Image Source: The New York Times
The Murdaugh family was in charge of a rural part of South Carolina for many generations. Alex Murdaugh was then accused of brutally killing his wife and son. What happened next was shocking: a life of power and privilege fell apart, exposing theft, drug use, and a failed plan for a hitman to kill himself.
Alex Murdaugh testified at his murder trial during the fifth week.
Mr. Murdaugh defended himself in court in Walterboro, South Carolina, by talking for almost 10 hours. During that time, Mr. Murdaugh would show two different sides of himself in court. One of them sounded like he was tired, and his voice was low and soft. In addition, he had lost weight while in jail, so his clothes were too big for him.
The other man seemed a lot more like the man other witnesses said he was: smart, charming, and once a powerful player in the state’s legal club scene. This Mr. Murdaugh talked to the jury face-to-face and was calm and in charge.
For almost a hundred years, the Murdaugh family was in charge of this flat area with marshes, palm trees, and houses with porches. They ran the local prosecutor’s office and a private law firm that made them very wealthy.
But Mr. Murdaugh’s life quickly went downhill after his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul was brutally killed in June 2021. The 54-year-old man has said that he did not do the murders. Instead, prosecutors say the murders were a desperate attempt to cover up wrongdoing with money over a long period. But when he was on the stand, he said he had stolen money, lied, and made up an attempt to kill the president.
The trial is getting a lot of attention from people nationwide. Some people in their small town think it shows how powerful the Murdaugh family is and that it brought down a local dynasty.
Know the name Murdaugh and you know the Lowcountry of South Carolina. From 1920 to 2006, the top prosecutor for the state’s Fourteenth Judicial Circuit was a Murdaugh man. This was the longest a family had held this job in U.S. history.
Even longer, the Murdaughs worked at the law firm that their family started, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), where they made a small fortune and became the most powerful people in the Lowcountry. Everyone said that their personal injury law firm was the best in an area with many of them.
People who wanted to sue became used to going to their courts. Because of this, businesses that could have stayed away from it did not do business in the area.
People in the area said that the jury knew the Murdaughs, which was good for them at trial.
From their two offices in Hampton, the Murdaughs came to be seen as the unofficial leaders of the Lowcountry. Their effects weren’t huge—they didn’t even reach the whole state—but they were strong. People who lived in the Murdaughs’ small, remote town said they were in charge.
How did Alex Murdaugh reign supreme?
Jeanne Seckinger, who used to be the chief financial officer of PMPED, talked about how Alex Murdaugh works as a lawyer during the third week of the trial.
Ms. Seckinger said that Mr. Murdaugh’s success wasn’t due to his hard work but to his ability to build relationships and get people to settle with him and clients to like him.
He made millions of dollars from that work, which helped him and his family live well. They had a speedboat, a beach house, a big hunting property called Moselle with 1,700 acres, and a staff to help them. But Murdaugh’s success, which seemed to come naturally to him, hid his secret: he was addicted to painkillers and had stolen, lied, and embezzled for years.
Mr. Murdaugh admitted through tears on the stand in Walterboro that he had stolen millions of dollars from settlements that were supposed to go to his clients. In 2019, he stole $3.7 million (£3 million). He said that he knew it was wrong but had no money because he was addicted to drugs.
State prosecutors painted a picture of a person who thought he could get away with theft and fraud on a scale that was almost too big to believe. People say Mr. Murdaugh stole from his coworkers, clients, young people, old people, disabled people, and sick people. He is accused of almost a hundred different money crimes.
People have been going to the Walterboro courthouse early in the morning for over a month to discuss Alex Murdaugh’s fall. The line should be shorter to fit in. But, instead, people in suits and sundresses sit in rows and rows of dark wooden pews upstairs in the cool air of the courtroom. At times, the mood has been strangely like a church reception, with Mr. Murdaugh’s brother and son walking around, shaking hands, and smiling weakly.
In the next few days, both the prosecution and the defense will make their last points. After that, the jury will go away to think about what to do.
In the Lowcountry, many people said they thought Alex Murdaugh’s time was up.
But the Murdaugh family has used juries as a friend for decades. They have left courtrooms with rulings that have helped them get rich and powerful.
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Alex Murdaugh’s fate will be decided similarly, which may be a final test of his power since all the evidence is circumstantial. No murder weapon was found, and no blood was on Mr. Murdaugh’s t-shirt that night. Also, no one saw the killings happen.
And his decision to testify, which was both unusual and legal risk, may have shown how much he still believes in himself and trusts that he can change people’s minds, as he has done for years.