounding areas of South Carolina (SC). Known as a relatively peaceful community, many low-country SC residents have now lost confidence in the criminal justice system. Because of the extent that the Murdaugh family was involved in low country politics and the judicial systems, many are now questioning what was real and what was the family warping reality to fit their preferred narrative.
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