The Murdaugh Dynasty’s Downfall: A Tale of Scandal, Murder, and a Shocking Twist

Photograph by People.com, via Google Images
The Fall of the Murdaugh Dynasty

 The Murdaugh family has been at the center of several civil and criminal investigations, and the list has continued to build as the years went on.  In March of 2022, The Campbell Law Observer released an article about the rise and what seemed to be the beginning of the fall of the Murdaugh Dynasty.  The Murdaugh name has now been implicated in a laundry list of investigations, including, but not limited to:

Richard Alexander Murdaugh (referred to as “Alex” going forward), a prominent South Carolina attorney, has since captivated the nation.  The Murdaugh family is no stranger to scandal, but on June 7, 2021, the shocking murders of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and their youngest son, Paul, sent shockwaves through the tight-knit community of Hampton County. As the murder case unfolded, revealing a web of deception and dark secrets that had been hidden for years, Alex watched the Murdaugh Dynasty begin to crumble before his eyes.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) took the lead in investigating the murders of Maggie and Paul.  Still, the community was left in the dark, desperate for answers as rumors and speculation swirled.  Later that month, Alex and his family made a statement that there would be a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for Maggie and Paul’s deaths, but the catch was that the tip must be provided to SLED by September 30, 2021.

The Failed Assisted Suicide Attempt

Later in the year, Alex himself became the “target” of violence, or so the nation thought.  In early September of 2021, Alex called 911 and reported that he had been shot in the head while changing a tire on the side of a rural road minutes away from his home.  While in the hospital, Alex tested positive for barbiturates and opiates; this brought to light Alex’s alleged drug addiction.

Soon after that, authorities learned that Alex had allegedly asked Curtis Eddie Smith, a distant cousin and alleged drug dealer for Alex, to shoot and kill him so Alex’s living son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.  Smith claimed in a recent episode of the Netflix series “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” that he refused to shoot him and that Alex then drove off.  Smith then stated that he pulled up to Alex’s car on the side of the road, and Alex approached him with a gun.  In an attempt to scare Alex, Smith states he took the gun and fired it into the air, causing Alex to stumble and fall to the ground, hitting his head on the asphalt. Smith claims the bullet never hit Alex and that the injuries to the back of his head were from rocks and the asphalt.  Smith stated that he asked Alex why he wanted Smith to kill him, and that Alex told him he believed prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him of murdering Paul and Maggie.

Smith continues to claim his innocence after being indicted by a Hampton County Grand Jury on November 4, 2021, for pointing and presenting a firearm, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, assisted suicide, conspiracy, and a false claim for payment.

Alex was indicted by the Hampton County Grand Jury at the same time for a false claim for payment, filing a false police report, and conspiracy.

Unraveling Scandals: The Shocking Truth Behind Alex’s Resignation

Days after Alex’s failed assisted suicide attempt, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick law firm (PMPED) published a statement saying Alex had resigned from the firm on September 3, the day before his attempted suicide, after they discovered he had misappropriated funds from the family law firm possibly amounting to over a million dollars.  It was later learned that it was not only the firm’s money that Alex was misappropriating; he was also misappropriating his client’s money.  Alex’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, stated in an interview that Alex was using this money to supply his opioid addiction.

The Murder Indictment that Shook the Silence

After going months without any updates on the investigation of Paul and Maggie’s murders, on July 14, 2022, Alex was indicted on two counts of murder for fatally shooting his wife and son on that gruesome evening in June of 2021.

The Murder Trial

Alex’s double murder trial began on January 23, 2023, in the Colleton County Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, with Honorable Judge Clifton Newman presiding over the case.

Cracks in the Alibi: Disturbing Contradictions Emerge in Opening Statements

South Carolina Prosecutor Creighton Waters opened the trial by telling the jury there was evidence contradicting Alex’s alibi.  Alex told a multitude of people that he took a nap after eating dinner with Paul and Maggie on June 7, 2021, and then went to visit his mother at her house for 30-40 minutes. Furthermore, Alex claimed he had never been down to the kennels on the night of the murders.  However, GPS information extracted from Alex’s phone stated otherwise.  Furthermore, Paul had taken a video at 8:45 p.m. that picked up not only Maggie and Paul’s voices but a third voice that was later identified during the trial as Alex’s.

Further Inconsistencies Unveiled: Poking Holes in Alex Murdaugh’s Statements

Detective Laura Rutland from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office was called to testify by the prosecution.  Det. Rutland testified that after inspecting Murdaugh and his clothing, he appeared to have no blood on his hands, clothes, or shoes, despite him claiming to have attempted to turn Paul over and check his pulse.  Later in the trial, a video extracted from Paul’s phone showed Alex in a different outfit an hour before the murders took place versus what he was wearing when first responders arrived at the scene.  In the video, Alex is seen wearing a light blue short-sleeved button-down shirt, khakis, and loafers.  When the first responders arrived at the scene, Alex was wearing a white t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. Det. Rutland testified that when she arrived, Alex was sweating, yet his clothes were dry.  The prosecution alleged that if Alex had attempted to move Paul to see if he had a pulse, as he stated he did, he would have encountered some blood at some point.

A Cast of Doubt on Alex’s Alibi by an Alarming Instruction

On February 6, 2023, Mushelle “Shelley” Smith, Alex’s mother’s caregiver at the time of the murders, was called to testify by the prosecution.  During her testimony, Shelley stated that Alex was only at his mother’s house for 20 minutes before leaving.  Shelley also testified that Alex had instructed her to say that he was at the house for 30-40 minutes if someone asked.  The prosecution alleged that, if Shelley were correct that he was only at his mother’s house for 15-20 minutes, he would have had time to murder Paul and Maggie.

Misplaced Priorities

Alex’s sister-in-law, Marian Proctor, took the stand to testify about an interesting conversation she had with Alex after the murders.  Proctor testified that “[Alex] said his number one goal was clearing Paul’s name and I thought that was so strange because my number one goal was to find out who killed my sister and Paul.” Alex was referring to clearing Paul’s name because of his involvement in a boat crash that caused the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

Alex’s Shocking Confession on the Stand

Alex then took himself to the stand on February 23, 2023, beginning his testimony by denying that he was the one who shot his wife and son.  Alex’s testimony spanned across two days.  During his testimony, Alex admitted to lying to the authorities about how the day of the murders played out, admitting he had been at the kennels.  Alex blamed the lying on his drug addiction and the paranoia caused by it.

An Uncle’s Chilling Testimony on Crime Scene Cleanup

The last witness to take the stand was John Marvin Murdaugh, Alex’s younger brother.  John described how the authorities had failed to thoroughly clean up the feed room Paul was brutally murdered in and how he cleaned up the blood, skull fragments, and bodily tissue of Paul that was left behind.  On March 1, 2023, the jurors visited the Moselle property where Paul and Maggie were murdered.

Verdict Delivered: Alex Murdaugh’s Chilling Fate Sealed in Two Short Days

After less than three hours of deliberation, on March 2, 2023, the jury found Alex guilty of the murders of his wife and son.  A day later, Judge Newman sentenced Alex to two consecutive life sentences in prison for murdering his wife and son.

Sixth Amendment Right to an Impartial Jury: Alex Murdaugh’s Motion for a New Trial Amid Jury Tampering Allegations DENIED

In September, Alex’s attorneys filed a motion to suspend his appeal and for leave to file a motion for a new trial based on multiple allegations of jury tampering primarily directed at the Colleton County Clerk of Court, Rebecca “Becky” Hill.  On October 17, 2023, the South Carolina Court of Appeals granted Alex’s motion to suspend his conviction appeal, allowing him to file a motion for a new trial.

On January 29, 2024, Retired Chief Justice Jean Toal denied Alex’s motion for a new trial after accusing Becky of tampering with the jury in the 2023 Murder Trial. Judge Toal stated that Alex’s attorneys held the burden of proving (1) “the fact of the improper comment or question by the clerk of court, Rebecca Hill, to a juror or jurors” and (2) “prejudice suffered by the defendant, specifically that the Hill improper comments to the juror or jurors influenced the juror to vote to convict Defendant Murdaugh.” Judge Toal found that Becky was not a credible witness and that she was “attracted by the siren call of celebrity,” and therefore did not consider Becky’s testimony as credible. Judge Toal further found that based on other evidence of comments made by Becky, Becky had made an improper comment to at least one juror. Additionally, Judge Toal found that Alex’s attorneys failed to prove that Alex had suffered any prejudice because they could not prove that Becky’s improper comments directly influenced the juror(s) to vote to convict Alex. The motion for a new trial was denied.

Avatar photo
About Kerry Sullivan (1 Articles)
Kerry Sullivan is a second-year student at Campbell University School of Law and is a Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. Originally from Wake Forest, NC, Kerry graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Care Management. In her free time, Kerry enjoys trying new restaurants with her partner and spending time with her cats, Sage and Olive, and her dog, Bentley. Kerry's areas of interest include criminal prosecution and attorney misconduct.