Alex Murdaugh, 54, the once powerful scion of a South Carolina legal dynasty, is on trial for the slayings of his wife and son.
Prosecutors say Alex gunned down 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and their troubled 22-year-old son, Paul, on June 7, 2021.
The Murdaughs, a prominent Democratic family, wielded enormous judicial and political power for nearly a century.
But the family’s dominance began to wane after Paul was criminally charged for a deadly 2019 boat wreck that triggered a series of lawsuits and threatened to expose his father’s financial schemes.
The accident set in motion a spiral of destruction that has stained the family’s legacy.
January 2006 — Randolph Murdaugh III steps down as prosecutor
His departure from office marked the end of the Democratic family’s 87-year reign as the top prosecutor overseeing five counties.
The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office is the chief prosecuting agency for Colleton, Hampton, Allendale, Beaufort and Jasper counties.
Randolph remained an employee in the solicitor’s office, and Alex joined him as a volunteer prosecutor while remaining a partner at the once prestigious personal injury law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.
It was founded in 1910 by Randolph Murdaugh – the first member of the family to be elected solicitor in 1920.
The firm changed its name to the Parker Law Group after Alex’s legal and criminal entanglements destroyed the Murdaugh name.
Alex’s brother, Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV, remains a partner.
July 8, 2015 — Death of Stephen Smith
Stephen Smith, a former high school classmate of Alex’s eldest son, Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in the middle of a country road in Hampton, South Carolina. The 19-year-old’s car was three miles away and out of gas.
An autopsy concluded that Smith died from blunt force trauma caused by a hit-and-run — but his mother, Sandy Smith, believes he was murdered.
Highway Patrol investigators disagreed with the autopsy’s determination and pursued several leads — including rumors that Buster was having a secret affair with Smith, and the Murdaugh family may have been behind the killing. But the case remains unsolved.
SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) announced in 2021 a fresh probe into Smith’s mysterious demise based on evidence gathered during the investigation into Maggie and Paul’s murders.
The agency did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence that led to their decision to reopen the case.
Feb. 26, 2018 — Death of the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper
The family’s longtime nanny and housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died after falling down a set of stairs at the Moselle home.
Nearly 10 months later, her family filed a wrongful death claim at the urging of Alex. An attorney representing Satterfield’s sons later learned that insurance policies had paid out more than $4 million, which Alex and his cronies had allegedly pocketed.
In October 2021, Alex was arrested at a Florida drug rehab center and charged with embezzling millions from her sons. He has remained in jail since.
He agreed to pay back the stolen $4.3 million in a confession of judgment. SLED later announced an investigation into Satterfield’s death and plans to exhume her body.
Feb. 24, 2019 — Deadly boat crash
A turning point for the Murdaugh family came in February 2019 when Paul, then 19, drunkenly crashed his father’s boat into the Archer’s Creek Bridge in Beaufort, killing Mallory Beach, 19, and injuring four other friends.
Paul had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.
Before the collision, his friends said he had morphed into his drunk alter ego “Timmy,” becoming belligerent, stripping off his clothes and slapping his girlfriend.
Beach’s estate and other passengers filed wrongful death lawsuits naming Alex, Maggie, Buster and the convenience store chain that sold Paul, then underage, alcohol using his brother’s ID.
Two months later, Paul was indicted on one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence and causing great bodily harm.
He was murdered before the case went to trial.
June 7, 2021 — The double murder
Alex, hysterical and sobbing, called 911 shortly after 10 p.m. to report that he found Paul and Maggie shot to death near the dog kennels on the family’s sprawling 1,700 acres hunting estate in Islandton, South Carolina.
“I need the police and an ambulance immediately,” he told the dispatcher. “My wife and child have been shot badly.” The first round struck Paul’s chest, the second entered his left shoulder, traveling into his neck and brain, which was severed from his body.
Maggie was lying facedown in the mud about 30 feet away. She had been shot with a rifle at least four times — once execution-style in the back of the head.
The property at 4147 Moselle Road straddles Colleton and Hampton counties and served as Alex’s primary residence.
In Alex’s first statement to a deputy on the scene, he suggested that the boat crash litigation was behind the grisly killings.
“This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck. He’s been getting threats,” Alex can be heard saying in body camera footage to Sgt. Daniel Greene. “I know that’s what it is.”
SLED immediately took over the investigation.
Sept. 4, 2021 — Alex claims he is ambushed, shot in the head
Alex called 911 and reported that he was shot in the head while changing a tire on Old Salkehatchie Road by a gunman in a passing truck — not far from the Moselle crime scene.
Soon after, Alex issued statements announcing that was leaving the family practice and entering rehab for a longstanding opioid addiction.
Alex was actually pushed out of the law firm the day before the shooting after he was accused of stealing millions from the firm and clients’ settlements.
Jim Griffin, Alex’s lawyer, said his client sustained a skull fracture and hemorrhaging from the shooting, but SLED described the wound as “superficial.”
Alex soon admitted that he hired former client Curtis Edward Smith, known as “Cousin Eddie,” to kill him so his surviving son, Buster, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
He and Smith were indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges for the murder-suicide scheme.
In June 2022, he and Smith were hit with new felony charges — including one for the distribution and purchase of the narcotic oxycodone.
The South Carolina Supreme Court yanked Alex’s law license over his “egregious ethical misconduct” – a decision he didn’t contest.
July to December 2022 — Alex charged with his wife and son’s murder and other crimes
On July 14, Alex was indicted on two counts of murder for the slayings of Paul and Maggie. He pleaded not guilty and continued to have the support of his son, Buster, his sister, Lynne Murdaugh Goette, and his brothers, John Marvin and Randy Murdaugh.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is prosecuting the case.
About six months after the murder charges, a state grand jury indicted Alex on nine counts of tax evasion for failing to report $6,954,639 of illegally earned income between 2011 and 2019, for which he owes $486,819 in taxes.
The latest counts are modest additions to the 90 state financial crimes charges he already faced spanning 18 indictments for schemes to defraud victims of $9,789.447.
Jan. 23, 2022 — Alex’s murder trial begins
It took two days to select a jury of eight women and four men for the murder trial in the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.
Judge Clifton Newman is presiding over what has been called the most anticipated trial in the state’s history.
A portrait of Alex’s late grandfather, 14th Circuit Solicitor Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., was removed from the courtroom for the proceeding.
On Jan. 25, prosecutor Creighton Waters gave his opening statement and revealed publicly for the first time that investigators recovered a blue raincoat coated with gun residue that Alex allegedly stashed at his mother’s home one week after the murders.
He poked holes in Alex’s alibi, telling jurors that there is video placing him at the dog kennels three minutes before the slayings.
“He told anyone who would listen he was never there,” Waters said. “The evidence will show he was there he was at the murder scene.”
Dick Harpootlian, a Democratic state senator and a member of Alex’s defense team, focused on the victims’ shocking injuries.
He argued in his opening statements that it was unthinkable a father who had a wonderful and loving relationship with his son could perpetrate such a heinous crime.
“The gases from that shot literally exploded his head like a watermelon hit by a sledgehammer,” Harpootlian said of Paul’s injuries. “All that was left was the front of his face. Everything else was gone. His brain exploded out of his head, hit the ceiling in the shed and dropped to his feet. Horrendous. Horrible. Butchering.”
Harpootlian accused SLED of zeroing in on Alex from day one “pounding that square peg in the round hole” instead of search for the real killer.
Week 1 trial revelations – Alex was ‘clean’
Jurors heard gruesome testimony and saw photos of the injuries that Maggie and Paul sustained after the shooting. They were both found lying in pools of blood, brain matter and tissue.
A string of first responders testified that Alex had no visible blood on him when they arrived on the scene – although he told them he had touched their bodies to check for pulses. He even admitted to trying to roll Paul over and handling his son’s cellphone.
Alex was wearing a white T-shirt and shorts. Colleton County Det. Laura Rutland said that Alex’s clothes looked “clean” and noted no blood on his shoes, hands or other body parts.
In videotaped interviews with law enforcement, Alex repeated the same timeline. He rode around the property with Paul then ate dinner with Paul and Maggie – and this was the last time he saw them.
Maggie headed down to the dog kennels a quarter mile from the main house, and Paul left without saying where he was going. Alex fell asleep for about 20 minutes while watching TV.
When Alex awoke, he tried to call and text Maggie, but she didn’t answer. A little after 9 p.m., he left to visit his mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, at her home in Almeda about 20 minutes away.
When he returned to the main house, he saw it was empty and drove down to the kennels to look for Maggie. A little after 10 p.m., he said he came upon the horrific scene. He called 911 at 10:07 p.m.
Gripped by fear, he said he drove back to the main house to retrieve a gun before returning to the dog kennels to wait for first responders to arrive.
Week 2 trial revelations – the dog kennel video placing Alex at the murder scene
Jurors were shown a videotaped interview of Alex on June 10 conducted by SLED special agents Jeff Croft and David Owen.
At one point, Alex started sobbing hysterically and blurted out a garbled statement. Waters paused the video to ask Croft what he said.
“It’s just so bad, I did him so bad,” Croft answered. On cross-examination, the defense slowed down the audio from the interview and asked Croft whether he now heard “they” instead of “I.”
The investigator maintained Alex said “I” but a debate raged in the courtroom and on social media over which pronoun Alex used and whether he had inadvertently confessed.
In the most critical piece of evidence presented by the prosecution so far, jurors were played a video Paul recorded on his phone at 8:44 p.m. at the dog kennels – about three minutes before prosecutors say he was murdered.
The footage shows Paul trying to get a clear shot of the tail of his friend Rogan Gibson’s black lab Cash. Paul was concerned Cash had a problem with his tail and told Gibson in a phone call a minute earlier he’d send a video – but Gibson never got it. Investigators later found it on Paul’s phone.
A man and woman, who prosecutors say are Alex and Maggie, can be heard in the background bantering about a dog with a chicken in its mouth.
Gibson and another of Paul’s friends, Will Loving, identified the male voice as “100%” Alex.
Maggie and Paul’s devices went dark about three minutes later at 8:49 p.m. when Water says they were murdered.
The video appears to contradict Alex’s claim he didn’t visit the dog kennels that night until he found the bodies of his slain wife and son.
Week 2 trial revelations – the Snapchat video
About an hour before the double murder, Paul sent a Snapchat video to his friends at 7:56 p.m.
Jurors were played the clip showing Paul and his dad laughing as they looked at a poorly planted tree on the property.
Waters established that Alex is wearing a blue shirt and khaki pants in the video – not the white T-shirt and shorts he was wearing when first responders arrived at the scene.
The week of testimony wrapped up with a ballistics expert testifying that older shell casings found on the property were cycled through the same weapon as the shell casings found near Maggie’s body.
Prosecutors have argued that Maggie was killed with Paul’s .300 Blackout rifle which hasn’t been recovered.
Week 3 trial revelations – bomb threat leads to evacuation
In the most dramatic moment of the trial, the courthouse was evacuated after a person called in a bomb threat. The incident was a hoax and the proceeding resumed in the afternoon.
Jurors heard extensive testimony about Alex’s alleged financial crimes – including the pressure he was under over the wrongful death lawsuit from the 2019 boat wreck.
They also heard that he allegedly stole millions from his own law firm, his clients and even his best friend and was deeply in debt.
His mother’s caretaker, Shelley Smith, testified that Alex pressured her to tell anyone who asked that he had visited his mother’s home the night of the murders for at least 45 minutes. He had only been there for 20.
The family’s housekeeper, took the stand and told jurors that Alex had also pressured her to say he’d been wearing a different shirt the day of the slayings.
Week 4 trial revelations – prosecution rests
Maggie’s older sister, Marian Proctor, was the first family member to testify at the trial. She told jurors that her sister didn’t want to go to Moselle the night of the murders, but Alex summoned her and Paul there.
Proctor wept as she testified that she had pressured Maggie to go and support her husband, whose father, Randolph Murdaugh III, was admitted to the hospital earlier that day. Although Alex and Maggie’s marriage wasn’t perfect, they were happy, Proctor added.
The final prosecution witness, SLED special agent Peter Rudolfski, presented a comprehensive timeline from the day of the murders – including 4,820 GPS coordinates from Alex’s Chevrolet Suburban, phone records and other data.
Prosecutors highlighted a perplexingly tight timeline. Alex arrived at the dog kennels at 10:05:57 p.m. and called 911 less than 20 seconds later at 10:06:14 p.m., according to the data.
But Alex told the 911 dispatcher that he had already checked the pulses of Paul and Maggie whose bodies were found 30 feet apart.
Rudolfski also revealed that one month before the killings, Paul confronted his father in a text message about his drug addiction after Maggie found a bag of pain pills in his computer bag.
“I am very sorry that I do this to all of you. I love you,” Alex texted his wife the next day. Maggie didn’t respond, according to Rudolfski.
Prosecutors rested their case Feb. 17 after presenting four weeks of evidence and calling 61 witnesses.
Week 5 – Murdaugh takes the stand in his own defense
Murdaugh admitted Feb. 23 from the witness box that he lied to investigators, friends and family about being with his wife and son at the dog kennels at 8:45 p.m. less than five minutes before prosecutors say they were murdered.
But the ex-Hampton attorney vehemently denied killing his wife and son. Murdaugh told jurors he lied because he did not trust investigators and his opioid addiction made him paranoid. He had a bag of drugs on him that night.
Once he started lying, he had to continue the lie, he said. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” he told jurors, quoting 19th-century writer Sir Walter Scott.
But other than that lie, he said he had been completely cooperative with investigators.
He pinned the slayings on the boat wreck suggesting that vigilantes who had read about the case on social media slaughtered his family.
During a grueling cross-examination that spanned two days, Waters grilled an increasingly fatigued Murdaugh on his inconsistent statements.
Waters pointed out that Murdaugh claimed he checked the pulses of Maggie and Paul before calling 911, but GPS data from his Chevrolet Suburban revealed that he made the call 19 seconds after pulling up to the scene.
Murdaugh again revised his story and said he checked their pulses while he was on the phone with 911.
“You, like you have done so many times in your life, had to back up and make a new story to fit with the facts?” Waters asked.
“No, sir,” Murdaugh replied.
The defense called 13 additional witnesses as part of their case– including a ballistics expert who testified that the trajectory of the shots that killed Maggie showed the killer was no taller than 5 foot 4.
A crime scene analyst told jurors that the shot that killed Paul was a contact wound to the back of his head that would have left the shooter injured from flying pellets and covered in blood.
Week 6 –summations, conviction and sentencing
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.
Griffin argued in summations that investigators “failed miserably” in their probe and could have found the real killer if they had done their job properly.
After deliberating for less than three hours March 2, 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 jury did not pose a single question to the judge or request clarification during their speedy deliberations.
Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison March 3, capping off his sordid and spectacular downfall that single-handedly destroyed his family’s legacy. Judge Clifton Newman excoriating him for his wicked deeds and “duplicitous conduct” before handing him two life sentences to be served consecutively.
Newman told Murdaugh that even if he continues to deny his guilt publicly, he’ll have to deal with what he’d done within 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.
Audrey Conklin, Chris Eberhart and Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report.