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State prosecutors said in closing arguments of Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial Wednesday that the disgraced attorney killed his wife and son in June 2021 in an attempt to distract and delay investigations into growing financial problems that would have exposed him as a fraud.
“After an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes, and also whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him,” prosecutor Creighton Waters said.
“This defendant is the one person who was living a lie, the defendant is the person on which a storm was descending, and the defendant was a person where his own storm would actually mean consequences for Maggie and Paul and consequences for those who trusted him.”
The defense’s closing arguments will follow afterward.
Murdaugh, 54, is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and son Paul Murdaugh by the family’s dog kennels at their sprawling property known as Moselle in Islandton, South Carolina, on the night of June 7, 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges.
Jurors heard from more than 70 witnesses over six weeks of testimony before visiting Moselle on Wednesday morning.
The prosecution’s focus on Murdaugh’s financial motive and lies underscores the lack of any direct evidence, such as a murder weapon, bloody clothing or eyewitnesses, that connects Murdaugh to the killings. Instead, they have hinged their case on circumstantial evidence, including video placing Murdaugh at the crime scene shortly before the murders.
The defense case was highlighted by Murdaugh himself, who offered dramatic testimony over two days last week in which he flatly denied killing his wife and son. At the same time, he admitted that he had lied to investigators about his whereabouts the night of the killings, and he admitted to stealing millions of dollars from his former clients and law firm and lying to cover his tracks.
The stranger-than-fiction case has brought national attention – including Netflix and HBO Max documentaries – on Alex Murdaugh, the former personal injury attorney and member of a dynastic family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as the local prosecutor consecutively from 1920 to 2006.
Murdaugh was a personal injury attorney for a law firm with his name on it. But that prominence belied underlying issues, and the killings of his wife and son were followed by accusations of misappropriated funds, his resignation, a bizarre murder-for-hire and insurance scam plot, a stint in rehab for drug addiction, dozens of financial crimes, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.
He separately faces 99 charges related to alleged financial crimes that will be adjudicated at a later trial.
The family has in recent years been trailed by a series of deaths, including those of Murdaugh’s wife and son; the 2018 death of their housekeeper Gloria Satterfield; the 2019 death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach after a boat allegedly driven by Paul Murdaugh crashed; and the unsolved 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose case was reopened based on information gathered while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
In closing arguments, Waters laid out a decade-long timeline of Murdaugh’s financial wrongdoing that came to a head on June 7, 2021, the night of the killings.
He argued Murdaugh had been stealing from clients and his law firm for years and was desperately trying to stay a step ahead of debt collectors.
“The evidence that you’ve heard shows that the defendant became so addicted and so dependent on the velocity of money that the millions of dollars in legal fees that he was receiving was not enough and so he started to steal. He stole by billing personal expenses to the firm; he stole by stealing from his own family,” Waters said.
The pressure on him became larger in spring 2021. For one, the chief financial officer of his law firm testified she had confronted Murdaugh about missing funds on the morning of June 7, 2021.
Second, Murdaugh was facing a lawsuit from the family of Beach, the young woman who was killed in February 2019 when a boat, owned by Murdaugh and allegedly driven by Paul, crashed. A hearing in that civil case was scheduled for June 10, 2021, and had the potential to reveal his financial problems, prosecutors argued.
“The pressures on this man were unbearable and they were reaching a crescendo the day his wife and son were murdered by him,” Waters said.
The killings made Murdaugh into a sympathetic figure and took all the pressure off, at least for another few months, Waters argued.
But on September 3, 2021, his law firm found further evidence of wrongdoing and forced him to resign. A day later, Murdaugh was shot in the head on the side of a road in Hampton County, and he told police that an unknown stranger was to blame. He later admitted that he had conspired with another man to kill him so that his surviving son Buster could collect a life insurance payout.
“When accountability was at his door, he was a victim again,” Waters said.
Waters also said he was skeptical of Murdaugh’s claim that he had a opioid addiction and took 1,000 mg of opiates a day – a potentially lethal amount – arguing it was a ploy to gain sympathy.
“That’s not what these (financial) records reflect. They reflect an insatiable desire for money and a hamster wheel that’s going on for a long time,” he said.
Trial witness: ‘100% certain’ Murdaugh’s voice is on video made before killings
Details of how the night of the killings unfolded have been a pivotal focus of the trial, as prosecutors have suggested that Murdaugh fatally shot his wife and son and then attempted to fabricate an alibi by calling and texting his wife’s phone and driving to his parent’s home in Almeda.
A cornerstone of the state’s case is video taken at or near the kennels – filmed on Paul’s phone starting at 8:44 p.m. – in which Murdaugh’s voice can be heard in the background. After about a dozen friends and family members identified his voice on the video, Murdaugh took the stand and admitted he was there.
He said he’d lied to police about his whereabouts because of “paranoid thinking” stemming from his addiction to opiate painkillers.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” he added. “I don’t think I was capable of reason, and I lied about being down there, and I’m so sorry that I did.”
He testified that he went to the kennels at Maggie’s request, but insisted he returned to the house before the killings and then left the property to visit his ailing mother in nearby Almeda. When he returned home later that night, Murdaugh testified, he found Maggie and Paul dead and called 911.
The defense has depicted Murdaugh as a troubled but loving family man who has been wrongly accused as the result of a shoddy investigation. Among the defense witnesses was Murdaugh’s only surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, who testified his father was “devastated” by the killings.