Alex Murdaugh found guilty in high-profile US murder trial

The judge presiding over the South Carolina murder trial said the evidence against the ex-lawyer is ‘overwhelming’.

Alex Murdaugh sits between his defense lawyers
Alex Murdaugh faces a prison sentence of 30 years to life for the murders of his wife and younger child [Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool]

Alex Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of a longstanding legal dynasty in South Carolina, has been found guilty of the murders of his wife and younger son, after a jury in the United States deliberated for less than three hours.

In the wake of the verdict, Murdaugh’s defence team swiftly moved to have the proceedings declared a mistrial. But Judge Clifton Newman rejected the appeal.

“The evidence of guilt is overwhelming,” Newman told the court.

The highly-anticipated verdict brings to a close six weeks of testimony and evidence, as prosecutors sought to link the former lawyer to the shooting deaths of his wife Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and his 22-year-old son Paul Murdaugh. He now faces between 30 years to life in prison.

Alex Murdaugh places his hands together to get handcuffed
Alex Murdaugh is handcuffed at South Carolina’s Colleton County Courthouse after the guilty verdict is read [Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool]

Alex Murdaugh’s defence team presented its closing arguments ahead of the jury deliberation on Thursday, with lawyer Jim Griffin pointing to what he considered serious flaws in the murder investigation.

Griffin argued that investigators and prosecutors jumped to conclusions about Murdaugh, zeroing in on him as a suspect without properly collecting evidence or considering alternative theories.

The defence alleged that investigators failed to collect fingerprint and blood evidence while discarding key materials like the victims’ clothes and the fabric sheet used to cover the bodies, which could have carried DNA pointing to other suspects.

Griffin also noted there was no DNA evidence linking Murdaugh to the crime scene. The murder weapons were also not recovered.

“How could he have butchered Maggie and Paul without leaving a trace of evidence within a matter of minutes?” Griffin said. Given the amount of blood splatter from the shootings and the short window of time Murdaugh would have had to act, Griffin argued there was no way his client could have pulled off the crime.

“He had 17 minutes. He would have to be a magician to make all that evidence disappear,” Griffin said.

Lawyer Jim Griffin stands at a courtroom podium, with one hand raised
Defence lawyer Jim Griffin argued that no DNA evidence linked Alex Murdaugh to the crime scene [Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool]

But the prosecution ultimately delivered the final remarks to the jury, arguing in its rebuttal that the 12-member panel did not have to solve every mystery in the Murdaugh case to know he was guilty.

“You can’t answer every question and the law doesn’t require it,” lawyer John Meadors told the jury.

Meadors also denounced the defence’s strategy of criticising the law enforcement investigation. He implied it was hypocritical for the defendant to do so, highlighting inconsistencies in Murdaugh’s testimony as evidence he was “obstructing justice”.

Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot to death outside the dog kennels on their vast rural property in an isolated part of Colleton County, South Carolina, on June 7, 2021. Alex Murdaugh called emergency services at 10:07pm that night, claiming to have found the bodies.

Four to five rifle shots were identified on Maggie Murdaugh’s body. Paul Murdaugh, meanwhile, had been killed by two blasts from a shotgun, each with a different-sized bullet.

Throughout the proceedings, Alex Murdaugh has denied any involvement in the double murder, saying he was on a visit to his ailing mother, who has dementia, at the time of the deaths.

Judge Clifton Newman sits in front of a microphone and a monitor, looking out over the courtroom
Judge Clifton Newman rejected a defence motion to declare a mistrial in the case against Alex Murdaugh [Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool]

Initially, Murdaugh also claimed to be nowhere near the dog kennels in the lead-up to his 911 call.

But a key piece of prosecution evidence placed him in the vicinity. After a year of attempts, investigators had managed to unlock Paul Murdaugh’s iPhone, which contained a video taken near the kennels on the night of the attack. The elder Murdaugh’s voice can be heard on the recording.

Formerly a personal injury lawyer before being disbarred last July, Alex Murdaugh belongs to a powerful legal family in South Carolina. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all elected solicitors to the state’s 14th Circuit Court, putting them in charge of pursuing and prosecuting criminal cases in five South Carolina counties.

In addition to Thursday’s murder trial, Murdaugh continues to face more than 100 charges for crimes including numerous financial misdeeds. He is accused, for instance, of stealing $7m from his family’s law firm and taking money from his clients’ legal settlements, to the tune of $8.8m.

Murdaugh also suffered from opioid addiction. He was arrested in October 2021 outside a Florida rehabilitation facility, though the murder charges would come months later, in July 2022 — more than a year after the shootings took place.

Thursday’s trial — and other alleged crimes linked to the Murdaugh family — have been the subject of documentary TV series on HBO and Netflix.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies