In Murdaugh Murder Trial, Lead Prosecutor Makes Closing Arguments

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WALTERBORO, S.C. — The prosecutor seeking to convict Alex Murdaugh of murdering his wife and son said in his closing argument on Wednesday that a “gathering storm” had been threatening to expose Mr. Murdaugh’s thefts of millions of dollars, leading him to kill his family in a last-ditch effort to preserve his legacy and wealth.

Creighton Waters, the prosecutor, argued that evidence in the case could only lead jurors to conclude that Mr. Murdaugh, a fourth-generation lawyer in South Carolina, had carried out the June 2021 murders to halt the expanding inquiries into his finances and reported thefts from clients and his law firm.

“After an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes, and also whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him,” Mr. Waters said in the courtroom as he tried to summarize the prosecution’s case.

The closing arguments took place on the 27th day of a trial that lasted far longer than expected. Over five weeks, prosecutors outlined an extensive case against Mr. Murdaugh, accused of killing his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and their younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22.

Mr. Waters laid out a grisly scenario for the jury: Mr. Murdaugh shot his son first, firing a powerful shotgun at close range, and then shot his wife with a rifle when she ran toward him to see what had happened.

“She was running to her baby,” Mr. Waters said. “Heard that shot and was running to her baby when she got mowed down by the only person that we have conclusive proof was at the scene just minutes before.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Murdaugh had stolen millions of dollars from clients and his law partners, and committed the murders when his law firm’s accountant was on the verge of uncovering his thefts.

Mr. Murdaugh has admitted stealing money but insisted he is innocent in the murders, saying he believes his wife and son were killed by someone angered over Paul Murdaugh’s role in a drunken boat crash in 2019 that had left a 19-year-old woman dead.

One of Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers was to deliver the defense’s closing argument on Thursday morning, and 12 jurors will then begin deliberations. Earlier on Wednesday, the jury toured the Murdaughs’ rural hunting estate, known as Moselle, where the victims were found dead near dog kennels on the property.

For 20 months after the June 7, 2021, killings, Mr. Murdaugh denied being at the kennels, a lie that was exposed at trial when prosecutors played a video that Paul Murdaugh took at the kennels just minutes before the killings; Alex and Maggie Murdaugh’s voices could be heard in the background.

In tearful testimony last week, Mr. Murdaugh admitted that he had lied, saying he had feared that acknowledging he was at the crime scene immediately before the murders would lead the police to suspect that he was the killer. He said that paranoia brought about by his addiction to painkillers was part of what caused him to lie.

The video established that Mr. Murdaugh was at the kennels at 8:45 p.m., minutes before the killings took place. In his account from the witness stand, Mr. Murdaugh said he had returned to the house within a few minutes, leaving his wife and son at the kennels. About 20 minutes later, he said, he left the property to visit his ailing mother nearby. Along the way there and back, he made a series of calls, including to his wife, but said he did not think anything was wrong when she did not answer.

Prosecutors said he had already carried out the murders by then and was making the calls, along with the hasty visit to his mother, to concoct an alibi.

Mr. Waters said Mr. Murdaugh’s revised story, in which he admitted he had been at the kennels but claimed he had quickly left, was his “most blatant” lie yet, told because he could no longer deny being there altogether.

“What father would hold anything back if he were innocent?” Mr. Waters said. “What father would care what happens to him after that?”

Mr. Waters said Mr. Murdaugh had, for years, deceived even his closest friends and relatives about his financial misdeeds, and he urged the jury to see through Mr. Murdaugh’s lies.

“He’s fooled them all. He fooled Maggie and Paul, too, and they paid for it with their lives,” Mr. Waters said. “Don’t let him fool you, too.”

Mr. Murdaugh returned to the Moselle estate from his mother’s house at 10 p.m., first pulling up to the house and then driving down to the kennels, where he said he found the bodies of his wife and son and called 911, sounding distraught.

In laying out their case, prosecutors have drawn on a wealth of data, including cellphone and car tracking records, as well as texts and videos. But their case has been hampered by a lack of physical evidence. Though they have argued that Maggie Murdaugh was killed with a family-owned rifle, investigators have not found it, nor have they identified the shotgun used to kill the son.

No blood was found on Mr. Murdaugh’s shirt, and there is no exact time of death, only an inference based on when the victims stopped using their phones and a coroner’s estimate that the killings occurred at about 9 p.m.

Mr. Waters emphasized in his closing argument that jurors should not worry about having a slight doubt; only a reasonable doubt, he said, should keep them from convicting Mr. Murdaugh.

“Circumstantial evidence can be just as strong as direct evidence,” he said.

There were no arrests in the murders for more than a year after the crimes, a period during which Mr. Murdaugh suggested that the boat crash, which resulted in criminal charges against Paul Murdaugh and a lawsuit against the family, could have prompted a revenge attack. He testified last week that he still believed this theory was the most likely motive for the crime.

The case has drawn intense interest across the country, in part because of the Murdaugh family’s history of power and privilege in the region. Mr. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served as the top prosecutor for a wide swath of the rural South Carolina Lowcountry and were partners in a powerful family law firm. Mr. Murdaugh himself worked as a volunteer in the prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Waters told jurors on Wednesday that Mr. Murdaugh, who was disbarred last summer after being charged with a series of financial crimes, had used his legal acumen to cover his tracks.

“He’s smart,” Mr. Waters said. “He’s a good lawyer.”

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