Standing in shackles and a beige prison jumpsuit, the once prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh continued to swear 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.”
A jury took less than three hours on Thursday night to convict Murdaugh, 54, of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. 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, which were reaching “a crescendo.”
At least nine of the 12 jurors who convicted Murdaugh reportedly attended Friday’s sentencing in a packed Colleton County courthouse, and witnesses Murdaugh continue to maintain he did not murder his family. One juror told ABC on Friday morning that it took the group just 45 minutes to persuade three holdouts, especially after Murdaugh came off as a “big liar” on the stand.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, who indicated he would appeal the verdict, said Friday he still believes it was the right decision for Murdaugh to take the stand in his own defense. He said that Murdaugh’s family attended the trial expecting to hear evidence that Murdaugh was the killer—but he claimed they didn’t get it.
“Alex was not optimistic [of getting a fair jury] with all the scrutiny and the press and all of his bad acts being out there in the public” defense attorney Jim Griffin said. “We were hoping to get a jury that could ignore the noise.”
When asked why Buster Murdaugh didn’t offer a statement in support of Murdaugh during Friday’s sentencing, Griffin said, “We could have had Mother Teresa up there. He was getting a double life sentence.”
During a testy exchange with Newman during the sentencing, Murdaugh doubled down on his denials, insisting that his only crime had been lying 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.”
“He’s entitled to an opinion,” Harpootlian said outside court.
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.”
A South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesperson told The Daily Beast that Murdaugh will now go to Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center, where all male inmates are sent after sentencing.
Murdaugh will “undergo medical tests, mental health, and education assessments” during a 45-day evaluation process before heading to one of the state’s “maximum-security prisons, like all new inmates serving life sentences.” The spokesperson said it is not immediately clear where Murdaugh will go.
The sentencing capped 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.
Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, the Murdaughs’ long-time family housekeeper who testified for the prosecution, told The Daily Beast on Friday that she is trying “to process” the news of her former employer’s life sentence.
Turrubiate-Simpson’s testimony was crucial in helping the prosecution set up a timeline for Murdaugh and Maggie on the day of the murders. She testified that she saw Murdaugh leave for work that day before receiving a text from Maggie notifying her that she and Paul had been summoned to their hunting estate that evening.
“Maggie told me she had to go to a doctor’s appointment, and she said…in the text she said ‘Alex wants me to come home,’” Turrubiate-Simpson testified. “She kind of sounded like she didn’t want to come home.” Hours later, she received a call from Murdaugh telling her that Maggie and Paul “were gone.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Turrubiate-Simpson said on Friday. “I am not ready to talk. I am just trying to process everything. It is a lot to process. I’m with my daughters.”