The disbarred and disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the new bombshell murder charges accusing him of the double killing of his wife and younger son in June 2021.
Last week’s long-waited announcement from the South Carolina attorney general’s office confirmed a suspect in the June 7, 2021, double homicide of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh.
Court documents say the mother and son were found shot to death by separate weapons – a shotgun and a rifle – by dog kennels on the family’s sprawling 1,772-plus acre Moselle estate straddling Colleton and Hampton counties in a region known as South Carolina’s Low Country after authorities responded to a frantic 911 call from Alex Murdaugh himself.
Positioned between his lawyers Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, Alex Murdaugh -- notably handcuffed and donning a freshly shaven haircut, white button-down shirt and slacks – stood for a formal arraignment requested by the defense Tuesday, removing his mask and raising his right hand. Asked how he pleaded to the four felony charges of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, Murdaugh responded: "Not guilty." He said to the prosecutor's question on how he will be tried, "By God and by country," before taking his seat again at the defense table.
Judge Clifton Newman later denied bond for Murdaugh regarding the new murder charges. Murdaugh had been already been held on a $7 million bond since October.
Harpootlian said the defense consented to no bond but argued that discussing the matters of the case in an open courtroom runs the risk of polluting the jury pool, and he wants a fair and speedy trial.
"We’d like to go ahead and get this matter before a Colleton County jury as quickly as possible," Harpootlian said Wednesday. "Mr. Murdaugh does this for a number of reasons – one, as you heard, he believes he’s innocent. And two, he believes the killer or killers are still at large and wants SLED [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] to put this behind them and go look for the real killers."
Prosecutor Creighton Waters acknowledged the media attention around the case, noting that not all information reported about the murder investigation has come from prosecutorial or law enforcement sources. He assured the courtroom, without providing specifics, that "the evidence in this case is substantial," adding: "It all comes back to Alex Murdaugh."
Though coming short of deciding on a gag order, the judge said proceedings in the case would remain public.
"I want it clear we will not have any private motion hearings," Newton asserted in response to the defense’s request to keep some matters behind closed doors. "Public matters will be public."
What were coined the mysterious Murdaugh murders served as a catalyst to a slew of investigations by state authorities into the attorney and volunteer prosecutor, as well as his financial dealings.
Before Thursday's bombshell murder charges, Murdaugh faced more than 80 other criminal charges through 16 state grand jury indictments for schemes to defraud a slew of victims, including the family of his dead housekeeper, a deaf quadriplegic man and a highway patrolman injured in the line of duty, of a total sum of nearly $8.5 million.
He has also been recently indicted along with his distant cousin, former legal client and alleged failed hitman, Curtis Smith, in connection to an alleged drug trafficking ring of opioids.
Three months after the gruesome discoveries of his wife and son on the family estate, Alex Murdaugh allegedly hitched a suicide-for-hire plot to have himself shot and killed on a rural Hampton County road so that his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. The botched shooting – the elder Murdaugh was only grazed by a bullet and airlifted to a hospital in a dramatic affair – happened a day after he was confronted by partners at the prominent personal injury law firm founded by his great-grandfather a century ago for allegedly stealing millions of dollars.
Murdaugh, whose family also controlled the local prosecutor’s office for generations, was charged for the scheme but was initially released from custody and allowed to go to out-of-state drug rehabilitation centers.
He would be arrested in Orlando a month later on new charges he defrauded the sons of his longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, of $4.3 million in insurance settlement money after the 57-year-old woman died at a hospital in February 2018 weeks after an alleged trip and fall accident on steps at his home. Last month, SLED agents received permission from Satterfield’s family to exhume her body four years later, as the death was never reported to a coroner at the time, an autopsy was never conducted, and the death certificate claimed she died of natural causes.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing pending boating under the influence charges for the February 2019 boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach and injured several other passengers, including Connor Cook, whose attorney was reportedly present in the courtroom for Wednesday's bond hearing.
Three weeks after the double homicide in June 2021, SLED announced it was opening an investigation into the 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith based on information gathered during the course of the investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul, though without elaborating any further about what potential connection was made.
Smith, a former classmate of the Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in the middle of a road in rural Hampton County in what was officially ruled a hit-and-run, despite a state trooper’s incident report noting that there was "no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle."