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Murdaugh Double Murder Trial Starting In South Carolina

The double-murder trial of disbarred South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh begins Monday with the scion of one of the state’s most powerful families facing charges of a fatal shooting at the family hunting estate. Murdaugh, 54, is accused of shooting his wife, Maggie several times with a rifle and his son, Paul, with two blasts from a shotgun at the family property’s dog kennels in June 2021, the Wall Street Journal reports. Prosecutors alleged that Murdaugh was under pressure from mounting questions about his finances, a serious review of which would have revealed a decade-long scheme of stealing from his personal-injury clients. The motive for the killings, prosecutors said, was to garner sympathy and buy time to cover his tracks. Murdaugh has been jailed for over a year on 99 felony counts, primarily related to allegedly swindling his clients out of $8.8 million but also related to alleged drug trafficking, money-laundering and insurance fraud in a failed assisted-suicide attempt over Labor Day weekend in 2021. Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to murder and to most other counts, though he has signed a confession of judgment admitting liability for the theft of a $4.3 million insurance settlement in the 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield, the family housekeeper.

Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill sent out 900 jury summonses, many times more than for a typical criminal trial, due to Murdaugh being universally known in this small community. The Murdaugh family founded a dominant civil-law firm in 1910, and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather together served 87 consecutive years as the prosecutor, for Colleton and four nearby counties. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman of Kingstree, S.C., was appointed by the state’s highest court to oversee Murdaugh-related matters after several local judges close to the Murdaughs recused themselves.Newman is expected to rule on two issues that are likely to affect the trajectory of the trial: how much the prosecution is allowed to say about the alleged financial crimes, and whether to block testimony from the state’s blood-analysis expert about the T-shirt Murdaugh was wearing on the night of the shooting deaths. Typically, the state is required to keep its arguments centered on the alleged crime it is prosecuting. Prosecutors have asked the judge to allow testimony about Murdaugh’s alleged thefts from poor and badly injured clients, which prosecutors said show a motive. The law firm’s administrator told a grand jury that just hours before the killings, she had confronted Murdaugh about a missing $792,000 fee. Murdaugh was set to attend a hearing in which a judge was expected to order him to turn over his financial statements in a 2019 wrongful-death suit involving a boat crash in which Paul had been charged as the driver.

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