WALTERBORO, S.C. — A judge has sentenced Alex Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences, saying the disgraced lawyer was responsible for the “savage” crime and calling his continue lies “troubling.”
Judge Clifton Newman spoke to Murdaugh directly before imposing the sentence, which was the maximum under state law save for the death penalty. Prosecutors had decided before the trial not to seek death.
Newman said he couldn’t understand why Murdaugh would have killed his wife Maggie and Paul and why he wouldn’t admit what he did. But he imagined he must be tormented by what he’d done.
"I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you're attempting to go to sleep," he said. "I'm sure they come and visit you...and they will continue to do so."
Murdaugh agreed that he saw his wife and son when he closed his eyes, but didn’t admit guilt. In fact, in his limited comments, Murdaugh would only say that he didn’t commit the crime.
"I’m innocent, I would never hurt my wife Maggie, I would never hurt my son Pau Pau,” he told the judge while wearing a gray jail jumpsuit, different that the business attire he wore during the trial.
“And it might not have been you. It might have been the monster you become,” when taking large amounts of opiates, Newman replied, noting Murdaugh's decades long addiction to painkillers.
His attorneys said afterward they will file an appeal in 10 days.
The sentencing brings to an end the six-week long trial that brought international attention to the small community where the killings took place.
Through more than 75 witnesses and nearly 800 pieces of evidence, jurors heard about betrayed friends and clients, Murdaugh’s failed attempt to stage his own death in an insurance fraud scheme, a fatal boat crash in which his son was implicated, the housekeeper who died in a fall in the Murdaugh home, the grisly scene of the killings and Bubba, the chicken-snatching dog.
In the end, Murdaugh’s fate appeared sealed by cellphone video taken by his son, who he called “Little Detective” for his knack for finding bottles of painkillers in his father’s belongings after the lawyer had sworn off the pills.
Testimony culminated in Murdaugh’s appearance on the witness stand, when he admitted stealing millions from clients and lying to investigators about being at the dog kennels where the shootings took place but steadfastly maintained his innocence in the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
“I did not kill Maggie, and I did not kill Paul. I would never hurt Maggie, and I would never hurt Paul — ever — under any circumstances,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh’s 52-year-old wife was shot four or five times with a rifle and their 22-year-old son was shot twice with a shotgun at the kennels near their rural Colleton County home on June 7, 2021.
Prosecutors didn’t have the weapons used to kill the Murdaughs or other direct evidence like confessions or blood spatter. But they had a mountain of circumstantial evidence, led by a video locked on Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone for more than a year — video shot minutes before the killings that witnesses testified captured the voices of all three Murdaughs.
Alex Murdaugh had told police repeatedly after the killings that he was not at the kennels and was instead napping before he went to visit his ailing mother that night. Murdaugh called 911 and said he discovered the bodies when he returned home.
But in his testimony, Murdaugh admitted joining Maggie and Paul at the kennels, where he said he took a chicken away from a rowdy yellow Labrador named Bubba — whose name Murdaugh can be heard saying on the video — before heading back to the house shortly ahead of the fatal shootings.
Murdaugh lied about being at the kennels for 20 months before taking the stand on the 23rd day of his trial. He blamed his decadeslong addiction to opioids for making him paranoid, creating a distrust of police. He said that once he went down that path, he felt trapped in the lie.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Once I told a lie — I told my family — I had to keep lying,” he testified.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters grilled Murdaugh about what he repeatedly called the lawyer’s “new story” of what happened at the kennels, walking him moment by moment through the timeline and assailing his “fuzzy” memory of certain details, like his last words to his wife and son.
A state agent also testified that markings on spent cartridges found around Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched markings on fired cartridges at a shooting range elsewhere on the property, though the defense said that kind of matching is an inexact science.
Murdaugh comes from a family that dominated the local legal scene for decades. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were the area’s elected prosecutors for more than 80 years and his family law firm grew to dozens of lawyers by suing railroads, corporations and other big businesses.
The now-disbarred attorney admitted stealing millions of dollars from the family firm and clients, saying he needed the money to fund his drug habit. Before he was charged with murder, Murdaugh was in jail awaiting trial on about 100 other charges ranging from insurance fraud to tax evasion.