By Nathan Layne
(Reuters) -The state prosecutor said on Wednesday that a “gathering storm” of scrutiny on Richard “Alex” Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds caused him to murder his wife and son, in a desperate bid by the now-disbarred South Carolina lawyer to cover his tracks.
In his closing argument, Creighton Waters portrayed Murdaugh as a serial liar and said all the evidence presented during the month-long trial pointed to him as the individual who carried out the murders on the night of June 7, 2021.
“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,” Waters told the jury.
“On behalf of the state of South Carolina I ask you to return a verdict of guilty.”
Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of an influential legal family in an area west of Charleston, has been charged with fatally shooting his wife Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, at dog kennels on their estate. He faces 30 years to life in prison if found guilty.
The case has drawn intense media coverage given the family’s immense political power in and around Colleton County, where the trial is taking place. For decades until 2006, family members served as the leading prosecutor in the area, and Murdaugh was a prominent personal injury attorney in the state.
Murdaugh’s lawyers, who are due to deliver their closing arguments on Thursday, have sought to portray him as a loving family man who, while facing financial troubles and suffering from a powerful addiction to opioids that led him to lie and steal, would never harm his wife and child. They have also floated alternative theories, eliciting expert testimony suggesting there could have been two shooters. Murdaugh testified that he believed someone angry over a deadly boating accident in 2019 involving Paul sought revenge on his son.
Prosecutors have argued that Murdaugh committed the murders to generate sympathy and distract from a litany of financial crimes, including the theft of millions of dollars from his law partners and clients — money used to feed a years-long addiction to opioids and support an expensive lifestyle.
In the weeks leading up to the murders, Murdaugh was confronted by his son and wife about his drug use and by a paralegal at his law firm about missing funds, Waters said. He was also facing a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the 2019 boat crash that implicated Paul and which threatened to expose his financial misdeeds.
It was a “gathering storm” of pressure that was set to ruin Murdaugh and tarnish the family name, Waters said.
“The entire illusion of his life was about to be altered,” Waters said. “His ego couldn’t stand that and he became a family annihilator.”
After the murders, a hearing in the wrongful death lawsuit was delayed, demands from his partners concerning the stolen funds dissipated and the community rallied to his side. The ploy worked, at least temporarily, Waters argued.
“In the wake of this, everything changes. All those things that were coming to a head immediately go away,” he said.
Waters also repeatedly highlighted Murdaugh’s admission from the stand last week that he had lied about his whereabouts on the night of the killings, telling investigators he was not at the dog kennels prior to the murders. Murdaugh changed his account after the jury listened to audio evidence placing him at the scene of the crime minutes before it occurred.
Murdaugh said he initially lied to investigators because of paranoia tied to his drug habit and mistrust of the police.
“Why in the world would an innocent, reasonable father and husband lie about that, and lie about it so early,” Waters said. “People lie because they knew they did something wrong.”
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)