South Carolina attorney Murdaugh sentenced to life for murdering wife and son
Murdaugh, the scion of an influential legal family, had faced a minimum of 30 years for each of the two counts of murder. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of life without parole.
Richard "Alex" Murdaugh, the disgraced South Carolina lawyer who was found guilty of killing his wife and son, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday.
A South Carolina jury on Thursday declared Murdaugh, 54, guilty on two counts of gunning down his wife Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, on their family estate on June 7, 2021.
At a hearing on Friday, Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman sentenced Murdaugh to prison for the remainder of his natural life.
Murdaugh, the scion of an influential legal family in an area west of Charleston, had faced a minimum of 30 years in prison for each of the two counts of murder under South Carolina law. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of life without parole.
Newman criticized what he described as Murdaugh's "duplicitous conduct" throughout the trial, and said his actions were especially troubling given his family's long history as prosecutors and lawyers in the region.
The judge also referenced Murdaugh's addiction to opioids, which the defense sought to use as an excuse for their client's behavior, including his lying to investigators about his whereabouts on the night of the killings.
"I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you attempt to go to sleep," Newman said. "It might not have been you (who killed them). It might have been the monster you've become."
The case has drawn intense media coverage given the family's political power in and around Colleton County, where the trial took place. For decades until 2006, family members served as the leading prosecutor in the area, and Murdaugh was a prominent personal injury attorney in the state.
Murdaugh, dressed in prison garb, professed his innocence again on Friday, a possible prelude to an appeal.
"I'm innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie and I would never hurt my son, Paw Paw," said Murdaugh, using a nickname for Paul, minutes before the judge delivered his sentence.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Murdaugh as a serial liar and argued that only he had the means and the opportunity to commit the murders. Prosecutors said he gunned down his wife and son to distract from an array of financial misdeeds, including the theft of millions of dollars from his law partners and clients -- money used to feed a years-long addiction to opioids and support an expensive lifestyle.
For their part, Murdaugh's lawyers tried to paint their client as a loving family man who, while facing financial difficulties and suffering from a drug addiction that led him to lie and steal, would never harm his wife and child.
They floated alternative theories, with Murdaugh testifying that he believed someone angry over a deadly 2019 boating accident involving Paul likely sought revenge on his son.
Murdaugh pleaded not guilty, but admitted to lying about his whereabouts on the night of the murders after evidence emerged placing him at the scene, denting his credibility with the jury.
"It doesn't matter who your family is, it doesn't matter how much money you have," Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, said after the verdict on Thursday. "If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina."
Jim Griffin, one of the defense lawyers, described the state's alleged motive as preposterous during his closing argument on Thursday, arguing the murders would have only drawn more scrutiny to Murdaugh's financial misdeeds.
Griffin also accused investigators of fabricating evidence and repeatedly stressed the high legal bar in criminal cases of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, underscoring the challenge facing prosecutors who built their case largely on circumstantial rather than direct evidence.
But in the end jurors did not believe Murdaugh's account. Prosecutors focused on Murdaugh's credibility, coming back time and again to his admission that he lied about something as critical as where he was when his wife and child were killed.
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