The verdict came more than 20 months after the June 2021 fatal shootings. On the stand, the prominent South Carolina lawyer admitted to lying and stealing but tearfully denied the murders.
Alex Murdaugh, the fourth-generation lawyer whose family long exerted influence in small town South Carolina courtrooms, was convicted on Thursday of murdering his wife and son, sealing the dramatic downfall of a man who had substantial wealth and powerful connections but who lived a secret life in which he stole millions of dollars from clients and colleagues and lied to many of those closest to him.
The guilty verdict in Walterboro, S.C., followed a closely watched trial that lasted nearly six weeks, and it came more than 20 months after the June 2021 fatal shootings of Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and their younger son, Paul, 22, near the dog kennels on the family’s rural estate. The grisly crime stunned the South Carolina Lowcountry in part because of the storied history of the Murdaugh family, which controlled a regional prosecutor’s office for more than 80 years and ran a law firm for even longer.
In finding Mr. Murdaugh guilty, jurors rejected his claim that he had left the crime scene minutes before the shootings, an assertion Mr. Murdaugh made from the witness stand only after prosecutors played a video contradicting his longstanding claim to have never been there at all. The crucial, minute-long video recorded at the kennels happened to capture Mr. Murdaugh’s voice in the background. It was taken by Paul Murdaugh in one of his last living moments in an act that inadvertently helped to secure the conviction of his father.
Here’s what to know about the case:
- Prosecutors said Mr. Murdaugh killed his wife and son in a failed effort to keep his longtime embezzlement of millions of dollars from being exposed. Defense lawyers argued that the police had become so fixated on Mr. Murdaugh as a suspect that they had “fabricated” evidence and a dubious theory about his possible motive.
- The prosecution leaned on Mr. Murdaugh’s lies in its arguments to the jury — he also admitted to a string of falsehoods to his legal clients and partners as he stole from them over a course of many years — but there is little in the way of physical evidence in the case. Read about the key elements of the trial.
- Alex Murdaugh was known as a well-connected player in the clubby legal world of South Carolina. Three generations of the Murdaugh family, including Alex Murdaugh’s father, served as the top prosecutor in South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit, a largely rural region comprising five counties and 3,200 square miles.
Alex Murdaugh is the scion of a South Carolina legal dynasty.
Before the deaths of his wife and younger son, Alex Murdaugh was known as a well-connected player in the clubby legal world of South Carolina.
His prominence was largely inherited. For more than eight decades, three generations of the Murdaugh family served as the top prosecutor in South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit, a largely rural region comprising five counties and 3,200 square miles. Mr. Murdaugh’s father, Randolph Murdaugh III, held the post until 2006. Since then, the role has been filled by Duffie Stone.
Alex Murdaugh worked as a partner at a law firm that was founded by his great-grandfather more than a century ago. The firm, named P.M.P.E.D. for the initials of its partners, was one of the state’s leading tort litigation firms and a powerhouse on the state plaintiffs’ bar. Its Hampton headquarters, housed in a red-brick Colonial Revival building, is second in grandeur only to the nearby county courthouse.
In the South Carolina Lowcountry, old family names can carry significant weight. To some residents, the Murdaugh name had come to stand for a domination of the legal system so pervasive that people asked whether the family had the power to skew the trajectory of justice in its favor.
As his life unraveled in 2021, Mr. Murdaugh was accused of stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and millions more from a settlement intended for the children of his longtime housekeeper, who died after falling down stairs on the family’s property in 2018. He resigned from P.M.P.E.D. in 2021 — the firm has since changed its name — and last month, a state grand jury indicted Mr. Murdaugh on nine counts of tax evasion.
In a television appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” shortly after the murders, Mr. Murdaugh’s brother, Randy Murdaugh, said that too much attention had been paid to the family’s connections as opposed to their losses.
“You see words like ‘dynasty’ used, and ‘power,’ and I don’t know exactly how people use those words,” he said. “But we’re just regular people, and we’re hurting just like they would be hurting if this had happened to them.”
The regional prosecutor, Mr. Stone, recused himself from the double-homicide case in August 2021; it has since been taken up by the State Attorney General’s office. The former regional prosecutor, Randolph Murdaugh III, died of natural causes just days after his grandson and daughter-in-law were found dead.
The timeline of the investigation stretches back years before the killings.
The criminal case against Alex Murdaugh, the former lawyer accused of killing his wife and son, is part of a web of accusations, investigations and lawsuits that have accompanied the downfall of a member of one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal dynasties.
Mr. Murdaugh was for years a well-known lawyer specializing in civil litigation. His family law firm, based in the tiny town of Hampton, was considered a powerhouse on the state plaintiffs bar, and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all served as the top prosecutors across a wide region of the state.
Here is a timeline of the major events related to the case:
July 8, 2015: The body of Stephen Smith, 19, was found on Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, S.C. His death was ruled a hit and run, but his family had lingering questions.
Feb. 26, 2018: Gloria Satterfield, 57, who worked as a housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family for about a quarter-century, died about two weeks after she was reported to have fallen on the front stairs of the family’s hunting property.
Feb. 24, 2019: Alex Murdaugh’s younger son, Paul, who was then 19, drunkenly crashed the family boat into a bridge, witnesses said, throwing several of his passengers into the water. The body of one passenger, Mallory Beach, 19, was found a week later. Ms. Beach’s parents would later sue Alex Murdaugh, bringing pressure on him to reveal details of his finances.
April 18, 2019: Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts in connection with the deadly boat crash. He later pleaded not guilty.
June 7, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh called 911 to report that his wife, Maggie, and son Paul had been shot at the family’s hunting property in Islandton, a rural hamlet about 65 miles west of Charleston.
June 22, 2021: State officials announced that they were reopening investigations into the death of Mr. Smith, the teenager who died in 2015, based on information gathered during investigations into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
Aug. 11, 2021: Duffie Stone, the region’s top prosecutor since 2006, recused himself from the June 7 murder case in a letter to the state attorney general, Alan Wilson, whose office is now prosecuting the case. Mr. Stone knew Mr. Murdaugh and had worked under his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, who preceded Mr. Stone as the prosecutor for South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit.
Sept. 3, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was forced to resign from his family law firm after his partners said that he had misused millions of dollars of client and firm money.
Sept. 4, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh called 911 from the side of a road not far from his home and said that he had been shot in the head. He claimed that the shooter had pulled up beside him as he was inspecting a flat tire. Mr. Murdaugh survived with a head wound.
Sept. 6, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh released a statement through his lawyers, saying he had made decisions he regretted and was entering a “rehab” program.
Sept. 14, 2021: The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Mr. Murdaugh had admitted that he asked a former client, Curtis Edward Smith, to shoot and kill him on Sept. 4 so that Mr. Murdaugh’s surviving son, Richard, who is known as Buster, could collect a $10 million insurance payment.
Sept. 15, 2021: South Carolina law enforcement officials announced an investigation into the death of Ms. Satterfield, the housekeeper who died in 2018, and her family members filed a lawsuit against Mr. Murdaugh and others alleging they pocketed settlement funds related to her death.
Sept. 16, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was arrested and charged with fraud and conspiracy in the suicide scheme. His lawyers said that Mr. Murdaugh was depressed by the loss of his family and struggling to stop abusing painkillers when he devised the plan, and that he would check into rehab. A judge released Mr. Murdaugh but ordered him to surrender his passport.
Oct. 14, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was arrested at a Florida drug detoxification center and charged with swindling millions of dollars from the sons of Ms. Satterfield. He was jailed in Richland County, S.C., and twice denied bond.
Dec. 13, 2021: During a hearing, at which a judge set his bond at $7 million, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer said that his client had agreed to pay $4.3 million to Ms. Satterfield’s family. He remained in jail.
June 3, 2022: The police said that they planned to exhume Ms. Satterfield’s body, having received permission from her family.
June 28, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh and Mr. Smith were indicted by the state’s grand jury on two conspiracy counts, including a narcotics count related to the painkiller Oxycodone.
July 14, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh was indicted on two counts of murder. Prosecutors said he fatally shot his wife with a rifle and his son with a shotgun.
July 20, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty at a bond hearing, and his lawyers said he wanted to go to trial as soon as possible.
Dec. 16, 2022: A state grand jury indicted Mr. Murdaugh on nine counts of tax evasion, and prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office said he had defrauded a range of people of about $8.8 million.
Jan. 23, 2023: Mr. Murdaugh’s trial on the homicide charges began with jury selection.