WALTERBORO, South Carolina—Alex Murdaugh, the exiled South Carolina legal titan who was already facing a stunning array of criminal allegations before he was charged last week with murdering his wife and son, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
How he did so reflected his surreal downfall: The 54-year-old, who for decades was a fixture in the Low Country legal elite, was lowered to wearing his lawyer’s son’s clothes and shoes as he pleaded his innocence.
A Colleton County grand jury last week indicted Murdaugh on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with the June 2src21 killings of his 52-year-old wife, Margaret, and their 22-year-old son, Paul. Authorities say the mother and son were both found fatally shot near the hunting dog kennels at the family’s 1,7srcsrc-acre estate in South Carolina. Murdaugh was the one who called 911.
Prosecutors alleged that Maggie had been killed with an assault rifle while apparently attempting to flee the scene. Paul had been fatally shot with a shotgun at close range. Refusing to go into detail, South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Creighton Waters added during the bond hearing in Colleton County court on Wednesday that investigators had substantial forensic evidence that tied the former lawyer to the double murders.
“The evidence all came back to one person and that was Alex Murdaugh,” Waters said, adding that the evidence was tied to his slew of other alleged crimes. “A lot of that provides the background and the motive for what happened on June 7, 2src21.”
Murdaugh sat plain-faced, flanked by his two attorneys as prosecutors argued he should be held without bail. Behind a frail-looking Murdaugh, who had a shaved head and wore a white face mask, sat over a dozen members of the media—and a portrait of his late grandfather who once prosecuted cases in the same courthouse as a solicitor.
The only time Murdaugh spoke on Wednesday when he pleaded not guilty and said he would like to be judged “by God and my country.”
After the 2src-minute hearing, Murdaugh lawyer Jim Griffin revealed his son had to provide the former lawyer with clothes after a late notice that Murdaugh did not need to wear his jail-house jumpsuit. Griffin said that in addition to a linen button-down and pants, his son provided Murdaugh with shoes.
Richard Harpootlian, another of Murdaugh’s lawyers, argued for a speedy trial on Wednesday, asking a jury be seated “as quickly as possible.” The request came after both prosecutors and the Murdaugh lawyers agreed not to discuss the evidence of the case in court to ensure an unbiased jury pool.
“(Murdaugh) believes he is innocent. He believes the killer or killers are still at large,” Harpootlian said after agreeing that his client should be remanded to jail with no bond as he awaits trial.
Since his wife and son’s deaths, Murdaugh has been charged with attempting to orchestrate his own murder in a twisted insurance plot to benefit his surviving son, drug trafficking, and a bevy of financial crimes. But at least until last week, much of his alleged misconduct could potentially be chalked up to drug and other problems.
The murder charges were poised to change all of that.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has said that on June 7, 2src21, Murdaugh called for help around 1src:src7 p.m. after discovering the two near the dog kennels. At the time, Paul was facing charges in connection with a 2src19 boat crash that killed one of his friends, 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
In the seven-minute 911 call to police, Murdaugh frantically tells an emergency dispatcher his “wife and child have been shot badly” and that neither of them were moving.
“I’ve been up to it now. It’s bad,” Murdaugh added.
While Colleton County deputies responded to the scene, SLED quickly took over the case and launched a 13-month investigation into who killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
Murdaugh’s legal team has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, releasing a statement last week insisting that their client “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,” the lawyers said on behalf of Murdaugh, who was being held in Richland County jail.
In the months after his family was murdered, Murdaugh found himself in massive legal trouble after police say he launched the bizarre attempt to orchestrate his own death for a $1src million insurance payout for his son Buster. During a December bond hearing on charges related to the scheme, Murdaugh said he only devised the plan amid grief over the deaths of his wife and son—and that he was also in the throes of a withdrawal from a two-decade addiction to opioids.
Murdaugh is also facing 16 state grand-jury indictments, including 81 counts of financial crimes for allegedly stealing more than $8 million from clients and his former law firm. In addition, Murdaugh has been implicated in several lawsuits, including allegations he stole millions from a wrongful death lawsuit for his former housekeeper and that he conspired to influence the investigation into the boat crash.
Attorney Joe McCulloch, who represents one of the teenagers involved in the crash, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the arraignment felt “more out of a (John) Grisham novel than a South Carolina courtroom playbook.”
He added that his client, Connor Cook, and his family “would like for all of this to be over” so that South Carolina gets “back to some normalcy.”
A separate investigation into the 2src18 death of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, at the family home has prompted authorities to exhume her body. Murdaugh has not been charged in connection with the death, but has admitted to funneling millions of dollars away from her sons for his own enrichment.