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Jurors convict South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh in deaths of his wife and son

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In South Carolina, jurors have convicted Alex Murdaugh, a former prosecutor and once-prominent attorney, in the shooting deaths of his wife and son. The guilty verdicts on all charges capped a six-week trial. It was at times salacious and stunning and portrayed a powerful Southern family that began to crumble.

We're going to speak now with reporter Victoria Hansen of South Carolina Public Radio. She's been in court since the first day of the trial. Welcome.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So this jury, I mean, it reached its verdict in just three hours, right? How surprising was it that they came to a verdict so quickly?

HANSEN: Yeah, it was really surprising. You know, five weeks of testimony, 70 witnesses - there was a lot of information to go over. But, you know, the jury was so fast. In fact, people thought it might be too much information for the jury to wade through, but it just wasn't. It was striking that Murdaugh showed so little emotion as the guilty verdicts were announced, and it was quite the contrast to how he was when he learned a verdict had been reached so quickly. Then he was all smiles. He probably thought he'd gotten off.

CHANG: And can you just remind us, Victoria, what Alex Murdaugh was convicted of doing specifically?

HANSEN: Yeah. So this all started back in 2021. He called 911 saying he'd found the bodies of his wife and son at his rural estate. He was a prominent attorney from a powerful and well-connected family who was also a former prosecutor. Well, two years before these killings, the son who was killed was charged in a fatal boating accident, and Alex Murdaugh was being sued civilly. That's when the prosecution said he began to steal even more from colleagues, clients, anyone he could. He had a penchant for lying. And on the day of the murders, he had been confronted about money missing from his law firm. He has said from day one that he found the bodies and that he - it had to be vigilantes trying to kill his son because of the boat crash that I just mentioned. But during a trial - or during this trial, I should say, a video on that son's phone surfaced revealing his voice and those of his loved ones just minutes before they were killed.

CHANG: Well, I understand that the judge was pretty stern in his reaction after the verdict. Tell us what he had to say exactly.

HANSEN: Yeah. He agreed with the jury and said there was little doubt that Murdaugh was guilty. In fact, here's Judge Clifton Newman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLIFTON NEWMAN: The jury has now considered the evidence for a significant period of time, and the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.

HANSEN: And after the verdicts were read, the chief prosecutor - that is Creighton Waters - was equally stern in his comments about what Murdaugh had done to his own family members.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CREIGHTON WATERS: Justice was done today. It doesn't matter who your family is. It doesn't matter how much money you have or people think you have. It doesn't matter what you think, how prominent you are. If you do wrong, if you break the law, if you murder, then justice will be done in South Carolina.

CHANG: Let me ask you, what do you think was the turning point in this case, if there was one?

HANSEN: Oh, there definitely was one. It was when he took the stand in his own defense. I think he had no choice. You know, he was the only one who could explain that video. And the more he talked on the stand, the more he lied. And it was just clear that he couldn't talk his way out of this.

He will be formally sentenced tomorrow and faces up to life in prison. He was led away in handcuffs - a symbolic moment for a powerful man who has avoided accountability for most of his life. And I should say his legal troubles are far from over. He faces roughly 100 charges on those alleged financial crimes.

CHANG: That is South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen in Walterboro, S.C. Thank you so much, Victoria.

HANSEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.