Ex-lawyer Murdaugh slated for bond hearing on murder charges
WALTERBORO, S.C. (AP) — Once-prominent and now-disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh is briefly leaving jail Wednesday for a bond hearing on murder charge s in the shootings of his wife and son 13 months ago.
Murdaugh has been behind bars since October, charged with financial crimes and several other misdeeds that were uncovered after the killings of his wife Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, at the family's Colleton County hunting estate in June 2021.
Murdaugh, 54, was indicted last week on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during a violent crime. Court papers don't indicate how police linked Murdaugh to the deaths after 13 months of investigation. Nor do they contain any clues as to why a man who had no criminal history and was part of a wealthy, well-connected family that dominated the legal community in the tiny town of Hampton might have wanted to kill his own family members.
Authorities have been tight-lipped since the start of the investigation. Last year, they released the late-night 911 call in which Murdaugh reported finding the bodies of his wife and son outside by the dog kennels on his estate. The coroner said both victims had been shot multiple times. The indictments add a new detail: an allegation that Murdaugh killed his wife with a rifle and his son with a shotgun.
Murdaugh's lawyers have hinted that they might press prosecutors to reveal what information they have at Wednesday's hearing. In a statement issued after the grand jury handed down the murder indictments Thursday, they also said they want to have his trial within the next three months.
“It was very clear from day one that law enforcement and the Attorney General prematurely concluded that Alex was responsible for the murder of his wife and son," defense attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian wrote. “But we know that Alex did not have any motive whatsoever to murder them.”
Presiding over Wednesday's hearing at the Colleton County courthouse will be Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, the same judge who denied bond for Murdaugh on the financial crimes charges. A different judge later set bond at $7 million but Murdaugh was unable to pay it and has remained in jail. His lawyers have complained several times that the bond was set too high, and said that because of lawsuits and frozen assets Murdaugh couldn’t even afford to buy underwear from the jail store.
If convicted of murder, Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison without parole. Under state law, prosecutors could also choose to seek the death penalty because more than one person was killed.
The four new indictments connected to the slayings are being added to a pile of 80 other charges lodged against Murdaugh by investigators who have scrutinized every part of his life over the past year. No trial dates have been set for any of the cases.
Prosecutors said the once-prominent attorney stole more than $8 million in settlements and other money from clients, committed fraud and lied to police by trying to arrange his own death so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh was also charged last month with co-running a $2 million money laundering and drug ring.
The murder charges and other cases are being prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General's Office because of links Murdaugh has to the local 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office. The office's jurisdiction includes Colleton County and Hampton County, where Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were the elected prosecutors for 87 consecutive years.