Prosecutors: Murdaugh killed family to gain pity, distract – Boston News, Weather, Sports

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A judge will rule on whether evidence supporting South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes is admissible in an upcoming double murder trial that has garnered worldwide attention for its bizarre twists and turns.

Prosecutors recently said Murdaugh killed his wife and youngest son last year to gain compassion and distract others from his crushing financial crimes. On Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys debated the relevance of those years of alleged financial misdeeds that lined nearly $9 million in Murdaugh’s pockets.

Murdaugh, the disgraced heir to a legal Lowcountry dynasty, has pleaded not guilty and has repeatedly denied any involvement in the June 2021 murders of his wife Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22.

At the time of the murders, according to prosecutors, Murdaugh was afraid of a pending application that threatened to expose years of significant debt and illegal financial crimes by disclosing his personal records. Such a move would have spelled Murdaugh’s “personal, legal and financial ruin,” state grand jury chief prosecutor Creighton Waters wrote on Thursday.

Prosecutors said Murdaugh was a drug addict who helped run a money laundering and painkiller ring and stole millions from settlements he made for mostly poor clients to fund an increasingly unsustainable lifestyle.

According to Waters, high-profile six-figure cases failed to ease Murdaugh’s financial woes, prompting Murdaugh to do whatever it took to avoid his “day of reckoning” — including murder.

Conveniently for Murdaugh, Waters said, the discovery of his slain family members temporarily suspended increased scrutiny of his finances. Murdaugh would spend the following days raising money to account for missing fees from his law firm, Waters said.

“This is a white-collar case that has culminated in murders,” Waters told District Judge Clifton Newman on Friday.

Motive is not required for a prosecutor to win a murder conviction — a point Waters emphasized in the state’s recent filing. But Murdaugh’s attorneys asked the state to identify the motive to justify attaching a million pages of evidence related to more than 80 counts of alleged financial crimes.

Murdaugh’s defense attorneys on Friday insisted the alleged crimes were character evidence, which is not admissible in murder trials.

Defense attorney Jim Griffin said it’s ridiculous to suggest that a person who seeks to distract from financial crimes would then put themselves at the center of a homicide investigation.

Griffin also said there was no reason to admit the financial documents as there was no evidence that Murdaugh’s family knew of any alleged crimes or that Murdaugh would benefit from life insurance policy collection.

The idea that Murdaugh was trying to evoke sympathy through death is also illogical, Griffin says, considering Murdaugh’s father died the day they were murdered – an experience that is sure to evoke much sympathy.

The defense has criticized what they see as the slow release of evidence linking Murdaugh to the murders.

Central to the defense’s concerns is the presence of bloodstains on a white T-shirt allegedly worn by Murdaugh on the night of the murders. Attorney Dick Harpootlian has argued that agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division successfully persuaded a forensic consultant to reverse his original verdict and instead say the stains must be splash back from a gunshot wound. Harpootlian said SLED destroyed the shirt and had evidence the stains were not human blood.

Defense attorneys requested an evidentiary hearing Friday, which forced the state to send all communications to the counsel. Prosecutors said a decision on whether to consider the bloodied shirt was premature as they themselves are still considering whether to use it in evidence.

During Friday’s hearing, Murdaugh, wearing a blazer, sat untied and could occasionally be seen speaking to his attorneys.

Prosecutors shared clues about new details earlier this week. Within a minute of his first call with responding officers on the day of the killings, Murdaugh allegedly claimed the killing must have been linked to the February 2019 boatwreck that killed teenager Mallory Beach.

Beach was killed when authorities said a drunk Paul Murdaugh wrecked his father’s boat – an event that eventually led to dozens of indictments accusing Alex Murdaugh of stealing nearly $5 million in settlement funds from attorneys, who had sued him for the death. Murdaugh now faces additional charges of money laundering, a drug ring, a staged attempt on his life and millions of other stolen funds.

And while Murdaugh appeared to be wealthy, prosecutors said it was a series of land deals that had been worsened by the recession that “permanently altered his finances”.

The events of the past 18 months have spelled a precipitous fall for the Murdaughs. The family founded a massive civil law firm more than 100 years ago in tiny Hampton County, where – along with four surrounding counties – Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather have dominated the legal scene as elected prosecutors for more than eight decades.

“The jury must understand the difference between who Alex Murdaugh appeared to the outside world – a successful lawyer and scion of the region’s most prominent family – and who he was in real life, whom only he fully knew – allegedly a fraudulent lawyer and drug user, who borrowed and stole wherever he could to stay afloat and stay ahead of discovery,” Waters wrote Thursday.


James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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