Melina Korfonta ’25
Walterboro, South Carolina –– Justice for Margaret and Paul Murdaugh was served Thursday after disgraced South Carolina personal injury lawyer Alex Murdaugh was found guilty on all accounts. The story of the deadly shootings of the wife and son of this legacy family has sparked a major debate for more than a year.
The impeccable reputation of the well-connected legal family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry was devastated by the unsolved murders of Margaret, 52, and the couple’s younger son, Paul, 22, in June 2021. The community was shaken as Murdaugh instantly denied responsibility for the deaths, despite the fact that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all previously top prosecutors in the Lowcountry area––serving the county and surrounding area for a total of almost 90 years combined.
The murders, however, sparked a dramatic series of events that, according to authorities, included Murdaugh hiring a hitman to kill himself so that his older son could collect on his life insurance policy, as well as a plethora of complaints accusing Murdaugh of financial crimes.
Investigation remain vague as no suspects or people of interest were mentioned; however, in July 2022, a grand jury indicted Murdaugh on charges of double murder in connection with the deaths of Margaret and Paul. This indictment put an end to a lengthy investigation marked by conflicting accounts and a list of additional suspicious deaths that have yet to be answered.
On March 2nd, 2023, Murdaugh was officially convicted of murder after nearly six weeks of testimony in the double murder trial, which started in January.
The jury, made up of seven men and five women, had three hours to deliberate before finding Murdaugh, 54, guilty on two counts of murder in the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife Margaret, 52, and their youngest son Paul, 22. He was also found guilty on two charges of possessing a weapon while committing a violent felony, each of which carries a five-year jail sentence. Murdaugh will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the verdicts were announced, Murdaugh’s attorneys sought a mistrial. The court rejected the motion, however, stating that the jury had sufficient grounds to find Murdaugh guilty and that the judge had no jurisdiction over the jury’s decision. When asked if the verdicts were correct, each juror responded in the affirmative. State Circuit Judge Clifton Newman ruled that the request was denied because of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.
The extensive trial that started in late January and included over six weeks of testimony from 75 witnesses, including Murdaugh, was followed by a brief time of deliberation. The defense painted Murdaugh, who was disbarred last year as a result of the allegations, as a caring husband and father during final arguments earlier on Thursday.
On the evening of June 7th, 2021, defense attorney Jim Griffin emphasized that the state had no direct evidence that the shooter drew the trigger before he called 911 to report having discovered his wife and son dead at their hunting estate in rural Colleton County.
According to the testimony of the investigators, Margaret was shot numerous times with an AR-style rifle while Paul was injured twice by a shotgun. Using shell casings from household firearms, agents claimed to have identified the murder weapons. The weapons still have yet to be located.
In order to persuade the jury that Murdaugh was guilty, the prosecution developed a comprehensive case based on circumstantial evidence. One of the most important pieces of evidence for the prosecution was a video of the kennels taken from Paul’s cellphone, in which three voices—those of Paul, Margaret, and Murdaugh—could be heard discussing a dog just before 8:50 p.m. Murdaugh repeatedly claimed to investigators that he was asleep, then went to see his mother with Alzheimer’s, and finally came home to find his wife and son dead. The prosecution then utilized this evidence to show that only Murdaugh had the motivation, access, and opportunity to kill his wife and son.
Regarding the question of motivation, prosecutors claimed that Murdaugh had been defrauding clients for around a decade and used the proceeds, in part, to support a painkiller addiction. Murdaugh was also said to be facing pressure from a lawsuit involving Paul, who was being tried for three felonies of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol. This accusation was being tried in connection with a 2019 boat tragedy that killed a teen passenger.
When he took the witness stand, Murdaugh confessed to lying about his whereabouts before the murders. He then blamed his drug addiction and general paranoia when asked why his voice could be heard on the video.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters stated during the state’s closing statements that Murdaugh had a lot to lose if his financial misdeeds were discovered and that the abrupt deaths of his wife and son would end the law firm’s investigation and delay the boat crash case to his benefit.
After decades of the Murdaugh family’s legacy in South Carolina, the name will now be remembered for the grisly murders Alex Murdaugh committed in his attempts to save it.