Why was Alex Murdaugh convicted of murder? Here’s what defence and prosecution argued over six weeks of trial
During the six weeks of Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial, jurors heard hours upon hours of gruesome testimony about how his wife Maggie and son Paul were gunned down at the dog kennels of the family’s sprawling 1,700-acre Moselle estate.
Two different guns were used in the 7 June 2021 attack – neither of which have ever been found.
Paul was ambushed by his attacker as he stood in the feed room of the kennels, being shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.
The first shot struck his chest, while a second fatal shot tore through his shoulder, neck and head, blowing his entire brain out of his skull.
Just yards away from Paul, Maggie was shot five times with a .300 Blackout semiautomatic rifle, as she tried to flee her killer.
On 2 March, Murdaugh was found guilty of the murders after jurors deliberated for less than three hours.
Here’s how the prosecution and the defence argued the case:
Prosecutors alleged that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from his string of alleged financial crimes – at a time when his multi-million-dollar fraud scheme was on the brink of being exposed.
On the day of the murders, jurors heard testimony of how he was confronted by his law firm CFO about missing payments – payments that he had stolen from the firm and its clients.
Three days after the murders, a hearing had also been scheduled for the lawsuit over the 2019 fatal boat crash.
Paul was allegedly drunk driving the family boat when it crashed, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
While Paul was facing felony charges over the incident, Murdaugh was being sued by the Beach family and their attorney had filed a motion to compel to gain access to his finances.
After the murders, Murdaugh’s multi-million-dollar financial fraud scheme came to light revealing that he had stolen millions of dollars from his law firm PMPED and its clients. He is now charged separately with more than 100 counts over this scheme.
Over four weeks and 61 witnesses, prosecutors laid out this alleged motive for the murders – showcasing Murdaugh’s financial crimes as well as the bizarre September 2021 botched hitman plot.
On 4 September 2021 – one day after he was ousted by his law firm for stealing funds – Murdaugh was shot in the head by the side of a road in Hampton County.
Initially, he claimed he was the victim of a drive-by shooting – with jurors being shown a police sketch of an imaginary man he claimed ambushed him.
Days later, he confessed that he had orchestrated the plot claiming he had asked his alleged drug dealer and distant cousin Curtis Eddie Smith to shoot him in the head so his surviving son Buster would get a $12m life insurance windfall.
Prosecutors claimed the roadside shooting is part of a pattern – beginning with the murders – whereby Murdaugh made himself a victim of a crime when his lies and schemes were about to come out.
Beyond Murdaugh’s other crimes, the state presented jurors with a trove of circumstantial evidence tying him to the murders.
This included cellphone data showing the movements of Maggie, Paul and Murdaugh that night as well as car data which picked holes in Murdaugh’s alibi.
A Snapchat video taken by Paul also revealed Murdaugh wearing a different outfit just one hour before the murders to the clothes he was seen wearing in bodycam footage when the first officer arrived on the scene.
Prosecutors claimed he changed his bloody clothes after the killings, also casting doubts on the lack of blood on the accused killer when he claims he touched the victims’ bodies.
There was also a blue raincoat found in his parents’ home and covered in gunshot residue which the state claimed Murdaugh used to move and hide the firearms used in the slayings.
But perhaps most central to the case was a damning cellphone video taken by Paul at the kennels minutes before he was murdered.
The video, taken at 8.44pm, captures three voices off-camera – Paul, Maggie and Murdaugh.
Multiple witnesses told the court that the voice was “100 per cent” that of Murdaugh’s.
Less than five minutes later – at around 8.50pm – prosecutors say that Maggie and Paul were dead. Both victims last used their cellphones at 8.49pm, data shows.
For the 20 months between the murders and the trial, the 54-year-old denied ever being at the dog kennels with his wife and son that night.
He claimed he stayed at the family home, fell asleep on the couch and then drove to his mother’s home when he woke.
When he returned, he claimed he drove to the kennels to find Maggie and Paul and discovered their bodies.
During a dramatic two days in court, Murdaugh took the stand in his own defence and confessed for the first time to lying about his alibi on the night of the murders.
In a bombshell moment, he admitted that he did go to the kennels that night – saying he was “paranoid” in part because of a distrust of SLED and because he was encouraged by his lawyer friends not to speak without an attorney present.
But, during a dramatic cross-examination, prosecutor Creighton Waters appeared to catch him in another lie. He revealed evidence that Murdaugh had lied about his alibi from the moment that the first officer arrived on the scene, appearing to pour cold water on the reason the accused killer gave for lying.
Murdaugh also confessed to the financial crimes and to the botched hitman plot – but insisted that he is innocent of his wife and son’s murders.
Throughout the defence’s case, his legal team sought to paint Murdaugh as a flawed character and an opioid addict – but one who loved his family and so could never have carried out the murders.
Among the 14 witnesses called to try to convince jurors of his innocence was Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster, who said that his father had been “destroyed” and “heartbroken” by his mother and brother’s murders.
The 26-year-old, who has never spoken out before now, was echoed by Murdaugh’s brother John Marvin – the defence’s final, and perhaps most powerful, witness.
John Marvin broke down in tears as he revealed how SLED failed to clean up the crime scene and left evidence – including parts of Paul’s body – behind when they handed the scene back to the family just hours after the killings.
He told the court that he cleaned up “what was left” of his nephew including “blood, brain matter and skull fragments”.
The defence also painted a picture of a flawed investigation by law enforcement.
This included a statement released by law enforcement saying there was no danger to the public and blood spatter evidence which later turned out to be inaccurate.
As well as picking holes in the prosecution’s case, the defence’s expert witnesses disputed the state’s version of events of the murders – suggesting that two shooters may have carried out the attack and that Paul was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head.
These theories were then rubbished by the state in its rebuttal case.
The jury was sent out to deliberate on the afternoon of 2 March, and came back within less than three hours with a guilty verdict.
Murdaugh froze as the verdict was read out in court, threatening the possibility of life in prison at his 3 March sentencing.
But this is far from his only legal trouble – as he awaits trial over the roadside shooting and his financial fraud scheme.
Beyond the murders, the case also brought to light a series of unexplained deaths surrounding Murdaugh.
Days on from the murders, an investigation was reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County.
The openly gay teenager, 19, had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.
An investigation was also reopened into another mystery death connected to the Murdaugh family – that of the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.
She died in 2018 in a mystery trip and fall accident at the family home. Murdaugh then allegedly stole around $4m in a wrongful death settlement from her sons.