A disgraced South Carolina lawyer was found guilty of murdering his wife and son in order to divert attention away from his multimillion-dollar financial crimes.
After a six-week trial, the jury deliberated for less than three hours before convicting Alex Murdaugh, 54, on two counts of murder.
For each murder charge, he faces 30 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were shot at close range near their family estate’s dog kennels on June 7, 2021.
Alex Murdaugh stood motionless as he learned his fate at a hearing in Walterboro on Thursday evening.
“The evidence of guilt is overwhelming,” said South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman as he denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial. He set the sentencing date for Friday morning.
Power, opulence, murder, and the demise of a dynasty
What we’ve learned from the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh
The case, which chronicled the fall of a family born into power and privilege, made national headlines and inspired documentaries on Netflix and HBO.
Murdaugh was once a powerful personal injury attorney in the state, and his family members had served as the area’s top prosecutors for decades until 2006.
However, the trial heard that he had been stealing from his law partners and clients for years in order to feed his painkiller addiction and extravagant lifestyle.
Murdaugh had pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife and youngest son in order to conceal years of financial fraud, which he had admitted in court.
Following the 12-person jury’s decision, dozens of spectators gathered outside the back of the court, where officers quickly escorted a handcuffed Murdaugh into a black van.
Reporters yelled questions at him, but he remained silent. One man behind the media line shouted that he was praying for him as police tucked him inside the vehicle.
It took investigators more than a year to apprehend Murdaugh as they untangled the complicated case.
In a risky move for any murder defendant, Murdaugh took the stand, attempting to persuade the jury that someone enraged by a fatal boating accident involving Paul could have killed his son to exact revenge.
“I would never, ever, ever hurt Maggie, and I would never, ever hurt Paul – under any circumstances,” Murdaugh testified.
The prosecution’s case was entirely based on circumstantial evidence. At the trial, no direct evidence was presented, such as a murder weapon, blood on his clothing, or an eyewitness.
Instead, the prosecution focused on an incriminating Snapchat video taken just before the murders by Murdaugh’s son.
Paul and his mother were murdered at the kennels on the family’s vast hunting estate, Moselle.
Alex Murdaugh repeatedly told law enforcement that he had not been at the dog kennels that evening and was at home napping for the next 20 months.
However, the defendant’s voice could be heard in the background of a Snapchat video taken by Paul just minutes before the shootings.
Murdaugh admitted lying on the stand during his trial, claiming that his years-long addiction to painkillers had rendered him paranoid.
Murdaugh’s bizarre attempt to stage his own death in an insurance fraud scheme just three months after murdering his 52-year-old wife and 22-year-old son was also heard in court.
Alex Murdaugh (right) murdered his wife, Maggie, and his youngest son, Paul. Jessica Williams, 38, stood outside the court, on the phone with her six-year-old daughter, watching the proceedings.
“”I am overjoyed,” she told BBC News after the verdict was announced, adding, “I remember where I was when the verdict for OJ Simpson came down [in 1995]. This was the same situation.”
Judge Newman ruled early in the proceedings that prosecutors could present evidence of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
Investigators believe he stole millions of dollars from clients and colleagues, including $3.7 million (£3 million) in 2019. Murdaugh also admitted to large-scale theft during his trial.
Prosecutors contended that it was these crimes that drove him to murder, that he believed the deaths of Maggie and Paul would gain him sympathy and keep him from facing consequences for his other crimes.
Murdaugh and his defence team argued in court that this theory was absurd and that financial problems would never have driven him to murder.
Watch: Murdaugh is found guilty by a jury
Several witnesses testified that on the night of the murders, Alex Murdaugh asked Maggie to return to Moselle from the family’s other property in nearby Edisto Beach.
Maggie preferred Edisto to Moselle and had no intention of leaving, according to her sister Marion Proctor. Murdaugh’s elderly father, on the other hand, was dying, and Mrs Proctor encouraged her to help him.
Alex Murdaugh and his two sons enjoyed hunting, and Moselle was home to a large collection of firearms.
Prosecutors claimed Murdaugh used one of these weapons, a.300 Blackout assault-style rifle, to kill Maggie and another to kill Paul. However, they were unable to locate and produce either firearm at trial.
According to the trial, Maggie was shot four or five times with a rifle, and their son was shot twice with a shotgun.
Attorney General Alan Wilson of South Carolina said, “Today’s verdict proves that no one, no matter who you are in society, is above the law.”