The trial of disbarred former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh began last week.
Murdaugh is accused of shooting his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, at a family property in June 2021. While Murdaugh denies the allegations and says he discovered the bodies after returning from a visit with his father.
A Prominent South Carolina Family
The Murdaugh family is a prominent legal family from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. Three consecutive members of the family served as solicitors, a regional term for a prosecutor. The family is so prominent that locals call the district “Murdaugh Country.”
Murdaugh’s situation shocked the community and continues to command the attention of residents in South Carolina and around the country, not only because of the family’s prominence, but because the sheer volume and variety of charges which he faces are unusual.
An Avalanche of Cases
In addition to the two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the current trial, Murdaugh faces about 100 additional criminal counts that will be dealt with separately.
In November 2021, a grand jury issued three charges against Murdaugh for a murder-for-hire suicide scheme to gain $10 million in insurance money for his son Buster. Murdaugh allegedly hired Curtis Edward Smith to shoot him in the head while changing a tire on a rural road.
Also that November, a grand jury issued a total of five indictments against Murdaugh for embezzlement, breach of trust, fraudulent intent, money laundering, computer crimes, and forgery. In January 2022, the grand jury issued 23 additional criminal charges, including 19 counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent, and four counts of computer crimes.
In March 2022, the grand jury issued a superseding indictment against Murdaugh and another defendant containing four additional charges related to an alleged scheme to defraud several insurance companies after Murdaugh secretly received a share of proceeds.
In April 2022, additional superseding indictments were issued, including four charges of conspiring with a former banker and former attorney. Murdaugh was additionally indicted on nine charges related to theft from his old law firm in August.
The indictments allege millions were stolen from over a dozen victims. He allegedly negotiated settlements for his clients, then paid them an amount they would be happy with, never telling them he was keeping the remainder for himself.
Paul Murdaugh was allegedly driving a boat in 2019 while extremely intoxicated, resulting in the drowning death of his friend, Mallory Beach. At the time that Paul and Maggie were killed, the Beach family was trying to get financial information from the Murdaughs through a wrongful death suit.
Opening rounds of jury selection were completed on Tuesday, with some 900 prospective jurors being reduced to 122. The prominence of the Murdaugh family is a clear theme. Many potential jurors were excused for having family, social, or other relationships with the Murdaugh family or its firm that prevented being an impartial juror.
The potential jurors were also asked if they knew anything about the murder case. Most indicated that they knew about the case from various media sources. Those who couldn’t put opinions aside from the media coverage were dismissed.
Trial Judge Clifton Newman ruled on Tuesday that a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) ballistics expert can testify at trial. The prosecution claims that substantial evidence and expert witness testimony will prove that Blackout rifle cartridges found at the crime scene may have been “cycled” through a rifle purchased by Murdaugh that was allegedly stolen.
Cuttings were taken from the front upper section of the t-shirt and tested positive for Maggie’s DNA, according to prosecutors.
Murdaugh’s attorneys have asked the court to prohibit the prosecution from using testimony from an expert related to bloodstain patterns and DNA. The defense argues that the expert’s testimony should not be allowed at trial because the expert could not offer an opinion on whether the blood stains came from a gunshot.
Despite Murdaugh’s claims that he was at his father’s house prior to discovering Maggie and Paul’s bodies, there have been reports that a video shows Murdaugh present at the crime scene not long before the victims’ phone activity ceased.
Prosecutors may also seek to introduce GPS evidence showing that Murdaugh was not at his father’s home prior to the murders as he claimed. An alleged one-hour gap between the discovery of the bodies and the 911 call will also be at issue.
Financial evidence and evidence about the boat crash related to Mallory Beach will also be handled during the trial.
What To Expect
Opening statements began Wednesday. The judge has initially set aside three weeks for the trial. The trial will bring far more than the 250 people the courtroom will hold and is expected to be the most sensational trial in the county since Susan Smith, who was convicted of the drowning deaths of her children in 1995.
Alex Murdaugh’s Murder Charges (FindLaw’s “Don’t Judge Me” Podcast)Sidebar: A True Crime Episode About a Fake Murder (FindLaw’s “Don’t Judge Me” Podcast)Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder? (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)
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