A South Carolina judge has ruled that Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced South Carolina attorney serving life in prison for the 2021 murders of his wife and 22-year-old son, won’t get a retrial after his defense team accused a court clerk of jury tampering.
According to The Washington Post, Judge Jean Toal determined Monday that any possible comments made to jurors during the trial didn’t directly influence their decision to find Murdaugh guilty in March 2023. In a statement, Murdaugh’s attorney Jim Griffin said his team disagrees with the ruling and intends to appeal it.
Murdaugh has repeatedly denied that he killed his wife Maggie, 52, and youngest son Paul, 22, in June 2021. Dubbed South Carolina’s “trial of the century,” Murdaugh was convicted of two counts of murder and related charges on March 2, 2023, following a sensational six-week trial that seized the nation’s attention.
Murdaugh’s attorneys filed the request for a new trial in September 2023 and alleged Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill made comments to jurors in the case telling them to not be “fooled” by defense testimony and to “watch out” for Murdaugh’s body language during the trial.
Hill testified this week that she never spoke about the case or Murdaugh with any jurors but acknowledged that she used “literary license” to complete her 2023 book about the case, Behind the Doors of Justice: The Murdaugh Murders. Toal determined that while transcripts of the case showed “some fleeting and foolish comments” by Hill, her words didn’t actively change the minds of the 12 jurors in convicting Murdaugh.
The setback for Murdaugh comes two months after the 55-year-old was sentenced to an additional 27 years in state prison for financial crimes including fraud and money laundering. In September 2023, he separately pleaded guilty to 22 similar counts in federal court, including money laundering, bank fraud, and wire fraud. Murdaugh has yet to be sentenced in the federal case.
Here’s what to know about Murdaugh’s crimes, where he is now, and what this latest ruling means.
Who are Alex Murdaugh and his family?
Richard Alexander Murdaugh is a member of a prominent legal family in the South Carolina Lowcountry region. Three generations of his family—his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father—served over 87 years as solicitor for the state’s 14th Judicial Circuit, an influential elected position that oversees prosecutions throughout the area.
Murdaugh met his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Branstetter, when both were attending the University of South Carolina. They married in 1993 and later had two sons, Buster and Paul.
The Murdaugh family lived in Hampton, South Carolina, before relocating to their sprawling Moselle property in nearby Islandton. At around 1,700 acres, the complex contained their house, dog kennels, a cabin, and stretches of swamp land.
Maggie met with a divorce lawyer in April 2021, about six weeks before she and Paul were murdered. Paul had previously been in the spotlight as the suspected driver in a 2019 fatal boating accident in Beaufort County, South Carolina, that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Why did Alex Murdaugh kill his family?
It’s unknown exactly why Murdaugh killed his family, though observers have speculated it could have been fueled by his drug use or that it could have stemmed from the family’s responses to his other potential crimes. Prosecutors didn’t identify a specific motive but suggested he killed them because his life was spiraling out of control.
Maggie was living separately from Alex at the time she was murdered on June 7, 2021, and hours before her death, she texted a friend to say Alex was “up to something” and acting “fishy.” He had asked her to meet him at the family compound so they could visit his terminally ill father.
Maggie and Paul’s bodies were found near dog kennels on the property. Paul had been shot in the head and chest at close range with a shotgun, while Maggie was shot several times with a semi-automatic rifle. Alex called the police, claiming he had been at the hospital visiting his father and found the bodies upon his return.
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However, cell phone data and video contradicted Alex’s alibi and placed him at the scene of the crime before their deaths. He was arrested in July 2022, and his trial began on January 25, 2023. Taking the stand in his own defense, Murdaugh denied killing his wife and son but admitted he lied about his whereabouts, blaming “paranoid thinking” due to drug use.
After six weeks of testimony, the jury convicted Murdaugh of murder after deliberating for only three hours. “Justice was done today,” prosecutor Creighton Waters said after the verdict. “It doesn’t matter who your family is. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or people think you have. It doesn’t matter what you think—how prominent you are. If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina.”
Murdaugh was found guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Has Murdaugh appealed his convictions?
Yes. Almost immediately after his murder convictions in March 2023, Murdaugh filed an appeal. “I would never under any circumstances hurt my wife, Maggie, and I would never under any circumstances hurt my son,” the disgraced lawyer said before he was sentenced for his family’s murders.
Then in early September, Murdaugh filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds of jury tampering. An appeals court decided the new trial request could proceed in October, ultimately leading to this week’s testimony of Hill and the jurors.
What are Murdaugh’s financial crimes?
Prior to his wife and son’s murders, Murdaugh had already been wrapped up in alleged financial crimes for years. According to his federal indictment, Murdaugh was involved in three different schemes between 2005 and 2021 to obtain money and property from his clients while he was working as a personal injury attorney in Hampton, South Carolina.
This included diverting his clients’ settlement funds to his own personal accounts, as well as conspiring with banker Russell Laffitte to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. Laffitte was convicted of these crimes in November 2022. Murdaugh has also been accused of defrauding the estate of his former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died after a fall at the Murdaugh home in 2018.
As part of his September 21, 2023, guilty plea in federal court on 22 charges for financial crimes, any sentence Murdaugh receives will “be served concurrent to any state sentence imposed for the same conduct.” The agreement also requires Murdaugh to pay restitution for his victims, forfeit $9 million in assets, and work with the government to repay victims and locate missing assets. Murdaugh cried as he discussed the guilty plea with a judge, claiming he was entering the plea so that his son Buster would see him take responsibility for his actions.
Meanwhile, South Carolina prosecutor Creighton Waters called Murdaugh’s plea deal in the state case a “unique and unprecedented sentence” on white collar crimes. As part of the deal, Murdaugh must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, or roughly 23 years.
Regardless, the two murder convictions ensure Murdaugh will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Where is Alex Murdaugh now?
Murdaugh is serving his sentence in an undisclosed maximum-security prison and has been placed in a protective custody unit for additional protection, as notorious inmates are often at risk when housed in general population. He lives in an 8-by-10-foot cell with only a bed, toilet, and sink.
Murdaugh lost his prison phone and canteen privileges for breaking the rules about phone calls after he read journal entries to his attorney Jim Griffin in June 2023. Griffin recorded the call and provided it to the media. The South Carolina Department of Corrections said this violates rules intended to prevent victims of a crime from having to see or hear the person who victimized them on the news. According to an official report, the recording was for the Fox Nation documentary The Fall of the House of Murdaugh, which released its first three episodes in late August 2023.
Murdaugh’s living son, Buster, has said he believes his father is innocent and didn’t receive fair treatment from the jury during his trial. However, he admits that it is “a fair assessment” to say that the lies and manipulative behavior his father has exhibited could be described as psychopathic.
“Certainly, I think there are characteristics where you look at the manipulation and the lies and the carrying out of that such, and I think that is a fair assessment,” said the 29-year-old, who testified at trial about his father’s drug addiction. Yet, Buster also insists that his father didn’t receive a fair shake from the jury. “I do not believe it was fair,” Buster said. “I think, unfortunately, a lot of the jurors felt that way prior to when they had to deliberate. It was predetermined in their minds prior to when they ever heard any shred of evidence that was given.”
In addition to The Fall of the House of Murdaugh, Alex and his family were the subject of another recent true crime docuseries. The second season of Netflix’s Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal was released in September 2023. The series debuted on the streaming platform in February 2023, covering not only Alex’s trial but also other family scandals, like the death of Mallory Beach. Watch the trailer for Murdaugh Murders Season 2:
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