Alex Murdaugh found guilty of murder of wife and son

Richard “Alex” Murdaugh has been found guilty of the murders of wife Maggie and son Paul, after a six-week televised trial that culminated with the defendant unexpectedly taking the stand to plead his innocence.

The jury returned with the verdict after three hours of deliberation. Murdaugh was judged guilty on two counts of murder and two weapons-related charges.

Murdaugh rocked slightly as the verdicts were read, and turned to his son Buster, who had put his head in his hands, and nodded to him as he turned to be cuffed by sheriff’s deputies.

He mouthed to his surviving son: “I’m sorry, I love you,” ABC’s Good Morning America reported on Friday morning.

Related: Violence, corruption, power: key moments of Alex Murdaugh’s trial

“He may be taken away,” the judge, Clifton Newman, said as Murdaugh was led out. He will be returned to court on Friday for sentencing. Newman has discretion to pass a sentence of 30 years to life without parole for each of the murder convictions.

Neither of Murdaugh’s brothers were in court despite one, John Marvin, testifying on his elder brother’s behalf. Murdaugh’s defense counsel immediately called for a mistrial, which Newman denied.

“The circumstantial evidence, direct evidence, all of the evidence, only pointed to one conclusion – the conclusion that you all reached,” he said before dismissing the jury.

Murdaugh, 54, had been held in jail in South Carolina since October 2021 on felony counts of fraud, after millions of dollars went missing from a settlement involving the death of a housekeeper.

During the murder trial, almost 75 witnesses were called. Prosecutors said Murdaugh shot and killed his family members to distract from his financial crimes.

Murdaugh claimed on the witness stand that he would never do anything to hurt Maggie and Paul, but he never, outside of a not guilty plea, directly denied killing them.

The case, the subject of a recent Netflix documentary, has been an opportunity to examine power and corruption in South Carolina’s low country, where the Murdaughs had established deep roots of power in the region as moonshiners during Prohibition.

Related: Alex Murdaugh shines a true light on privilege in the US | Emma Brockes

Missteps by investigators at the murder scene, and evidence mishandling afterwards, at times appeared to jeopardize a conviction. Defense lawyers repeatedly raised issues that they believed conferred reasonable doubt.

But in the closing days of the trial, as prosecutors sought to undermine Murdaugh’s defense that unknown assailants were responsible, a not guilty verdict had begun to appear remote to most observers.

Outside the court, South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson said he hoped the verdict would restore faith in the justice system. He noted that many had misgivings that Murdaugh could be successfully held to account.

“No one, but no one, is above the law,” he said. “Our justice system gave voice to Maggie and Paul who were brutally mowed down by someone they loved and trusted.”

Juror Craig Moyer said on Friday morning that, during deliberations, after two jurors thought the father was not guilty and one was unsure, the panel talked the case through for between 45 minutes and an hour and agreed on the guilty verdicts, which Moyer had believed throughout.

“He was a good liar, but not good enough,” Moyer told the Good Morning America show of the defendant.

Moyer was solidly convinced most particularly by the presentation of cellphone video that son and victim Paul Murdaugh sent to a friend minutes before he was killed, which featured the voice of his father.

“I heard his voice clearly and everyone else could, too,” Moyer said.

Moyer also said he was sitting very close to the defendant and observed a lack of compassion from Murdaugh when he took the stand and did not believe that the father was really crying when he showed emotion.

“He didn’t cry, all he did was blow snot. I saw his eyes. If you look at everything it’s all plain and clear,” he said of Murdaugh’s guilt.

The verdict does not resolve questions about at least two other deaths connected to Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred lawyer whose family had lorded over this slice of the swampy low country for close to a century.

Going back three generations, the Murdaughs held considerable sway over the judiciary, as state attorneys general, and via a prominent legal firm that brought profitable civil-award malpractice cases that companies would sooner settle than let go to trial. Locals called the five-county district around the family’s seat in Hampton “Murdaugh country”.

At the time prosecutors estimated the murders took place – at about 8.50pm – Murdaugh claimed he was visiting his mother and had not been at the dog kennels that night.

Cellphone evidence showed that he had visited the kennels, and he admitted so on the witness stand. But he said he drove a golf cart back to the main house, 500 yards away, before the shootings took place.

Prosecutors argued that Murdaugh had left the estate soon after to visit his mother to help establish an alibi. But investigators never searched his mother’s house, giving time, some believed, for the defendant to recover and dispose of the murder weapons and clothing that was likely to be heavily soiled with blood evidence.

The case leaves many issues unresolved. South Carolina state investigators are still looking into two deaths that preceded the murders of Maggie and Paul – housekeeper Gloria Satterfield in 2018 and Stephen Smith three years earlier.

Before the murder case was handed to jurors, they heard graphic testimony about the crime scene and if, given the estimated angles of the fatal shots, whether one assailant could have committed both crimes. Jurors also visited the crime scene.

Maggie Murdaugh, 52, was killed with five shots from a hunting rifle, while Paul Murdaugh was hit with two shotgun blasts. Both died instantly.

But police arriving at the scene after Murdaugh called 911 at 10.07pm that night did not warn the community that a shooter or shooters were at large. It was not until state investigators were brought in, and Murdaugh confessed to embezzlement, that murder charges were eventually filed.

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