The trial of a prominent US lawyer for the murder of his wife and child has prompted a reopening of investigations into other deaths.
Alex Murdaugh54, is accused of murdering his wife Margaret, 52, and their youngest son Paul, 22, at their South Carolina estate.
Prosecutors say the lawyer carried out the killings after he was caught shoplifting from the family business.
The jury’s verdict is expected shortly.
The Murdaughs are featured in a Netflix documentary series titled Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal. In it, residents of their Hampton County hometown question the family’s historically influential influence on local law enforcement.
Following the murder charges against Murdaugh, police began re-investigating the death of the family’s housekeeper.
New investigations are also underway into the 2015 death of a former classmate of Murdaugh’s eldest son.
Murdaugh’s story is anchored among the wealthy and affluent of South Carolina.
Prior to his disbarment, Murdaugh was a distinguished and highly profitable personal injury attorney in a powerful legal dynasty founded by his ancestors in the Low Country region of South Carolina.
But now the dynasty, and he, will forever be associated with the horrific events of the evening of June 7, 2021.
To know more:
Two murders, a suicide plot and the mystery of the death of a housekeeper: the questions that revolve around the US lawyer
Lawyer accused of organizing a shooting over a $10 million insurance claim
Murdaugh shot his wife five times and his son twice, prosecutors say
At the family’s hunting lodge, prosecutors say Murdaugh shot his wife five times with an automatic rifle.
His son was shot twice with a different weapon, a shotgun, in the head and chest.
The indictment alleges that Murdaugh switched the guns used to create the appearance of an ambush.
It was Murdaugh who made a 911 call, sobbing as he told the dispatcher “my wife and child have been hit badly.”
Subsequently, he told police he had gone to see his mother and returned to find his wife and child dead in the estate’s dog kennel.
The tragedy of boating
The officers who first witnessed the scene found Murdaugh in distress. Upon their arrival, she was quick to come up with a theory behind the murders, suggesting they were a reaction to a boating tragedy that occurred in February 2019.
Murdaugh’s son Paul, then 19, had crashed the family boat while three times the legal alcohol limit.
Several people were thrown overboard, including 19-year-old Mallory Beach, who was killed.
Murdaugh may have promoted the boating incident as part of his legal defense – in fact, it appeared in the prosecution’s case.
Mrs. Beach’s family is suing Murdaugh as the owner of the boat involved in their daughter’s death.
Murdaugh was defrauding a law firm, says CFO
The murder trial was heard by his law firm’s chief financial officer, who provided evidence that Murdaugh had defrauded the firm and put money into his wife’s bank account to protect her from the lawsuit brought by the dead girl’s family.
She told the court she confronted him about a missing $792,000 (£655,000) on the day of the double shootings.
It plays into the prosecutor’s argument that Murdaugh was driven to kill by fears that his financial crimes were about to be exposed and that his wife and child were shot in order to arouse sympathy and hinder the investigation.
Snapchat recording questions alibi
A Snapchat video recorded by Murdaugh’s son Paul was also played in court to bolster the prosecution’s case.
It shows footage of a brown Labrador in the kennel where the shooting took place.
Paul filmed it about five minutes before he was killed and witnesses said one of the voices heard in the video is that of Murdaugh. Prosecutors point out that he doesn’t square with her initial alibi that he hadn’t seen his wife or child for 90 minutes before stumbling upon their bodies.
In facing the contradiction in court, Murdaugh admitted as evidence that he had lied. Her explanation to him was that he had an opioid addiction that went back 20 years, which made him paranoid and distrustful of the police.
Investigation of other deaths
As the murder trial progresses, so do new investigations into other deaths in Murdaugh’s orbit.
Gloria Satterfield was their long-term housekeeper until her death in 2018. Her cause was initially thought to have been an accidental fall on the steps at the front of the Murdaughs’ home. Suspicion of a different explanation has received traction from Murdaugh’s subsequent financial reports.
After Mrs Satterfield’s death, he secured an insurance payout on behalf of her children worth over $4m (£3.3m), but pocketed the money himself.
Only when they prosecuted him through the courts did he agree to a $4.3m (£3.6m) settlement.
A new investigation has been launched
The murder charges against Murdaugh also coincided with a new investigation into the death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a road about 10 miles from Murdaugh’s home. He had suffered a head injury and, at the time, it had been a hit and run accident.
The teenager was a classmate of the Murdaughs’ eldest son, Buster. While the investigation is ongoing, law enforcement agencies have not publicly acknowledged any ties to the Murdaugh family.
99 other charges
In addition to putting Mr. Murdaugh on trial for murder, the South Carolina Attorney General has filed 99 other charges against him for financial crimes dating back several years. He is accused of defrauding more than $8m (£6.6m) from unsuspecting clients.
The Colleton County Court jury in Walterboro, South Carolina has also heard of a bizarre ‘suicide attempt’ by Murdaugh three months after the death of his wife and child.
After being picked up by a roadside ambulance with a head injury, he told them he was changing a tire when someone stopped to help him and then shot him in the head.
He later admitted to detectives that he had fabricated the episode with a drug dealer in an attempt to secure a $10m (£8.3m) life insurance policy for his son Buster. The trader in question, Curtis Edward Smith, was subsequently charged with a variety of felonies, including assisting suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
If convicted of the double murder, Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison. South Carolina prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty.