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Disgraced former SC attorney Alex Murdaugh won't face death penalty in trial for death of wife, son

Murdaugh will be tried in late January on murder charges in the shooting deaths of his wife Maggie and their son Paul at the family’s home in Colleton County.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Disgraced former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh will not face the death penalty in his upcoming trial on charges that he killed his wife and son. 

“After carefully reviewing this case and all the surrounding facts, we have decided to seek life without parole for Alex Murdaugh," Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement released on Tuesday. "Because this is a pending case, we cannot comment further.” 

In response to the announcement, Murdaugh's attorneys said they were not surprised by the decision. "We are not surprised but also welcome the decision to not seek the death penalty for Alex Murdaugh," Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, said. "Now there is no impediment for going ahead with the trial scheduled for January 23, when we look forward to evidence, not leaks, determining the outcome."

Murdaugh will be tried in late January on murder charges in the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife Maggie and their son Paul at the family’s home in Colleton County. 

Murdaugh’s lawyers adamantly deny he had any role in the killings, but they have acknowledged his role in taking money from clients.

The attorney general's announcement is the latest in a string of developments around charges against the Murdaugh involving drugs, embezzlement, and tax evasion charges

Just two weeks ago, prosecutors said Murdaugh made nearly $14 million as a lawyer over nine years, but also stole nearly $7 million from his law firm at the same time.

Through tax returns from 2011 to 2019, grand jury indictments shed a light on a man who made millions at the law firm his family founded a century ago, but who also had large swings in income and stole about half as much money as he made from Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.

The most recent indictments bring the total number of charges against the disgraced attorney to more than 100.

Nine counts of willful attempt to evade or defeat a tax were added to Murdaugh’s charges on December 9. Prosecutors said he dodged nearly $487,000 in state income taxes. He faces up to five years in prison on each count if convicted.

Most of the other charges against Murdaugh deal with either stealing $8.8 million in lawsuit settlement money from badly injured clients, or families of people killed in wrecks or on the job, as well as a drug ring and money laundering scheme, according to the indictments handed down in nearly two dozen waves since September 2021.

Indictments show Murdaugh reported nearly $14 million in gross adjusted income from the firm on tax returns over the course of nine years, while prosecutors said he also stole nearly $7 million meant for the firm’s bank accounts and failed to pay taxes on the ill-gotten gains.

In his best year, Murdaugh reported making $5.3 million in 2013 after making $2.4 million the year before. But the later tax returns showed his legitimate income was drying up. Murdaugh said he made just $219,000 in 2017 and only $1.6 million over the next two years, according to the indictment.

On the unreported side of the ledger, Murdaugh stole nearly $3.8 million in 2019, a sharp increase over most years when he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from his firm, according to the indictments.

Around that time, Murdaugh managed to get a $3.5 million insurance settlement for the family's longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2019 in a fall at a family home. The settlement was meant for Satterfield's sons, but they say they never saw a dime before his arrest.

Another victim included an injured state trooper, and Murdaugh allegedly used a fraudulent bank account to divert the settlement money to himself, according to previous indictments.

Prosecutors said in court that the swirling financial problems are what led Murdaugh to shoot and kill his wife and son because he feared his schemes were about to be revealed and thought the sympathy over their deaths would buy more time to cover his tracks.

But they didn't provide any direct financial compensation Murdaugh got for their deaths, and Murdaugh's attorneys said he was a smart enough lawyer to know the violent deaths of his wife and son would bring more scrutiny into his life.

Murdaugh and his family were the biggest players in the legal scene in tiny Hampton County. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all elected prosecutors, and the law firm founded by his family was known for getting life-changing legal settlements in civil cases.

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