() — Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced lawyer whose family dynasty had significant legal reach in parts of South Carolina’s Lowcountry for decades, faces sentencing Friday after he was found guilty of murdering his wife and their 22 year old son.
After more than a month of hearing from dozens of witnesses, the jury took less than three hours Thursday to convict Murdaugh of two counts of murder for the June 2021 crimes, as well as two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin this Friday at 9:30 a.m. in Colleton County, South Carolina. Prosecutors have indicated they will seek life in prison without the possibility of parole, sparing Murdaugh the death penalty.
“Justice has been served today,” Chief Prosecutor Creighton Waters said at a news conference Thursday night. “It doesn’t matter who your family is. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how much people think you have. It doesn’t matter… how prominent you are. If you do something wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be served in South Carolina.”
Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, were found shot to death on the family property in Islandton on June 7, 2021. Murdaugh, who took the stand in his own defense last weekmaintained that he found the bodies after returning from a brief visit to his ailing mother that night.
The defense called for a mistrial after the verdict, but Judge Clifton Newman denied it, saying the jury had sufficient time to consider the evidence and that the evidence of guilt was “overwhelming.”
With little to no direct evidence linking Murdaugh to the sceneincluding eyewitnesses, the prosecution relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, including phone and vehicle GPS systems that suggested Murdaugh’s movements on the night of the murders.
Prosecutors argued that Murdaugh’s motive was to distract and delay investigations into his growing financial problems. They focused on a story of deceit, arguing that he stole millions of dollars of his former clients and law firm and lied to cover his tracks – theft and lies that Murdaugh admitted to in court.
And prosecutors pointed to another lie that played a key role in the case: a video clip that placed Murdaugh at the scene of the crime shortly before the murders, despite his repeated claims throughout the investigation that he was not there. .
A video, recorded by Paul near the family’s kennel shortly before the moment prosecutors say they were killed, captured Alex Murdaugh’s voice in the background, nearly a dozen friends and family members testified. Murdaugh later testified that his voice was his, and that he had lied investigators about his whereabouts because he became paranoid, something he blamed on his addiction to opioid painkillers.
“In the end … it was the victim, Paul Murdaugh, who solved his own murder,” Dave Aronberg, Florida’s Palm Beach County state’s attorney, told Thursday night of the trial.
Defense attorneys maintained that Murdaugh was a loving father and husband who would not harm his family, arguing that authorities failed to adequately examine other suspects. During closing arguments, the defense scoffed at the prosecution’s theory of motive as absurd, saying she lied about his whereabouts because he was “in the midst of addiction,” not because he was guilty.
The case garnered national attention, including Netflix and HBO featured documentaries about Murdaugh, a former personal injury lawyer whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as prosecutors in a part of southern South Carolina from the 1920s until 2006.
Murdaugh was a partner in a powerful law firm that bears his name. But that prominence belied the underlying problems, and the murders of his wife and son were followed by accusations of embezzlement, his resignation, an alleged suicide-for-hire plot and insurance scam, a stint in drug rehab, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.
In a separate case that has yet to go to trial, Murdaugh faces 99 counts stemming from a series of alleged financial crimes, including defrauding his clients, the former law firm and the government of millions of dollars.
What the judge will now consider for Murdaugh’s sentencing
Legal experts told Thursday night that the judge will likely consider two main factors in deciding the sentence: the nature and seriousness of the crime, including that Murdaugh murdered his own family members.
And several experts said that the judge’s words on Thursday night could herald the sentence.
“I thought the judge, who had really been so collected and calm throughout the trial, remained calm, but he finally showed his point of view of the evidence, when he characterized it as ‘overwhelming,'” said Jessica Roth, a law professor at Cardozo Law School.
What surprised legal experts about the verdict
Some attorneys following the trial told they were not expecting a unanimous guilty verdict, especially not as quickly as it came. Murdaugh’s lies are likely what led to the snap decision, they said.
“They convicted him with a conviction,” said criminal lawyer Sara Azari. “I really thought there was going to be some fighting in this jury room. I think they couldn’t get over the lie (about the kennel video).”
Legal experts told that Murdaugh’s testimony was likely a turning point for the group and a double-edged sword. It was an opportunity for jurors to sympathize with him as he appeared to risk everything, confessing to his drug addiction and repeated lies during financial schemes and the murder investigation, experts said. But the verdict shows that jurors did not believe Murdaugh was credible, experts said.
Bill Nettles, a former federal prosecutor for South Carolina, said he expected a split jury, in other words, when jurors can’t reach a unanimous decision after lengthy deliberations.
“The only thing that can clearly be taken away from this was that he had been lying to a lot of people that he loved for a long time, so obviously he had gotten pretty good at it,” Nettles told .
“If he went in there and they believed him, then he probably would have been found not guilty. But once they decide he’s willing to take a chance and they don’t believe him, it’s a tough thing to get over,” he added.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney representing alleged victims of Murdaugh’s financial crimes, said he was also surprised by the speed of the verdict. When he heard that he had reached a verdict less than three hours after deliberations began, he suspected Murdaugh would be convicted, he said.
“I really believe that the jury recognized that this man lied to everyone,” including his clients, and that the jury concluded that he was lying to them as well, he told .
The victims that Bamberg represents felt that Thursday’s verdict was the beginning of holding Murdaugh accountable, he said.
“Everyone who has been victimized by Alex has wanted one thing: full accountability. And the full accountability started here today with this jury verdict,” he said.
— ‘s Eric Levenson, Alta Spells and Raja Razek contributed to this report.