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Murdaugh Gets Life, and a Dressing-Down by Trial Judge

Disbarred South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh's disgrace was complete in Friday's sentencing hearing for the 2021 murders of his wife and son when Judge Clifton Newman, noting the defendant's family "has controlled justice in this community for over a century," said Murdaugh stood in the same courtroom where he and his predecessors condemned defendants to death "probably for lesser conduct," the New York Times reports. Newman sentenced Murdaugh, 54, to two consecutive life terms in prison less than a day after a jury took under three hours to find Murdaugh guilty. Prosecutors last year took a potential death penalty in the case off the table. Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, opened the hearing by saying no one designated as a victim in the case wanted to share impact statements at the hearing. But Judge Newman directly challenged Murdaugh over critical testimony about a confessed lie about his whereabouts at the murder scene and in a lengthy soliloquy made it clear he agreed with the jury's verdict.

As prosecutors have told it, Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer in South Carolina, embezzled millions of dollars by the spring of 2021, and was so afraid his thefts would come to light that he was willing to kill two of the people closest to him to divert attention. The question of motive loomed over the case. The prosecution offered the theory that Murdaugh hatched a bizarre plan to kill his wife and younger son in order to gain sympathy and delay two separate efforts to get him to divulge his personal financial information. To Murdaugh and his defense team, the suggested motive was absurd and was not supported by the evidence. “His theory is that he knew the jig was up, so he went home and butchered — blew the head off his son — and butchered his wife,” Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s lawyers, said in court as he derisively recounted the prosecution’s theory. The case, before and during the six-week trial, became a true-crime sensation nationwide in what the Associated Press reports was a phenomenon shedding light on the human psyche. The Murdaugh case’s many aspects — mystery, forensics, family, finances — have appealed to a variety of interests. “Most popular true crime stories might only have one or two of those elements,” said Amanda Vicary, a psychology professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. “It has a little something for everything going on right now.”

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