Former South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh was sentenced Friday to two consecutive life sentences after being convicted of murdering his wife and son.
Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were killed near dog kennels at the family’s home in June 2021. After listening to more than five weeks of testimony from over 75 witnesses — including Murdaugh himself — and visiting the crime scene, a jury took less than three hours Thursday to find Murdaugh, 54, guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon in the commitment of a violent crime.
Prior to sentencing, Judge Clifton Newman said he did not question the prosecution’s decision not to pursue the death penalty in this case, but reflected on the fact that Murdaugh’s family has prosecuted people who may have received the death penalty for lesser crimes.
“In the murder of your wife Maggie Murdaugh, I sentence you for a term for the rest of your natural life,” Newman said. “For the murder of Paul Murdaugh, who you probably loved so much, I sentence you to prison for murdering him, for the rest of your natural life.”
Alex Murdaugh’s defense attorneys Richard Harpootlian and Jim Griffin told reporters Friday they intend to file an appeal. The attorneys said the strongest grounds for appeal are the judge’s decision to admit evidence related to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
“And we feel strongly that if we lose in the state courts we’ll have success in federal court,” Griffin said.
Harpootlian said the alleged financial crimes evidence “stripped away” Murdaugh’s credibility. He added the evidence that Murdaugh stole and lied wasn’t about motive, but Murdaugh’s character.
“So as a result, our options were limited … He always wanted to take the stand,” he said. “But once that information was in, I mean he had to take the stand to explain the kennel video, the lie, if you will.”
Harpootlian again criticized evidence that was presented to the grand jury and the investigation done by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
“It was a comedy of error in terms of forensics on this,” he said.
When asked why Murdaugh’s son Buster did not speak during sentencing, Griffin said it would not have made a difference in Murdaugh’s sentence. Griffin said Murdaugh’s family “steadfastly” supports him.
One day after Murdaugh’s defense attorney criticized law enforcement’s investigation of the murders in his closing argument, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said his agents “worked tirelessly for the past 21 months to ensure justice was served for Maggie and Paul.”
“It is all done under constant scrutiny, constant pressure,” Mark Keel said.
Murdaugh has been charged with more than 100 other counts related to alleged crimes including money laundering, tax evasion, and drug trafficking which could carry a penalty of more than seven centuries of prison time.
“Today is not the end,” Keel said. “It’s the next step in a long road to justice for every person who has been victimized by Alex Murdaugh.”
Newman said he could imagine the “looming storm” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters described Murdaugh faced the day of the murders. He said Murdaugh’s testimony, in which Murdaugh said he was not concerned about being confronted for stealing money and an upcoming hearing in the case connected to a 2019 fatal boat crash involving Paul, was not credible or believable.
“So if you made any such arguments as a lawyer, you would lose every case,” Newman said.
When Murdaugh later said he was innocent, Newman referenced Murdaugh’s opioid addiction.
“And it might not have been you,” Newman said. “It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person.”
None of Maggie or Paul’s family members delivered a victim impact statement, but Murdaugh briefly addressed the court before he was sentenced.
“I’m innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie and I would never hurt my son ‘Pau Pau,'” Murdaugh said, referring to his son by a nickname that he used during his testimony.
Newman said it was “especially heartbreaking” for him to see Murdaugh go in the media from being a grieving father and husband to the person convicted for their murder, from lawyer to witness.
Newman said Murdaugh “engaged in such duplicitous conduct” before he was indicted, on the witness stand and in the courtroom.
“And obviously as appeals are probably expected or absolutely expected, I would not expect a confession of any kind,” Newman said.
Waters said in his closing argument Wednesday the state’s circumstantial evidence showed Murdaugh had the means, motive and opportunity to commit the crime and his lies after the killings confirmed his guilt. Waters said Murdaugh, a member of a prominent legal dynasty that ran a prosecutors office in Hampton County for more than 80 years, killed his family to prevent his alleged financial crimes from being exposed and ruining his family’s legacy and his successful law practice.
“Justice was done today,” Waters said a news conference after the verdict. “It doesn’t matter who your family is. It doesn’t matter how much money you have … If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina.”
Murdaugh repeatedly denied killing his family when he took the stand in his own defense last week, but admitted to lying to investigators about his whereabouts the night of the murders. Murdaugh initially told police he was not at the family’s dog kennels before finding the bodies there, but his voice was captured on a video taken on his son’s cellphone minutes before prosecutors believe the killings happened.
Murdaugh also admitted stealing millions from his clients and law firm as well as attempting to orchestrate his own death in what investigators called a botched life insurance fraud scheme.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh’s attorneys criticized the prosecution’s lack of direct evidence and theory of motive and argued law enforcement failed to properly investigate the case and fabricated evidence against Murdaugh.
Contributing: Michael DeWitt, Jr., Greenville News
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