Alex Murdaugh’s defense began to deliver closing arguments in his murder trial on Thursday as they seek to raise reasonable doubt about whether he killed his wife and son in 2021.
Prior to closings, Judge Clifton Newman removed one juror on Thursday morning for engaging in improper discussions about the case. That leaves 12 jurors and one alternate remaining.
The prosecution delivered their closing arguments Wednesday, saying Murdaugh was the only person who had the motive, means and opportunity to kill them – and that his lies afterward betrayed him.
In their telling, the motive was Murdaugh’s attempt to distract and delay investigations into his growing financial problems. The means were two family-owned weapons, prosecutors argued. And the opportunity was Murdaugh’s presence at the crime scene, as revealed in a pivotal video and confirmed by his own testimony, minutes before the murders.
“This defendant … has fooled everyone, everyone, everyone who thought they were close to him,” prosecutor Creighton Waters told the jury. “Everyone who thought they knew who he was, he’s fooled them all. He fooled Maggie and Paul, too, and they paid for it with their lives. Don’t let him fool you, too.”
Murdaugh, 54, is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and son Paul Murdaugh by the family’s dog kennels at their sprawling property known as Moselle in Islandton, South Carolina, on the night of June 7, 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges.
Jurors heard from more than 70 witnesses over six weeks of testimony before visiting Moselle on Wednesday morning.
The prosecution’s focus on Murdaugh’s financial motive and lies underscores the lack of any direct evidence, such as a murder weapon, bloody clothing or eyewitnesses, that connects Murdaugh to the killings. Instead, they have hinged their case on circumstantial evidence, including the consequential video placing Murdaugh at the crime scene that night.
The defense case was highlighted by Murdaugh himself, who offered dramatic testimony over two days last week in which he flatly denied killing his wife and son. At the same time, he admitted that he had lied to investigators about his whereabouts just prior to the killings. He further admitted to stealing millions of dollars from his former clients and law firm and lying to cover his tracks.
The stranger-than-fiction case has brought national attention – including Netflix and HBO Max documentaries – on Alex Murdaugh, the former personal injury attorney and member of a dynastic family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as the local prosecutor consecutively from 1920 to 2006.
Murdaugh was a partner at a powerful law firm with his name on it. But that prominence belied underlying issues, and the killings of his wife and son were followed by accusations of misappropriated funds, his resignation, a bizarre alleged suicide-for-hire and insurance scam plot, a stint in rehab for drug addiction, dozens of financial crimes, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.
He separately faces 99 charges related to alleged financial crimes that will be adjudicated at a later trial.
See what happened when Alex Murdaugh took the stand
In closing arguments, Waters first laid out a decade-long timeline of Murdaugh’s financial wrongdoing to show his motive in the killings.
For one, the chief financial officer of his law firm testified she had confronted Murdaugh about missing funds on the morning of June 7, 2021.
Second, Murdaugh was facing a lawsuit from the family of Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old woman who was killed in February 2019 when a boat allegedly driven by Paul, and owned by Murdaugh, crashed. A hearing in that civil case was scheduled for June 10, 2021, and had the potential to reveal his financial problems, prosecutors argued.
“The pressures on this man were unbearable and they were reaching a crescendo the day his wife and son were murdered by him,” Waters said.
Next, Waters worked to show that Murdaugh had been at the kennels that night and had lied about it.
Murdaugh had long denied that he went to the kennels that night, but a video taken on Paul’s phone at 8:44 p.m. includes audio of Murdaugh’s voice in the background. After about a dozen friends and family members identified his voice on the video, Murdaugh took the stand and admitted he was there and that he he’d lied to police.
“That (video) changed everything. Why did it change everything? Opportunity. Being at the scene of the crime when the murders occurred,” Waters said. “More importantly, exposing the defendant’s lies about the most important thing he could have told law enforcement. ‘When was the last time I saw my wife and child alive?’ Why in the world would an innocent, reasonable father and husband lie about that, and lie about it so early? He didn’t know that (video) was there.”
Further, Waters said Murdaugh had the “means” to commit the murders, in particular the weapons in the crime. Maggie was killed by a Blackout rifle and Paul was killed by a shotgun, and Waters said both were family weapons.
Finally, the prosecution walked through Murdaugh’s series of lies about the case, particularly about his presence at the kennels. Murdaugh, he said, “lies convincingly and easily and he can do it at a drop of a hat.”