The Murdaughs have been trying to teach South Carolina a lesson for 70 years | Opinion

Alex Murdaugh unleashed another pack of lies in the Beaufort County Courthouse last week, but his whopper about family legacy should spur us to avoid the pain and suffering of future Alex Murdaughs.

The convicted killer of his wife and son yammered on for almost an hour at his sentencing hearing for a long string of financial crimes. Murdaugh was sentenced to 27 years in a plea deal accepted by all parties.

David Lauderdale
David Lauderdale

The 55-year-old son, grandson and great-grandson of powerful solicitors in these low reaches of the South Carolina Lowcountry doled out typical hogwash, like how deeply he cares for each of the poor clients he stole collectively millions of dollars from while acting as their trusted lawyer in civil cases.

But the part that made some of us gag was when he “expressed profound remorse and anger that his actions had slandered the legacy of his father and grandfather,” our John Monk and Ted Clifford reported.

“He described them as ‘fully and wholly committed to justice. Two men who were most honest and most decent … two men who would be devastated by what I have done.’ ”

His father, J. Randolph Murdaugh III, who was 14th Circuit solicitor from 1986 to 2006, was known as the best of the bunch but showed his colors on the night the Murdaugh mystique was blown up in a boat crash. Alex’s slain son Paul was charged with driving his father’s boat while drunk, hitting a pylon in the dead of night and killing one of the six passengers.

Alex and his father rushed to the hospital and began manipulating who would say what and who would say anything at all.

Immediately after the crash, the folks in rural Hampton County rose as one to say the Murdaughs always got away with everything by manipulating law enforcement and the courts, and that it would happen again, and they were sick of it.

That’s the Murdaugh legacy that Alex has ruined.

His grandfather, J. Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., who was solicitor from 1940 to 1986, was absolutely not wholly committed to justice.

And this is where we could learn a lesson today that South Carolina should have learned almost 70 years ago when solicitor Buster Murdaugh was indicted in a massive public corruption case called the Colleton Whiskey Conspiracy.

He got off, though testimony in the two-week federal trial in 1956 showed Buster Murdaugh to be up to his eyeballs in a case where law enforcement took payola to enable moonshiners to thrive.

Murdaugh was the only one found not guilty by a jury that heard evidence against some 30 defendants, including a sheriff, deputies and judges.

The conspiracy included fake raids on moonshine stills, which testimony showed was Murdaugh’s idea. A witness quoted him as saying: “For God’s sake make the raids even if you have to warn them in advance, catch them and set up fines. I’ll take care of them.”

That’s the Murdaugh legacy Alex practiced and now laments with crocodile tears: “I’ll take care of them.” That is done by bending the law, not by being wholly committed to justice. It requires co-conspirators.

Buster Murdaugh laid out the blueprint for the family legacy in the whiskey case. You rush to the scene. You use your badge to manipulate the story and evidence. Interfere with witnesses and jurors. Hire a flank of high-priced, big-name lawyers. Remain a hale and hearty fellow who knows everyone and engenders trust, with the belief that a Murdaugh can always “take care of them.”

The federal judge who tried that case called Murdaugh “grossly unethical” and didn’t understand how we would re-elect him, which we did for 30 more years.

Today, we still see things that are wrong. This time, we should act and not look the other way.

Legislators who are lawyers place judges on the bench, then practice before them. It is grossly unethical. A judge can be accused of wrongdoing, but we never hear another word about it as the judicial system’s foxes guard the henhouse.

When something is grossly unethical, fix it. Or pass this way again.

David Lauderdale may be reached at