Alex Murdaugh double murder trial: Here's everything we know
A friend and a housekeeper testify against the former lawyer as the prosecution prepares to rest its case.
Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial resumed Friday in Walterboro, S.C., where the former lawyer and scion of a powerful legal family stands accused of fatally shooting his wife, Maggie, and son Paul in June 2021.
Here’s everything we know about the trial so far.
Who is Alex Murdaugh?
Murdaugh, 54, is a member of a family that was synonymous with the law profession in South Carolina’s Lowcountry for nearly a century.
From 1920 to 2006, members of the family served as solicitors, or local prosecutors, in charge of prosecuting all criminal cases in a five-county district that locals refer to as “Murdaugh Country.” The family then founded a prominent law firm specializing in personal injury litigation.
But as the Daily Beast pointed out, that “image of power and influence” surrounding the Murdaugh clan “began to crack about four years ago” when Alex Murdaugh’s 22-year-old son, Paul, drunkenly crashed a boat, killing a 19-year-old friend, Mallory Beach.
The Beach family filed a wrongful-death suit, which prosecutors say played a role in the motive for the eventual killings of Paul and Maggie.
The murders, botched suicide and possible motive
Prosecutors allege that Alex Murdaugh shot and killed Maggie, who was 52, and Paul in a botched scheme to cover up his financial fraud.
The killings occurred at the Murdaughs’ 1,770-acre hunting lodge in Islandton, S.C., on June 7, 2021. Alex Murdaugh called 911 shortly after 10 p.m. to report that his wife and son had been shot.
On Sept. 4, 2021, three months into the murder investigation, he was shot in the head while changing a tire. The alleged shooter, Curtis Edward Smith, was arrested a week later. Murdaugh admitted that he had hired Smith to kill him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh’s attorneys said that their client was battling an opioid addiction and that Smith was one of his drug dealers.
Murdaugh surrendered to authorities for charges related to the botched murder-for-hire plot. While in custody, he was charged with the murders of his wife and son.
In a court filing ahead of the trial, prosecutors said the imminent threat of “personal, legal and financial ruin” drove Murdaugh to the brutal murders.
At the time of the killings, the Beach family’s attorney was seeking a court order to compel Murdaugh to disclose his financial records, disclosures that would have threatened to expose “years” of his alleged theft. A hearing on that issue was set for June 10, 2021, three days after the slayings.
“Ultimately, the murders served as Murdaugh’s means to shift the focus away from himself and buy himself some additional time to try and prevent his financial crimes from being uncovered, which — if revealed — would result in personal, legal, and financial ruin for Murdaugh,” prosecutors said in the December filing.
“Around the same time, Murdaugh’s law firm was growing suspicious,” the Post and Courier reported.
“In May 2021, [the firm] had received an expense check from a lucrative case Murdaugh worked alongside Bamberg [S.C.] attorney Chris Wilson, but the firm hadn’t received Murdaugh’s share of the legal fees,” the paper said. And partners at the firm “became worried Murdaugh was trying to hide his income from potential recovery by the Beach family in the ongoing boat crash lawsuit.”
“Also that spring, the state grand jury investigating potential obstruction of justice of the boat crash investigation was circling in — issuing subpoenas for testimony and documents to witnesses and institutions in the Lowcountry,” the paper reported. “Those factors pushed a desperate Murdaugh over the edge.”
Drama in and out of court
The trial, now in its third week, has had plenty of drama, both inside and outside the courtroom.
In court on Wednesday, Lynn Murdaugh Goettee, Alex’s sister, passed him a book through a member of his defense team. Goettee was admonished by Judge Clifton Newman, and the book — “The Judge’s Rules” by John Grisham — was later confiscated.
Newman also admonished Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, for making an obscene gesture toward Mark Tinsley, the attorney representing Mallory Beach’s family.
Both Goettee and Buster Murdaugh were warned that any further violations would result in their being barred from the courtroom.
Also Wednesday, the Colleton County Courthouse was evacuated after a bomb threat was called into the clerk’s office. No bomb was found and the trial resumed several hours later.
Former friend and housekeeper testify
On Thursday, Chris Wilson, one of Alex Murdaugh’s best friends, told the jurors he felt victimized after spending months by Murdaugh’s side in the wake of his wife’s and son’s murders — only to learn that the former lawyer had stolen nearly $200,000 from him.
“Shocked. Betrayed. Mad. I don’t know. Numb,” Wilson said.
Wilson said Murdaugh admitted he was addicted to drugs and had been stealing money from his law firm and clients for years.
On Friday, Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, the Murdaugh family housekeeper, testified that on the day of the alleged murders, Maggie Murdaugh told her that Alex had asked both her and her son to go to the hunting property where they would later be found dead.
The housekeeper also testified that the day after the alleged killings she found some of Maggie’s pajamas laid out on the floor near the washing machine, which she had never seen before and found unusual.
Prosecutors allege that Alex Murdaugh washed his clothes to remove any evidence of the crimes.
The family’s previous housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died after falling at their home in 2018. According to court documents cited by NBC News, Alex Murdaugh told Satterfield’s sons he was responsible for her death and pledged that he was “going to take care of the boys” by suing himself to collect on personal liability insurance. But the family said they never received any money from him.
Prosecutors say they hope to rest their case by the middle of next week. Murdaugh's defense team says it will take a week to present theirs.
After a verdict is reached in the murder case, Murdaugh must then stand trial on roughly 100 financial and drug-related charges.