WALTERBORO, S.C. – Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison Friday, capping off the sordid and spectacular downfall of the scion of a once powerful Murdaugh family legal dynasty, as he continued to deny he killed his wife and son.
All pretense of innocence was stripped from Murdaugh, who stood before the judge a convicted murderer, donning for the first time a beige prison-issue jumpsuit and wrist and leg shackles.
Judge Clifton Newman excoriated the 54-year-old defendant before handing down the maximum: two double life sentences to run consecutive for the murder of Paul and Maggie.
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“You’ve engaged in such duplicitous conduct here in the courtroom, here on the witness stand and as established by the testimony,” Newman said. “This has been, perhaps, one of the most troubling cases, not just for me as a judge, for the state, for the defense team but for all of the citizens in this community.”
He described Murdaugh’s once prominent position as a “lawyer, a person from a respected family who has controlled justice in this community for over a century.”
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He added, “A person whose grandfather’s portrait hangs at the back of the courthouse that I had to have ordered removed.”
The jurist noted that over the past century the Murdaugh family had prosecuted people in this same courtroom, and many defendants received the death penalty for lesser crimes.
Murdaugh responded by defiantly insisting he did not execute his wife and son. “I respect this court, but I’m innocent I would never under any circumstances hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never under any circumstances hurt my son ‘Paw Paw,’” he proclaimed.
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Newman told Murdaugh that even if he continues to deny his guilt publicly, he’ll have to deal with the haunting crimes he’s committed in his own soul.
“I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttimes when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you. I’m sure,” the judge said.
Murdaugh used a shotgun to kill his 22-year-old Paul inside a feed room attached to the dog kennels at the family’s hunting estate, known as Moselle, and a rifle to execute Maggie, 52, June 7, 2021.
Before Newsman spoke, Waters argued that Murdaugh deserved the maximum. The prosecutor said Murdaugh often stared him down during the trial, and they had locked eyes.
“I could see the real Alex Murdaugh when he looked at me,” Waters said. “The depravity, the callousness, the selfishness of these crimes are stunning. The lack of remorse and the effortless way in which he lies.”
He told the judge that Murdaugh “should never be allowed to be among free, law-abiding citizens again.”
Newman could have imposed a minimum sentence of 30 years to up to life behind bars on each count of murder.
The disgraced patriarch’s fate was handed down one day after the jury found him guilty of two counts each of murder and possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent felony for slaughtering his family to escape accountability for his financial crimes.
After deliberating for less than three hours Thursday in the Colleton County Courthouse, the panel delivered their guilty verdict.
Jurors had endured a wearying six-week trial and testimony from 76 witnesses — for which they were paid just $20 a day. The trial — which drew global coverage — was originally supposed to last three weeks.
The jury did not pose a single question to the judge or request clarification during their speedy deliberations.
Waters told the panel that the Hampton attorney carried out the double slayings in a desperate act of self-preservation.
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The day of the killings, the chief financial officer of his former law firm confronted Murdaugh about missing fees, and he had a hearing scheduled later that week in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a deadly 2019 boat wreck.
Paul Murdaugh had crashed his father’s boat into a bridge, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach and injuring four other friends, and Murdaugh was facing a multimillion-dollar claim.
The murders, Waters argued, bought Murdaugh time, delaying an inevitable financial reckoning.
He was later charged with stealing nearly $9 million from his clients and his law firm, which was founded by his great-grandfather, who served as the top prosecutor overseeing five counties in the Lowcountry.
Three generations of the Murdaugh family controlled the office for 87 years. The reign only ended with the retirement of Murdaugh’s late father, Randolph Murdaugh III, in 2005.
Murdaugh took the stand last week and admitted he’s a drug addict, a thief and a liar – but adamantly denied killing his wife and son.
However, he could not explain away a damning and ultimately pivotal piece of evidence in the case.
He had told friends, family and investigators that he never went to Moselle’s kennels that night and was taking a nap at the main house when they were killed.
But a video recovered from Paul’s phone in 2022 placed Murdaugh at the murder scene with both victims four minutes before they were shot to death, shredding his alibi.
He claimed his oxycodone addiction made him paranoid of law enforcement, although he had an exceptionally cozy relationship with local prosecutors and the surrounding sheriffs’ offices.
The Murdaugh name wielded enormous influence, and Alex Murdaugh even served as a volunteer prosecutor who carried a badge and had blue police lights installed on his private vehicle.
Waters told jurors Murdaugh was a cunning conman who tried to deceive them when he took the stand last week.
“This is a man who made his trade on lying. He lied about the most important facts in the case and effortlessly and easily pivoted to a new lie when confronted by something he wasn’t prepared for,” Waters said.
Defense lawyers Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin repeatedly portrayed Murdaugh as a doting father and husband incapable of committing such a brutal and heinous crime.
Griffin argued in summations that investigators “failed miserably” in their probe and would have found the real killer if they had done their job properly.