Standing in shackles and a beige prison jumpsuit, the once prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh continued to claim he was innocent Friday as a judge slammed him as a “monster” whose conduct was worse than many offenders who got the death penalty.
Judge Clifton Newman sentenced Murdaugh to life in prison for the June 7, 2021, murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul—but not before giving a searing speech on Murdaugh’s conduct.
“I don’t question at all the decision of the state not to pursue the death penalty,” Newman said. “But as I sit here in this courtroom and look around 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 the death penalty, probably for lesser conduct.”
Murdaugh, 54, was convicted by a jury Thursday of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. Throughout the six-week trial, prosecutors argued that he shot them with two different guns in a desperate attempt to evade questions about his financial crimes.
“I’m innocent. I would never hurt my wife, Maggie, and I would never hurt my son Paul Paul,” Murdaugh said Friday before a packed Colleton County courthouse.
During a testy exchange with Newman, Murdaugh doubled down on his denials—insisting that his only crime had been lying to authorities about his whereabouts the night of the murders.
“I’ll tell you again. I respect this court, but I am innocent, and I would never under any circumstances hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never under any circumstances hurt my son Paul,” Murdaugh said.
But Newman shot back: “It might not have been you, but it may have been the monster you became when you took those [opioid] pills.”
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters argued earlier Friday that Murdaugh deserved two consecutive life sentences, saying “a man like that should never be allowed to be among free, law-abiding citizens again.”
“I’ve looked him in his eyes. He liked to stare me down as he walked by me during this trial. And I could see the real Alex Murdaugh,” Waters said.
Newman called the trial “one of the most troubling cases that I’ve handled.”
“We have a wife who has been killed, murdered, a son savagely murdered, a lawyer—a person from a respected family who has control of justice in this community for over a century,” Newman said. “A person whose grandfather’s portrait hanged at the back of the courthouse—that I had to have ordered removed in order to ensure that a fair trial was had.”
The sentencing marks a huge prosecutorial win against Murdaugh, a member of a legal dynasty once synonymous with privilege and power in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
But since the murders, Murdaugh’s carefully crafted image began to crumble. He separately faces upwards of 100 criminal charges for several cases, including a slew of financial crimes that include swindling millions from his former law firm and clients. He also faced a separate trial for a September 2021 botched suicide scheme allegedly carried out so that his only surviving son, Buster, would inherit a $12 million insurance payout.
In the murder trial, jurors heard the broad strokes of Murdaugh’s other alleged crimes, including from a former colleague who said she confronted him about stealing on the day of the murders. Jurors also heard from Murdaugh himself, who admitted to lying for years about his whereabouts the night of the murders, and who opened up about a decades-long opioid addiction that often led to tension with his wife and son.
“I did lie to them,” Murdaugh told the jury about his past conversations with investigators. “As my addiction evolved over time, I would get into these situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid thinking.”
Newman on Friday spoke about Murdaugh’s time on the stand, calling it “duplicitous conduct” filled with more lies. Murdaugh conceded in response that he “lied and continued to lie” during the murder probe.
“To have you come and testify that it was just another ordinary day, that my wife and son and I were out just enjoying life. Not credible. Not believable,” Newman said.