TIMELINE: A look back at the Alex Murdaugh case ahead of his murder trial
COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh is set to go on trial next week for the shooting deaths of his wife and their youngest son.
The name Murdaugh has been prominent in South Carolina for generations, but since the killings in June of 2021, that name has been tied to multiple law enforcement investigations.
It was on June 7, 2021, that changed everything for Murdaugh. His wife, 52-year-old Maggie, and their son, 22-year-old Paul, were shot multiple times with two different guns, a rifle and shotgun respectively, near the dog kennels at the family’s Islandton property.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Investigators with the State Law Enforcement Division say it started on June 7 at 10:07 p.m. when Alex Murdaugh called 911 and said that he had returned to the family property on Moselle Road to find the bodies of his wife and son.
SLED officials said Colleton County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the location where it appeared that Paul and Maggie had both sustained multiple gunshot wounds.
“The Sheriff’s Office secured the scene and contacted SLED at 10:28 p.m. to request SLED’s assistance in conducting this double murder investigation,” SLED officials said.
Authorities said SLED Lowcountry Regional agents were dispatched and began arriving at the property at 11:47 p.m. SLED agents say they began working with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office immediately to evaluate the crime scene and take the lead on this investigation. SLED crime scene agents began arriving at the scene at 12:07 a.m.
“Crime scene personnel worked throughout the morning of June 8 to collect evidence and submitted it to SLED’s forensic lab, which immediately began processing and testing the evidence,” SLED officials said.
Murdaugh’s defense team says prosecutors have audio and video recordings taken a short time before Maggie and Paul were shot to death.
“In any event, on the recording, Paul is taking a video of his friend’s dog, who Paul was concerned about,” the documents state. “Apparently, a conversation between Maggie, Paul and Alex is also captured on this recording. Family members report that Maggie, Paul and Alex are having a convivial conversation about the behavior of their own dog, Bubba. There is absolutely no indication of a disagreement or dispute between Paul, Maggie, and Alex, according to family members who viewed the recording.”
On June 25, 2021, Alex and his oldest son, Buster, announced a $100,000 reward in connection to Maggie and Paul’s murders.
“I want to thank everyone for the incredible love and support that we have received over the last few weeks,” Alex said in a statement released. “Now is the time to bring justice for Maggie and Paul.”
On Sept. 5, 2021, Alex was “shot in the head” in rural Hampton County. SLED says Hampton County dispatch received a 911 call from him at 1:34 p.m. where he told dispatchers that he had been shot on Old Salkehatchie Road near Varnville.
The release states Hampton County deputies secured the scene while EMS coordinated medical air transport of Murdaugh to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, for treatment of a superficial gunshot wound to the head.
Murdaugh’s lawyer says family told him there was an entry and exit wound, Murdaugh’s skull was fractured, and there was minor brain bleeding.
On Sept. 7, 2021, Murdaugh resigned from his family law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, after being accused of diverting lawyer fees.
One of Murdaugh’s lawyers, Jim Griffin, said the allegations of financial impropriety have prompted Alex to confront his substance dependency and voluntarily check into an in-patient substance abuse rehab facility. Griffin said Murdaugh checked into the facility after being discharged from the hospital after being shot.
The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret. I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders. I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.
On Sept. 14, 2021, state authorities said the man arrested in connection with the shooting of Alex Murdaugh planned it with him so that Buster, Murdaugh’s surviving son, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
In response, Murdaugh lawyers Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian released a statement saying that Murdaugh was pushed to suicide by many people feeding his addiction to opioids.
At around the same time, attorneys for the family of the Murdaugh’s housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died after a trip and fall accident in 2018, filed a lawsuit after claiming they had not been paid any money in their $500,000 wrongful death lawsuit.
On Sept. 16, 2021, Murdaugh turned himself in after an arrest warrant was issued for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. A judge set bond at $20, 000. Murdaugh posted that and returned to rehab.
On Sept. 21, 2021, one of the people aboard the boat that crashed and killed Mallory Beach in 2019 filed a lawsuit against Alex and Buster Murdaugh. In the suit, Connor Cook’s attorney alleged the Murdaughs tried to paint Cook as the one who was “criminally and civilly” responsible for the boat accident. Cook’s attorney said the Murdaughs used a “whisper campaign” throughout Hampton County, “law enforcement misdirection,” and “possible obstruction” to place blame on Cook. However, Cook wanted to tell law enforcement that Paul Murdaugh, who was 19 at the time of the crash, was the driver when the crash that killed Mallory Beach happened.
In a court order filed Sept. 30, 2021, Judge Clifton Newman was named to handle “pretrial matters relating to all pending and future criminal investigations” concerning the deaths of Maggie and Paul, Satterfield, and Stephen Smith who died from blunt force after a hit and run in Hampton County in 2015. His case had been reopened based on information agents gathered as they continued the investigation of the murders of Maggie and Paul.
In early October 2021, PMPED filed a lawsuit against Murdaugh looking to recover money he allegedly stole from the firm. According to the law firm, Murdaugh used a systematic scheme in which he moved funds that were owed to the firm and to their clients to a fictitious account.
On Oct. 19, 2021, a judge denied bond for Murdaugh on two felony charges of obtaining property by false pretenses. In these charges, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Murdaugh stole $3.4 million in insurance payments that were meant for the Satterfield’s sons.
Several days later, an injunction was filed to freeze the financial assets of Alex and Buster Murdaugh as multiple lawsuits had been filed.
On July 12, 2022, the South Carolina Supreme Court officially disbarred Murdaugh.
“Based on his admitted reprehensible misconduct, we hereby disbar Respondent Richard Alexander Murdaugh from the practice of law in South Carolina,” the order states.
“The purpose of disbarring an attorney ‘is to remove from the profession a person whose misconduct has proved him unfit to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities belonging to the office of an attorney, and thus to protect the public and those charged with the administration of justice,’” the order states.
On July 14, 2021, more than one year after the murders of Maggie and Paul, Murdaugh was officially charged in the shooting deaths of his wife and son.
Murdaugh’s attorneys, Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, released the following statement on the new charges:
Alex wants his family, friends and everyone to know that he did not have anything to do with the murders of Maggie and Paul. He loved them more than anything in the world.
It was very clear from day one that law enforcement and the Attorney General prematurely concluded that Alex was responsible for the murder of his wife and son. But we know that Alex did not have any motive whatsoever to murder them. We are immediately filing a motion for a speedy trial, we are requesting that the Attorney General turn over all evidence within 30 days as required by law and we demand to have a trial within 60 days of receiving that evidence.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson thanked SLED, the attorneys and staff in his office and everyone who worked on the case for their “tireless efforts to gather evidence and follow where it led.”
“All the efforts of our office and the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation have been focused on seeking justice for the victims’ families,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “We also want to thank the Colleton County Grand Jury for listening to that evidence and for their service to the people of the state.”
Wilson said he could not comment on specifics in the case because of the active investigation.
“Over the last 13 months, SLED agents and our partners have worked day in and day out to build a case against the person responsible for the murders of Maggie and Paul and to exclude those who were not,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said. “At no point did agents lose focus on this investigation. From the beginning I have been clear, the priority was to ensure justice was served. Today is one more step in a long process for justice for Maggie and Paul.”
Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. Appearing before Judge Clifton Newman, lawyers from both sides agreed to no bond for Murdaugh, a decision upheld by Newman.
On November 17, 2021, Murdaugh filed an alibi claim saying he was not present during the killings. In the one-page filing, Murdaugh and his defense team claimed he was not present during the murders of his wife and son.
The document states Murdaugh left the family property in rural Colleton County just after 9 p.m. the night of the killings and drove to Varnville to see his mother and a nurse’s aid, arriving there at 9:20 p.m., according to the filing. During the drive, the defense claims Murdaugh spoke with multiple people on the phone, including his son, Buster, his brother, John Marvin, and his sister-in-law, Liz, C.B. Rowe and Chris Wilson, who he spoke to on the way there and back. The defense claims Murdaugh stayed until 9:45 p.m. before returning to the family properties at 10:05 p.m., where he found Maggie and Paul’s bodies.
In a previous filing, state prosecutors specified that Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were murdered at the family property between 8:30 p.m. and 10:06 p.m.
Murdaugh, to this day, remains behind bars but maintains his innocence.
What you need to know regarding the murder trial:
- Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters and the defense team have agreed on a generic questionnaire potential jurors will receive before they are chosen to serve.
- Attorneys representing Murdaugh have asked the state to provide details on their theory of motive. The defense team argues the state should provide the information to “avoid unnecessarily extending the trial by weeks.” Court documents state the request is one commonly used in federal court and was commonly used in the past in South Carolina, even though it is not on the books in state law. But the defense argues it remains available in criminal cases “to advise the defendant more fully of the charges against him.”
- In a 23-page answer, the state said the court should not only deny the defense request but instead grant the motion to admit details of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, for which they say he faces 99 charges from 19 state grand jury indictments. Those charges allegedly contain “millions of pages of documents.” While acknowledging the evidence of the alleged financial crimes is “very extensive,” the state countered in its motion that it was not the state’s fault that there is “so much of it out there that had to be gathered.” “If anything, it is the defendant’s fault,” the document states.
- There has been a back-and-forth over a shirt Murdaugh allegedy was wearing the night of the murders and expert testimony regarding blood on the shirt. Murdaugh’s defense is asking for the court to deny prosecutors from using any testimony from Tom Bevel, a blood spatter expert, in Murdaugh’s murder trial set to begin Monday. Murdaugh’s defense has previously raised questions about the use of Bevel’s expertise on the shirt. The defense is now pointing to another expert, whose affidavit and preliminary report were completed Jan. 9, and released in the new documents, as their justification for excluding Bevel’s opinion. The new report does not agree with what the state expert says about how blood transferred to the shirt. The filing states Orangeburg County Deputy Chief Dr. Kenneth Kinsey, a former South Carolina Law Enforcement Division special agent, says the stains on the shirt are too hard to identify as high-velocity spatter, the blood stains you’d likely find on a shooter’s clothing, according to the documents.
- Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty in the case, instead seeking life without parole.
- An order filed will prohibit the disclosure of identities or identifying information about jurors selected. Judge Newman issued the order that reads, “all parties, counsel, court personnel, agents, employees, law enforcement, and media shall be, and are hereby barred” from disclosing information about jurors summoned in the trial. The order states jurors will be identified by juror number only.
In addition to the murder charges – Murdaugh faces 19 indictments containing 99 charges related to multiple alleged criminal acts.
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