A disgraced and disbarred former attorney, who previously worked for the same prosecutor’s office that his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were consecutively in charge of for nearly a century, killed his wife and youngest son because of fast-approaching “personal, legal and financial ruin,” authorities in South Carolina said on Thursday.
Richard “Alex” Murdaugh, 54, was about to lose everything, and everyone was about to find out, according to a Dec. 8, 2022, theory of motive filed by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
“The jury will need to understand the distinction between who Alex Murdaugh appeared to be to the outside world — a successful lawyer and scion of the most prominent family in the region — and who he was in the real life only he fully knew – an allegedly crooked lawyer and drug user who borrowed and stole whatever he could to stay afloat and one step ahead of detection,” State Grand Jury Section Chief Attorney Creighton Waters wrote. “Proof of years of Alex Murdaugh’s unbroken series of misappropriations, lies, loans, debts, and thefts is necessary to explain that distinction to a jury. Only then can a jury understand that the clouds of Defendant’s past were gathering into a perfect storm that was going to expose the real Alex Murdaugh to the world — and which would mean facing real accountability for his life.”
Central to the prosecution’s thesis is an alleged decade’s worth of financial crime. In addition to two counts of murder in the first degree, and associated weapons charges, Murdaugh also stands accused of myriad financial crimes including insurance fraud, property fraud, money laundering, and computer fraud. Prosecutors also allege he stole millions from a fund that should have gone to the family of his late, former housekeeper, who died on his family’s estate. The onetime trial lawyer defendant is additionally being sued in civil court by his former law firm for allegedly stealing untold sums of client money.
The filing obtained by The Post and Courier details the alleged schemes:
- “Billing personal expenses to his clients with his law firm’s credit cards or accounts.
- Stealing directly from his relatives and the Hampton law firm his great-grandfather founded in 1910. That included one instance in which Murdaugh accepted a six-figure loan repayment that the firm meant to send to his older brother, Randy.
- Surreptitiously stealing money from his own clients’ legal settlements by having his firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick — write out disbursement checks to the local Palmetto State Bank and then having an accomplice there, ex-bank CEO Russell Laffitte, convert those checks for Murdaugh’s personal use.
- Stealing client money through a fraudulent personal bank account Murdaugh created in 2015 and disguised to look like a financial firm.”
Those mountains of alleged financial improprieties – include one fraud allegation linked to when he was shot in the head in early September 2021 – will probably be a point of contention in upcoming hearings. The state would like to use that evidence against Murdaugh – and said as much in their motion. His defense is likely to object.
The injury from that head-shot incident largely fleeting, prosecutors believe he paid a man to kill him so that his surviving son would receive a $10 million life insurance payout. Murdaugh and the man accused of pulling the trigger, former client, Curtis Edward Smith, have both denied that there was any such scheme.
During the midsummer months before that roadside shooting, Murdaugh claimed to have found his wife Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and son Paul Murdaugh, 22, shot dead on the family’s property, a palatial 1,770-acre hunting lodge that locals refer to as “Moselle.”
Media attention pored over the circumstances of the slayings as well as the family’s substantial wealth and political power amassed by over a century’s worth of lawyering – even before serving as the 14th circuit district’s solicitor, Murdaugh’s grandfather founded a Hampton, S.C., firm in 1910 that bore his family’s name until just recently.
The spate of national press dredged up a tragic, hitherto, local story.
In February 2019, a boating accident killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Murdaugh’s since-deceased son, alleged to have used his older brother’s ID to purchase alcohol, is believed to have been piloting the vessel drunk. He was facing three criminal charges from that incident. The Beach case was dogged by a narrative that the family had somehow used its long-collected power, largesse and influence to shape the contours of the initial law enforcement investigation.
Prosecutors made reference to that matter in their Thursday motion. That’s because, Murdaugh himself allegedly did within 30 seconds of speaking with police on the day his wife and son were killed.
According to the filing, Murdaugh “suggested to law enforcement the killer’s motive stemmed from the February 2019 boat wreck that resulted in the tragic death of Mallory Beach” and “expressed certainty and stated he knew” the fatal crash was the killer’s motive.
“Based on the evidence that has been uncovered during the investigation into the killings, Murdaugh was the only individual with a true motive to kill his wife and son,” authorities wrote.
A hearing is currently slated for Dec. 9, 2022, this Friday.
“This case is unique in South Carolina history for many reasons,” Waters wrote in the motion. “One of those is that exposing what happened to Maggie and Paul necessarily has its roots in a corruption that began years ago and festered until June 7  was the result. The evidence should be admitted so the jury can fairly assess why a man might murder his wife and son.”
[image via Florida Department of Corrections]
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