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Prosecutors reveal Alex Murdaugh’s alleged motive to kill wife and son


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On June 7, 2021, South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh was set for “a day of reckoning,” prosecutors say. That was the deadline they say his law firm had given him to explain the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees allegedly missing from the company’s coffers. Instead, that Monday turned into a day of tragedy after Murdaugh said he found his wife and son shot dead outside the family’s sprawling hunting lodge.

It took months for investigators to make an arrest in the case, ultimately charging Murdaugh with two counts of murder in July 2022 — and it took even longer for them to reveal why they believe the legal scion shot Maggie Murdaugh, 52, with a rifle and Paul Murdaugh, 22, with a shotgun. But on Thursday, a motion filed by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office outlined prosecutors’ theory.

“The murders served as Murdaugh’s means to shift focus away from himself and buy himself some additional time to try and prevent his financial crimes from being uncovered, which — if revealed — would have resulted in personal, legal and financial ruin,” state grand jury chief prosecutor Creighton Waters wrote in the motion.

Alex Murdaugh, South Carolina attorney, charged with murdering wife and son

The new filing — which seeks permission to introduce Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes as evidence — came as a response to Murdaugh’s attorneys’ request for prosecutors to disclose the motive they intend to present at his upcoming murder trial in January. Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty in the double homicide. He also faces 80 counts of state grand jury charges ranging from forgery to money laundering to computer crimes.

Murdaugh’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, declined to comment Thursday on the state’s new filing. The defense team has claimed that Murdaugh was caring for his ailing father at the time his son and wife were killed. That evening, Murdaugh called 911 to report that he had found their bodies near the dog kennels at the family’s 1,700-acre property, The Washington Post previously reported.

How the once-prominent head of a South Carolina legal dynasty became embroiled in a variety of alleged crimes is a question that has elicited international attention. The twists and turns in the saga — including allegations of a botched suicide-for-hire and questions about the death of the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper — have already inspired podcasts, a TV series and a documentary.

Now, prosecutors have shed new light on what led to the deaths of Paul and Maggie, claiming it all began with a “series of bad land deals exacerbated by the recession,” which “permanently changed [Murdaugh’s] finances.”

Alex Murdaugh surrenders in alleged suicide-for-hire plot as police launch new probe into housekeeper’s death

The motion alleges that the economic downturn in the mid-2000s not only propelled a vicious cycle of borrowing and spending, but also a 15-year scheme to steal nearly $9 million from Murdaugh’s law partners and clients. That “incessant financial rollercoaster” only became worse on Feb. 23, 2019 — the day Murdaugh’s son Paul, while under the influence, allegedly crashed a boat, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

The Beach family sued Murdaugh. Although his attorney told the family that Murdaugh “had no money to personally pay any settlement,” the Beaches’ attorney didn’t believe it — and sought a court order demanding Murdaugh disclose his bank records and assets. That hearing — which prosecutors say would’ve shown “the true picture of [Murdaugh’s] finances and his years of alleged theft” — was set for June 10, 2021, three days after the double homicide of Paul and Maggie.

The walls were already closing in on Murdaugh when his law firm, PMPED, caught wind that the numbers weren’t adding up — some $792,000 in legal fees were missing after Murdaugh worked on a lucrative case, according to the prosecutors’ motion. On June 7, 2021, as Murdaugh was preparing for the upcoming hearing, a law firm staffer came into his office demanding an answer about the missing funds, the motion states. Then, Murdaugh received word that his father — and frequent lender — was in the hospital with “a poor prognosis,” the motion claims.

When night fell, Murdaugh killed his wife and son, prosecutors allege.

“Immediately everything changed. People immediately treated [Murdaugh] as the victim of an unspeakable tragedy,” the motion states. “Everyone backed off their inquiries and rallied around him … The day of reckoning vanished.”

According to prosecutors, Murdaugh was able to cover his tracks by borrowing more money. But it fell apart after three months, when a PMPED staffer said they found a copy of a check that had allegedly been improperly written directly to Murdaugh, prompting an internal investigation. On Sept. 3, Murdaugh was confronted by his colleagues with the findings.

The next day, Murdaugh was shot in the head by a man he had allegedly hired to kill him, but survived. According to police, Murdaugh confessed the plan was for his older son, Buster Murdaugh, to receive $10 million in life insurance.

“People initially rallied to his aid again,” the motion reads. “Only this time the facts came to light a lot quicker.”

In October 2021, Murdaugh was arrested and held under a $7 million bond as a mushrooming list of financial crime charges were brought against him. Some eight months later, a grand jury indicted him with conspiring to purchase and distribute oxycodone. Then on July 14, 2022, Murdaugh was arrested in the killings of his wife and son.

“This case is unique in South Carolina history for many reasons,” the motion concludes. “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.”