Once-powerful South Carolina legal scion Alex Murdaugh appeared in court Wednesday to plead not guilty to the brutal murders of his wife and son.
Looking noticeably slimmer and with cropped hair, Murdaugh, 54, struggled to raise his handcuffed right hand when asked to give pleas to four charges in the slayings of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, at the family’s hunting estate in June 2021.
“Not guilty,” he finally stated clearly before being denied his bid to be freed on bond.
Prosecutors told the hearing that all the evidence “points back” to Murdaugh, who had called 911 claiming to have stumbled across his wife and son’s bodies. The charges accuse him of using a rifle to shoot his wife and a shotgun for his son to make it look like there were two killers.
However, Murdaugh’s attorneys fought to keep out of court the evidence that allegedly ties the since-disbarred lawyer to the grisly crime that sparked his shocking fall from power.
“We don’t really want to discuss it in public because we’re trying to get a fair trial for a client,” one of his attorneys, Dick Harpootlian, told Circuit Judge Clifton Newman of fears of “polluting the jury pool.”
Murdaugh, who wore a white shirt, beige pants and cloth face mask, faces 30 years to life in prison without parole if convicted — or even the death sentence, which prosecutors have yet to announce if they are seeking.
Harpootlian again asserted his client’s claim of innocence, while dismissing the prosecution’s claim that evidence tied him to it.
“He is wrong,” he said of the prosecutor, stressing that Murdaugh wanted a speedy trial because he “believes the killer, or killers, are still at large.”
Harpootlian asked for Murdaugh — who has been behind bars since October, facing more than 80 charges — to be released without bond because he “can’t make” the $7 million one he is held on.
The judge dismissed his request, promising to answer in a written order the defense team’s requests for evidence to remain hidden.
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.
Charges include for stealing more than $8 million in settlements and other money from clients, committing fraud and lying to police by trying to arrange his own death so his surviving son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy.
Murdaugh was also charged last month with co-running a $2 million money laundering and drug ring.
The 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.