Who is Alex Murdaugh? The legal scion on trial for the murders of his wife and son

The hotly-anticipated trial of Alex Murdaugh is finally underway in South Carolina where he is facing life in prison for the double murder of his wife and son.

The 54-year-old heir to a prominent legal dynasty is accused of gunning down wife Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22, on the grounds of the sprawling family estate in Islandton back on 7 June 2021.

He was arrested in July 2022 and charged with two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Mr Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains that the person or persons responsible for killing his wife and son is still at large.

Opening arguments kicked off the trial on 25 January, with both the prosecution and the defence going into graphic detail about the horrific injuries suffered by the two victims.

Mr Murdaugh was seen breaking down in tears at one point as his attorney Dick Harpootlian described the fatal shot which killed his son Paul, saying it “exploded his brain, like a watermelon”.

Mr Murdaugh then arrived home and found his son’s brains by his feet, he said.

Mr Harpootlian insisted Mr Murdaugh is an innocent man, saying that jurors will see a Snapchat of him and Paul happily spending father-and-son time together less than two hours before the murders.

He also argued that cellphone records from that night are “incomplete” and that Maggie’s phone was thrown on the side of a road halfa mile from the family estate at the same time that Mr Murdaugh was at the property.

The suspect would “have to be Houdini to be in both places”, he said.

However, the prosecution told jurors that cellphone records and a Snapchat video taken by Paul minutes before he died are “critical” in proving Mr Murdaugh’s guilt.

Attorney Creighton Waters gave a timeline for the murders, saying that Paul was shot at the dog kennels first at 8.50pm and Maggie minutes later.

Cellphone records allegedly place Mr Murdaugh at the dog kennels minutes earlier – when the suspect had “told everyone he was never there”.

Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh left to right (Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook)
Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh left to right (Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook)

Mr Waters also described a video Paul made at the kennels minutes before his murder as he was filming a dog to send to a friend. According to the prosecution, three voices – Paul, Maggie and Mr Murdaugh – can be heard.

More bombshell details are expected to emerge throughout the trial, which is slated to last at least three weeks.

As a case that has captured national and international attention, it’s about so much more than the double murders.

The prominent legal scion is now at the centre of a series of wild allegations of an alleged hitman plot, multi-million-dollar fraud schemes and unexplained deaths and is facing a slew of more than 100 other charges.

So who is the man at the heart of the saga?

Who is Alex Murdaugh?

Alex Murdaugh was once a powerful figure in Hampton County, South Carolina, where his family has reigned over the local justice system for almost a century.

Three generations of the family – his father, grandfather and great-grandfather – all served as the solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor’s office.

His father Randy held the position until 2006 and was given the highest civilian award the Order of the Palmetto by the South Carolina governor in 2018 for his work. Randy died just three days after Maggie and Paul’s murders.

Due to the Murdaugh’s prominence in the judicial system in the lowcountry, the family held a reputation for being powerful and wielding their influence over matters.

Alex Murdaugh walks into the Colleton County Courthouse for jury selection on 23 January (AP)
Alex Murdaugh walks into the Colleton County Courthouse for jury selection on 23 January (AP)

Mr Murdaugh continued with the family tradition working as an attorney in the local prosecutor’s office and also at his own law firm PMPED (the M standing for Murdaugh).

He was married to wife Maggie – whom he met at college - and the couple had two sons Buster and Paul.

After the murders of his wife and son, it transpired that Mr Murdaugh had a two-decade-long opoiod addiction and he checked into rehab in September 2021.

Why is he on trial for murder?

On 7 June 2021, Maggie and Paul were found shot dead at the kennels of the family’s sprawling hunting lodge in Islandton.

It was Mr Murdaugh who claimed he discovered their bodies, placing a dramatic 911 call where he cried and sobbed on the phone.

He said he’d returned home from visiting his elderly mother and dying father to find his wife and son dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

In the audio, Mr Murdaugh is heard sobbing as he tells the dispatcher “it’s bad” and “my wife and child have been shot badly”.

Two different weapons were used to kill the victims, with Maggie shot five times with an automatic rifle and Paul shot twice – once in the head and once in the chest – with a shotgun.

For 13 months, no arrests were made in their murders, no suspects were named and no charges were brought over their killings until Mr Murdaugh was finally charged in July 2022.

Prosecutors say that Mr Murdaugh killed his wife and son in an attempt to distract from the other crimes and scandals swirling around him.

What other legal troubles is he facing?

Besides the murder case, Mr Murdaugh is facing at least 100 other criminal charges over a string of allegations.

Three months on from the murders – on 4 September 2021 – Mr Murdaugh allegedly conspired to pay a hitman to shoot him dead so that Buster would inherit a $10m life insurance windfall.

The now-disbarred attorney initially claimed he was ambushed in a drive-by shooting while changing a tyre on his vehicle, but his story quickly unravelled and he confessed to orchestrating the plot.

Mr Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirator Curtis Smith were arrested and charged over the incident.

One day before the shooting, Mr Murdaugh had been confronted by his law firm PMPED for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients.

He is now charged with more than 100 counts from multiple indictments alleging he stole nearly $8.5m from clients at his law firm in fraud schemes going back a decade.

The attorney, who has since been disbarred, allegedly represented the clients in wrongful death settlements before pocketing the money for himself.

Alleged victims include family members of Gloria Satterfield family, the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper who died in a mysterious trip and fall accident at the family home in 2018.

Mallory Beach died in a 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh (Facebook)
Mallory Beach died in a 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh (Facebook)

At the time, her death was regarded as an accidental fall – though the investigation was reopened after Maggie and Paul’s murders.

The housekeeper is one of a series of other mystery deaths surrounding the Murdaughs.

Stephen Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County, South Carolina. The openly gay teenager had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.

An investigation has also been reopened into his death.

At the time of Paul’s death, he was also awaiting trial over the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach who died in a 2019 boat crash where Paul was allegedly drink driving behind the wheel. He was charged with boating under the influence and faced up to 25 years in prison but was killed before his trial.

The Murdaugh family reached a wrongful death settlement with the Beach family earlier in January.

Mr Murdaugh is also facing several other civil suits.