Alex Murdaugh's Murder Conviction Explained

On the evening of March 2, 2023, less than three hours after a Colleton County, South Carolina jury began deliberating, the seven men and five women returned a verdict in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, a disgraced lawyer and member of a prominent political family that held sway over this rural area. Murdaugh stood to hear the words "guilty" four times — two for first-degree murder and two for related gun charges (per CNBC). He swayed slightly, swallowed heavily, his eyes fluttering, his brow knitted, but showed no other emotion as the clerk read the jury's decision following a six-week trial that gripped the United States.

Murdaugh, 54, shot his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22, in June 2021 using a shotgun and rifle. He left their bodies on the family's isolated hunting property in Islandton, South Carolina, near their dog kennels, according to police (via The New York Times). The motive, prosecutors said, was so Murdaugh could gain pity and distract from his stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and his clients.

Murdaugh took the stand 

During the trial, Alex Murdaugh took the stand and admitted his malfeasance, which he blamed on opioid addiction, but strongly denied any involvement in his family's deaths (via NPR). Before giving testimony, Murdaugh had denied even being at the kennels on the day of the murders. But in the face of a video contradicting this that the prosecution played in court, he admitted he had briefly been there that day. The police recovered the damning evidence from Paul's cellphone.

On the stand, Murdaugh changed his original story and told the jury that he had in fact been at the kennels for a few minutes before taking a brief nap and then driving over to his mother's house. An hour later, Murdaugh said, he came back to find his wife and son murdered (per The New York Times). "I lied about being down there. And I'm so sorry that I did," he said from the stand, per NPR. During his testimony, Murdaugh appeared to weep, continually removing his glasses to wipe his eyes. At least one juror, Craig Moyer, didn't believe Murdaugh was being sincere. "I didn't see any true remorse or any compassion," Moyer told "Good Morning America." "He never cried. All he did was blow snot."

Alex Murdaugh's testimony might have backfired 

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson believed Alex Murdaugh taking the stand in a vain attempt to sway the jury backfired. "Alex had made a very successful career of giving closing arguments to juries and winning major cases, and making a lot of money," he told NBC News. "This was his closing argument to the jury. ... He believed he could talk his way out of this. At the end of the day, I think it's what sealed it for him."

When the jury first began deliberating, it already appeared they would convict Murdaugh. "It was two not guilty and one not sure and nine guilty," juror Craig Moyer, one of the nine who was for convicting Murdaugh from the get-go, told "Good Morning America." "About 45 minutes later, after all our deliberating, we figured it out." Besides the two counts of first-degree murder, the jury convicted Murdaugh of two counts of possession of a weapon during a violent crime (per CNBC).

A long sentence 

On March 3, 2023, before Judge Clifton Newman handed down his sentence against Alex Murdaugh, the defendant made a brief statement. "Good morning, your honor. I am innocent," Murdaugh said, according to NPR. "I would never hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never hurt my son, Paw-Paw [his nickname for Paul]. Thank you." Prosector Creighton Waters asked the judge to sentence the defendant to life in prison without parole. "The depravity, the callousness, the selfishness of these crimes are stunning," Waters said.

The judge pointed out that the state didn't ask for the death penalty, a sharp contrast to the many prosecutions by the Murdaugh family over the years that led to the death penalty for defendants for less serious crimes. Successive generations of the Murdaugh family controlled the local prosecutor's office, determining who would face justice and who wouldn't. "In the murder of your wife Maggie Murdaugh, I sentence you for a term for the rest of your natural life," Newman said, per USA Today. "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." The judge strongly urged Murdaugh to confess his crimes, but the defendant refused. "I respect this court, but I'm innocent," Murdaugh told the judge, according to NPR.

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