‘Monster you become’: Alex Murdaugh sentenced for killing wife and son

Once-powerful lawyer Alex Murdaugh will spend “the rest of his natural life” in prison after he was swiftly sentenced for killing his wife and son in a trial that has gripped the US.

Judge Clifton Newman handed down two life sentences for executing Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, near the dog kennels on their family estate in South Carolina.

The victims were shot to buy Murdaugh time and sympathy when he feared he would be exposed for stealing millions from his own law firm and clients to feed an opioid addiction.

Shackled in a prison jumpsuit, the scion of a legal family dynasty — who had pleaded not guilty — protested that he would never hurt his wife and son before the sentence was handed down.

“As I tell you again, I respect this court. But I am innocent. I would never under any circumstances hurt my wife Maggie and I would never under any circumstances hurt my son Paul Paul,” Murdaugh said.

To which Judge Newman replied: “It might not have been you”.

“It might have been the monster that you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person.

“I have seen that before. The person standing before me was not the person who committed the crime, though it is the same individual.”

Alex Murdaugh (far right) with his sons Buster and Paul and wife Maggie. Photo: AAP

Murdaugh’s remaining son Buster, who was in the courtroom for the dramatic conclusion to the legal spectacle, displayed no emotion.

The sentence came a day after a South Carolina jury found the once-influential lawyer guilty after a six-week trial that exposed the theft of millions of dollars from clients and colleagues to feed his drug addiction.

It’s also not the end for the 54-year-old who now faces nearly 100 financial charges for theft, embezzlement and fraud going back a decade.

The case drew intense media coverage given the family’s immense political power in and around Colleton County, where the trial took place.

For generations, Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great grandfather had served as the leading prosecutor in the area.

Murdaugh himself was a prominent personal injury lawyer in the Deep South state.

Judge Newman noted the family’s lofty standing in his sentencing remarks, and said it was “heartbreaking” to see Murdaugh “go from a grieving father who lost a wife and son to being the person indicted and convicted of killing them”.

“You have engaged in duplicitous conduct here in the courtroom, here on the witness stand, and as established by the testimony, throughout the time leading from the time of the indictment and prior to the time of the indictment to this point in time.”

Outlining the cost of Murdaugh’s “tangled web” of lies, Judge Newman said: “I know you have to see Paul and Maggie in the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you.”

Alex Murdaugh speaks with his legal team before he is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Photo: AAP

Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Murdaugh as a serial liar and argued that only he had the means and the opportunity to commit the murders.

Prosecutors said he gunned down his wife and son to distract from his financial crimes, including the theft of millions of dollars from his law partners and clients — money used to feed a years-long addiction to opioids and support an expensive lifestyle.

Among the state’s strongest evidence was Murdaugh’s admission from the stand that he lied about his whereabouts on the night of the killings, telling investigators he wasn’t at the dog kennels before the murders.

Murdaugh changed his account after the jury listened to audio evidence placing him at the crime scene minutes before the killings occurred.

“It doesn’t matter who your family is, it doesn’t matter how much money you have,” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said after the verdict.

“If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina.”

For their part, Murdaugh’s lawyers tried to paint their client as a loving family man who, while suffering financial difficulties and an opioid addiction that led him to lie and steal, would never harm his wife and child.

They floated alternative theories, with Murdaugh testifying that he believed someone angry over a deadly 2019 boating accident involving Paul likely sought revenge on his son.

But prosecutors focused on Murdaugh’s credibility, returning repeatedly to his admission that he lied about something as critical as where he was when his wife and child were killed.

The judge told jurors they made the right call, saying “all of the evidence pointed to only one conclusion, and that’s the conclusion that you all reached”.

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