Former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh had such a cozy relationship with law enforcement that he put blue lights in his car with their blessing and carried a badge in case he needed a favor.
He’d come from a family synonymous with enforcing the law as prosecutors in the southern tip of South Carolina for more than eight decades. He tried only a few criminal cases himself to spend time with his father, a former prosecutor. Despite his limited involvement, Murdaugh treated himself to the trappings of office, including a shiny gold badge, reports the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier.
Because of their close ties to Murdaugh, the local law enforcement establishment quickly recused itself from the investigation into the shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul on June 7, 2021, at the family’s sprawling hunting estate.
When out-of-town investigators from the State Law Enforcement Division took their place, Murdaugh says he was overcome by intrusive thoughts that told him he was their target. He attributed those notions to a paranoia fueled by his long-hidden opioid addiction.
It was his distrust of state police, he said, that led him to tell perhaps the most important lie of his life: that he hadn’t been with Maggie and Paul in the minutes before they died. Once he told investigators that story, he continued to repeat it to those he was closest with, including his slain wife’s grieving mother.
Twenty months after the killings, Murdaugh recanted that lie and several others in front of a Colleton County jury deciding his fate on murder charges stemming from the killings. In addition to lying about his whereabouts that night, Murdaugh admitted over two days on the stand that he deceived a long list of legal clients, from whom he stole money, and to his law partners, from whom he hid a raging addiction to painkillers.
His original story shredded over five weeks of trial, Murdaugh’s testimony was a Hail Mary attempt to convince the jury and a national TV audience that he was finally telling the truth.
To trust his new story, jurors must wrestle with Murdaugh’s litany of admitted lies. They will have to decide if they believe this man, who once carried a badge, harbored such misgivings about the officers questioning him that he was willing to mislead them as they hunted for the person who killed his wife and son.
Unlike his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Murdaugh didn’t have a career as a prosecutor. His specialty was as a personal injury lawyer, filing lawsuits over matters like car wrecks.
Murdaugh’s father, Randolph, took his son on as a volunteer prosecutor. And though he only led one criminal trial in more than two decades, Murdaugh used the position to justify having blue lights installed in the vehicle his law firm provided him.
The case is the nation's latest true-crime obsession, reports the Los Angeles Times. Hundreds of thousands of people tune in to daily livestreams of the trial from the small town of Walterboro, S.C.
The televised proceedings have helped fuel a thriving Murdaugh cottage industry. There’s a top-rated podcast, “Murdaugh Murders,” created by Mandy Matney, a local reporter who broke many of the crucial stories in the case.
There are also specials on “Dateline,” “48 Hours” and “20/20”; a 7,000-word New Yorker deep dive; and docuseries from HBO Max (“Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty”) and Discovery+ (“Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty”).