‘Gathering Storm’ Was Nearing Murdaugh Before the Murders, Prosecutors Say
WALTERBORO, S.C. — The prosecutor seeking to convict Alex Murdaugh of murdering his wife and son said in his closing argument on Wednesday that a “gathering storm” had been threatening to expose Mr. Murdaugh’s thefts of millions of dollars, leading him to kill his family in a last-ditch effort to preserve his legacy and wealth.
Creighton Waters, the prosecutor, argued that evidence in the case could only lead jurors to conclude that Mr. Murdaugh, who comes from a family of powerful South Carolina lawyers, had carried out the grisly June 2021 murders to halt the expanding inquiries into his finances and reported thefts from clients and his law firm.
“After an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes, and also whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him,” Mr. Waters said in the courtroom as he tried to summarize the prosecution’s case.
The closing arguments took place on the 27th day of a trial that lasted far longer than expected. Over five weeks, prosecutors outlined an extensive case against Mr. Murdaugh, saying he used a rifle to kill his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and a shotgun to kill their younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22. They said that he stole millions of dollars in part to pay for a painkiller addiction, and that his law firm’s accountant was on the verge of uncovering his thefts.
One of Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers was to deliver the defense’s closing argument later on Wednesday, and 12 jurors would then begin deliberations, either in the afternoon or on Thursday morning. Earlier on Wednesday, the jury toured the Murdaughs’ rural hunting estate, known as Moselle, where the victims were found dead near dog kennels on the property.
For 20 months after the June 7, 2021, killings, Mr. Murdaugh denied being at the kennels, a lie that was exposed at trial when prosecutors played a video that Paul Murdaugh had taken at the kennels just minutes before the killings; Alex and Maggie Murdaugh’s voices could be heard in the background.
Understand the ‘Murdaugh Murders’
A South Carolina mystery. The unraveling of the life of Alex Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer, is at the center of a sprawling saga of mysterious deaths — including the killing of his wife and son — and allegations of multimillion-dollar swindles. Here’s what to know about the case:
Two murders and an indictment. The fatal shooting of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh in 2021 rocked South Carolina’s Lowcountry region, where the Murdaugh family’s powerful legal dynasty originated. On July 14, the police charged Alex Murdaugh with killing his wife and son. Mr. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty.
The Murdaughs are powerful. The family has dominated the legal profession in a rural swath of the state for more than a century. For nearly 90 years, the post of chief prosecutor for a five-county region was held by a Murdaugh. And for even longer, the family’s law firm has been one of the state’s leading tort litigation firms.
There was a botched suicide plot. A day after he was forced out of his family’s law firm for misusing funds, Alex Murdaugh reported that he had been shot in the head. He soon admitted that he had actually asked a former client to kill him because he wanted to leave his older son, Buster, with a $10 million insurance payout. Mr. Murdaugh survived and was charged with fraud.
Other strange deaths revolve around the case. The case has brought new scrutiny to three other deaths in the region that may be tied to the family, including a young man found dead along a road in 2015 and a fatal boat crash in 2019.
Mr. Murdaugh has been accused of swindling millions. The lawyer was arrested on Oct. 14, 2021, and charged with stealing millions of dollars from a settlement intended for the children of a housekeeper who died at the family’s home in 2018 after falling on the front steps.
In tearful testimony last week, Mr. Murdaugh admitted that he had lied, saying he had feared that admitting he was at the crime scene immediately before the murders would lead the police to suspect that he was the killer. He said that paranoia brought about by his addiction to painkillers was part of what caused him to lie.
The video established that Mr. Murdaugh was at the kennels at 8:45 p.m., minutes before the killings took place. He said he had returned to the house, leaving his wife and son at the kennels, and about 20 minutes later, left the property to visit his ailing mother nearby. Along the way there and back, he made a series of calls, including to his wife, but said he did not think anything was wrong when his wife did not answer.
Prosecutors said he had already carried out the murders by then and was making the calls, along with the hasty visit to his mother, to concoct an alibi.
He returned home at 10 p.m., first pulling up to the home and then driving down to the kennels, where he found the bodies of his wife and son and called 911, sounding distraught.
The prosecution’s case has been hampered by a lack of physical evidence. Though they have argued that Maggie Murdaugh was killed with a family-owned rifle, they have not found either that or the shotgun used to kill their son. No blood was found on Mr. Murdaugh’s shirt, and there is no exact time of death, only an inference based on when the victims stopped using their phones and a medical examiner’s estimate that they occurred at about 9 p.m.
Mr. Waters emphasized in his closing argument that jurors should not worry about a slight doubt they might have; only a reasonable doubt, he said, should keep them from convicting Mr. Murdaugh.
“Circumstantial evidence can be just as strong as direct evidence,” he said.
The murders went unsolved for more than a year after the crimes, as Mr. Murdaugh suggested that a fatal boat crash his son had been involved in could have prompted a revenge attack against his family. He testified last week that he still believed this theory was the most likely motive for the crime.
The case has drawn intense interest across the country, in part because of the Murdaugh family’s history of power and privilege in the region. Mr. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served as the top prosecutor for a wide swath of the rural South Carolina Lowcountry and were partners in a powerful family law firm. Mr. Murdaugh was disbarred last summer after being charged with a series of financial crimes.