Alex Murdaugh trial: Judge sentences disgraced lawyer to life in prison; defense to appeal

Alex Murdaugh verdict determined in less than 3 hours Thursday

ByChristina Maxouris and Ray Sanchez, CNN
Friday, March 3, 2023
Alex Murdaugh murders trial
Alex Murdaugh murders trialState authorities reopening the investigation into Stephen Smith's death after saying they found new evidence while looking into the Murdaugh murders.

WALTERBORO, S.C. -- Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday for the murders of his wife and grown son -- another chapter in the downfall of the disgraced attorney whose dynastic family had significant legal reach for decades in parts of South Carolina's Lowcountry.

"Amazingly to have you come and testify that it was just another ordinary day. 'My wife and son and I were out just enjoying life.' Not credible. Not believable. You can convince yourself about it but obviously you have the inability to convince anyone else about that," Judge Clifton Newman said moments before handing down two consecutive life sentences.

WATCH: Murdaugh judge: Death penalty has been given for less than his crimes

During sentencing, the judge in the Alex Murdaugh trial said others have been given the death penalty for less than what the disgraced lawyer was convicted of.

Like he did on the witness stand at trial, Murdaugh maintained his innocence on Friday but Newman pointedly asked when will his web of deceit end.

"I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the night times when you're attempting to go to sleep. I'm sure they come and visit you. I'm sure," the judge told Murdaugh at one point in the Colleton County courtroom.

"Every night," said Murdaugh, whose storied family name was once synonymous with the law in parts of South Carolina.

Murdaugh's defense attorneys said they plan to file a notice of intention to appeal the decision within 10 days.

SEE ALSO: Alex Murdaugh's surviving son testifies he was 'destroyed' by fatal shootings of wife, son

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian defended the decision to let Murdaugh testify, saying his credibility was under question because of his alleged financial wrongdoings.

"Once they got that character information - 'he's a thief, he's a liar' - then this jury had to think that he's a despicable human being, and not to be believed," Harpootlian told reporters after sentencing. Murdaugh, he added, always wanted to take the stand.

Typically, sentencing hearings include victim impact statements. There were none on Friday. Instead, the hearing stood out for Newman's direct exchanges with Murdaugh, whose defense the judge said represented "an assault on the integrity of the judicial system."

"I don't question at all the decision of the state not to proceed the death penalty," Newman told Murdaugh.

SEE MORE: Murdaugh trial updates: Former lawyer testifies in own defense, admits he lied to investigators

"But as I sit here in this courtroom and look around (at) the many portraits of judges and other court officials and reflect on the fact that over the past century your family, including you, have been prosecuting people here in this courtroom and many have received a death penalty probably for lesser conduct."

"Remind me of the expression you gave on the witness stand...," the judge said to Murdaugh.

WATCH: Alex Murdaugh again says he's innocent during sentencing hearing

Alex Murdaugh said again that he is innocent during his sentencing hearing.

"A tangled web we weave," Murdaugh said, repeating a line from his testimony.

"What did you mean by that?"

"It meant when I lied I continued to lie."

"And the question is when will it end?" Newman said. "When will it end? This ended already for the jury because they've concluded that you continued to lie and lie throughout your testimony."

Newman said he had to have a portrait of Murdaugh's grandfather removed from the courthouse to ensure a fair trial. The judge also noted Murdaugh's longtime addiction to painkillers.

WATCH: 'I lied and I continued to lie,' Murdaugh says during sentencing

During his sentencing, Alex Murdaugh said he lied and continued to lie.

The killer, Newman told Murdaugh, "might not have been you. It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opiate pills. Maybe you become another person. I've seen that before."

After sentencing, Murdaugh was released into the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Wearing a brown jumpsuit and handcuffs, left the courtroom under the watch of a law enforcement official.

Jury verdict came in less than three hours

After more than a month and dozens of witnesses, jurors took less than three hours Thursday to convict Murdaugh of two counts of murder in the June 2021 killings, as well as two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Prosecutors asked for life in prison without the possibility of parole, sparing Murdaugh the death penalty.

"Justice was done today," lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said in a Thursday night news conference. "It doesn't matter who your family is. It doesn't matter how much money you have, or people think you have. It doesn't matter ... how prominent you are.

Lead Prosecutor Creighton Waters on Murdaugh trial verdict

"If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina."

The case brought national attention -- including Netflix and HBO Max documentaries -- to Murdaugh, the former personal injury attorney whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as prosecutors for a portion of southern South Carolina from 1920 to 2006.

Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, were found fatally shot on the family's Islandton property on June 7, 2021. Murdaugh, who took the stand last week in his own defense, maintained he found the bodies after returning from a brief visit to his sick mother that night.

Prosecutors had argued Murdaugh's motive was to distract and delay investigations into his growing financial problems. They homed in on a history of deceit, arguing he stole millions of dollars from his former clients and law firm and lied to cover his tracks -- theft and lies that Murdaugh admitted in court.

The defense after the verdict asked for a mistrial, but Newman denied it, saying the jury had gotten enough time to consider the evidence -- and the evidence of guilt was "overwhelming."

'The evidence was clear,' juror says

It actually look the jury less than an hour to find Murdaugh guilty, juror Craig Moyer told ABC.

"The evidence was clear," said Moyer, the first on the panel to speak publicly about the trial.

The jury began its deliberations with a vote: "It was two not guilty, one not sure and nine guilty," he said Friday, adding his vote was guilty from the start.

"Everybody was pretty much talking, about 45 minutes later ... we figured it out," he said.

With little to no direct evidence tying Murdaugh to the scene, including no eyewitnesses, the prosecution largely relied on circumstantial evidence, including phone and vehicle tracking systems suggesting Murdaugh's movements the night of the killings.

And prosecutors pointed to another lie that played a key role in the case: a video clip that placed Murdaugh at the murder site shortly before the killings, despite his repeated assertions throughout the investigation that he was not there.

The video, recorded by Paul near the family's dog kennels shortly before the time prosecutors say they were killed, captured Alex Murdaugh's voice in the background, nearly a dozen friends and family members testified.

Murdaugh then testified the voice was his -- and that he'd lied to investigators about his whereabouts because he grew paranoid, which he blamed on his addiction to opioid painkillers.

Moyer, the juror, was surprised when Murdaugh acknowledged the voice heard in the video moments before the murders was his own, he said.

It was that fact that convinced Moyer that Murdaugh was guilty, the juror said.

Moyer said the defense argument that Murdaugh didn't have enough time to commit the crimes and clean up wasn't convincing.

Murdaugh was "a good liar," Moyer said, "but not good enough."

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"I didn't see any true remorse or compassion or anything," he added, noting when Murdaugh took the stand, "He didn't cry. All he did was blow snot."

In the end, "it was the victim, Paul Murdaugh, who solved his own murder," Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Florida's Palm Beach County, told CNN Thursday night about the trial.

Defense had pointed to Murdaugh's drug addiction

Defense attorneys had maintained Murdaugh was a loving father and husband who would not harm his family, and they argued authorities did not properly examine other suspects. In closing arguments, the defense mocked the prosecution's theory of motive as nonsensical, and said he lied about his whereabouts because he was "in the throes of addiction," not because he was guilty.

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, an alleged suicide-for-hire and insurance scam plot, a stint in rehab for drug addiction, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.

In a separate case that has not yet gone to trial, Murdaugh faces 99 charges stemming from a slew of alleged financial crimes, including defrauding his clients, former law firm and the government of millions.

Murdaugh's former law firm -- which renamed itself Parker Law Group in light of his actions -- called Thursday's verdict a step toward justice. Several members of the law group testified during the murder trial.

"The actions of Alex Murdaugh are shocking to us all. Tonight's verdict, which was rendered after a thorough and fair trial, brings justice and some closure to this awful matter," the firm said on Facebook. "Maggie and Paul died tragically and for reasons we may never fully comprehend. They were much beloved, and we will forever mourn their loss."

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