The Trial of Alex Murdaugh Begins

The trial of Alex Murdaugh, a South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son, began on Monday with jury selection. Murdaugh is a member of a prominent family in the area. The Murdaugh family, in addition to running a successful private practice, controlled the prosecutor’s office for 86 years after Alex Murdaugh’s great-grandfather was elected to run the office in 1920.

The case of Alex Murdaugh and the Murdaugh family has piqued many’s interests. The shocking double murder reminded some and revealed to many others that the family was previously involved in at least one mysterious death. 

In 2019, a 19-year-old named Mallory Beach died after a boat crash. Authorities say Paul Murdaugh, also 19 and Alex Murdaugh’s son, was steering the boat while highly intoxicated. Witnesses say that Alex Murdaugh met his son and other passengers at a local hospital, where he told at least one of them not to say anything to authorities. It took almost two and a half months for Paul Murdaugh to be arraigned, pleading not guilty to felony charges related to Beach’s death.

The Murdaugh murders also reignited interest in the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, 19, whose body was found with a traumatic head injury on a rural road miles from the Murdaugh’s hunting property. The authorities had ruled the case a hit-and-run, but Smith’s mother questioned that theory, noting that her son was openly gay and stating that he was forced to walk along the road after his car ran out of gas, leaving him exposed to an attack.

On June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh called 911 to report the death of his wife and son at the family’s hunting property. He reportedly told dispatchers that he had been visiting his own parents before returning home at about 10:00 p.m. to find his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul, shot to death. According to the coroner, Maggie and Paul had died between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m.

In September of that year, the Murdaugh family law firm fired Alex Murdaugh after an investigation concluded that he had stolen millions from the firm and its clients. This was just one day before Alex Murdaugh called 911 again, this time saying he had been shot in the head while changing a tire. Nine days later, after investigators questioned Murdaugh’s story, he admitted that he had planned the attack in an attempt to get his other son a $10 million insurance award.

Murdaugh was arrested in October in Florida, where he had gone to rehab, on felony charges related to accusations that he had stolen millions from the estate of his family’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, after promising her sons he would help them recover an insurance settlement when she died after falling down the steps.

In May 2022, prosecutors announced that a grand jury had indicted Murdaugh on more charges including fraud and forgery. He was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in July. He was also disbarred. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife and son.

The trial is forecasted to run until about February 10. South Carolina Public Radio reported that a portrait of Alex Murdaugh’s grandfather that usually hangs in the courtroom would be taken down for the trial.

Additional Reading

Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial begins in the shooting deaths of his wife and son, NPR (January 23, 2023)

New Evidence Revealed in Dramatic Start to Murdaugh Murder Trial, The New York Times (January 26, 2023)

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