COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial is now less than one week away.
There are still many questions to answer about what will happen when testimony begins in the Colleton County courtroom.
It’s the question people have asked more than any other, did Alex Murdaugh kill his wife and son? Why? How?
Next week we should get some of those answers as jury selection in his murder trial begins Monday.
It was June 7, 2021. Alex calls 911 to say his wife Maggie and son Paul had been shot “badly.”
For months, law enforcement offers no suspects, and no details on the crime other than the pair had been killed with two different guns.
Alex offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who had information about the killing.
No one claimed that reward prosecutors say, because Alex was the actual killer.
Alex Murdaugh was indicted in July of 2022, more than a year later, for murder.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office says in filings that video and audio from a cell phone place him at the scene at the time of the killings more than an hour before he called 911 to say they were dead.
Prosecutors say they believe Murdaugh committed the murders to hide his financial crimes, schemes to steal millions from clients.
“I don’t think anything Alex did from June on to the Labor Day shooting (where Alex allegedly asked his friend Curtis “Eddie” Smith to shoot and kill him so his son Buster could collect the $11 million insurance policy) was a rational thought on his part. Remember, look at the pressure that man was under.”
“On June 7, the law firm had confronted him and said there was missing money,” said attorney Eric Bland. “That Chris Wilson had sent you money instead of going through the firm. Palmetto State Bank had made a loan in the name of the Edisto Beach house. Turned out he didn’t own the Edisto Beach house, it was in Maggie’s name and she wasn’t willing to sign that collateral over. So there was some tension between Maggie and Alex. Then 3 days later he was going to have to open up his complete finances to judge hall in the Mallory Beach case. Then you add that he and his son buster were being sued civilly by Mark Tinsley. Then the final straw is his son Paul is charged with felony DUI, in the boating accident. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure on any man.”
Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter of Bland Richter, LLP represented the family of Murdaugh family’s former maid Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in 2018, but Murdaugh stole more than $8 million in insurance money from her family, who he told to file the claim.
Bland and Richter settled a wrongful death civil lawsuit for the family with Murdaugh for $4.3 million last year.
They say in this criminal case, Judge Clifton Newman holds all the cards and could have a direct effect on the Prosecutions’ case with one decision. They say Murdaugh’s attempt to hide his financial crimes is the direct motive for the murders.
“The timeline is going to be a big deciding factor and most importantly the ruling judge Newman will make on motive,” says attorney Eric Bland. “Whether Judge Newman will let in all the evidence on financial crimes or tailor it just to financial pressures. Remember these are charged crimes that have not been tried. So what the court doesn’t want is 10 different trials in a murder trial.”
“If he eliminates all motive and motive is not an element of murder,” explains Bland. “If he eliminates that from the State being able to advance that then you are just looking at June 7 and what happened on that date. And it’s all circumstantial evidence and you can show reasonable doubt in so many different ways.”
There is one advantage for Prosecutors according to Richter. Much of this case has already been laid out in former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte’s federal trial back in November. Laffitte helped Murdaugh hide money and gave him loans against some of the future schemes and crimes he was committing.
Laffitte was convicted on multiple charges in that case. He is appealing that conviction.
“There is so much overlap with Laffitte’s financial crimes and Murdaugh’s involvement,” explains Richter. “If you just follow what happened in the Laffitte trial, it shows the growing pressure on Alex to keep this Ponzi scheme alive, and his friend Russell was helping him.”
But that still doesn’t make it a “slam dunk” case for prosecutors. To get someone to believe Alex committed this crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” in this case will still be difficult.
“I don’t know what the storyline sounds like that leads to one shooter two guns two victims,” wonders Richter.
“Whether the wire tripped and he killed Maggie first with a high-powered rifle and Paul came out of the dog kennels, or Paul came up and he got into a fight and he tells Paul you ruined my life if it wasn’t you with a boating accident everything would be fine,” explains Bland. “So we don’t know that because there wasn’t a video there’s no live recording there wasn’t a witness. The state has an uphill battle here.”
“You have to prove as to Maggie and you have to prove separately as to Paul,” says Richter. “As terrible as it is we see and have some tolerance in a home there could be violence. But with parents and children, that’s a different level.”
“Dick (Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s attorney) is going to have expert witnesses that say it takes two shooters to do what happens and the State is only charging one person so you can’t convict this guy of both,” said Bland.
And as for the thought that Alex may take the stand in his defense? Bland and Richter have a definite answer for that.
“What are the chances you will put Alex on the stand??”
“Zero. None. He’s a thief.”
“There’s nothing left for the guy. He has no credibility. If he testifies no one will believe him,” says Bland. “Everything he does is self-serving. He steals from clients, he steals from family, and he steals from his law partners. He exploits people who are in the worst place in their life they either have lost a loved one or are injured or need medical treatment.”
Jury selection in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial starts Monday, January 23. If he is convicted, he could face life in prison.