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South Carolina judge sentences Alex Murdaugh to life in prison

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former attorney Alex Murdaugh will spend the rest of his life in prison. That's the sentence handed down by Judge Clifton Newman this morning. And South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen is back with us from outside the courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., to update us. Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Hi. How are you guys?

FADEL: We're doing all right. I would love to start with what Murdaugh's reaction was to this sentencing.

HANSEN: You know, it was pretty stunning. First of all, to walk in the courtroom this morning at 9:30 and see him dressed in that tan jumpsuit with the orange sandals and the white socks, you know, compared to the suits and the nice shirts that he's been wearing as of late, was just - that was a shock. It took us all back quite a bit. Then he stood, and Judge Clifton Newman was pretty terse. You know, he was given two life sentences for the murders of Paul and Maggie to be served consecutively. Murdaugh was stoic. He did not show much emotion. But when asked if he had something to say, he basically continued to proclaim his innocence. He said he would never hurt Paul or Maggie. And there was just a silence in the courtroom. You could just hear the hum of the air conditioning after that.

FADEL: Maggie and Paul, his wife and his son that were murdered. Judge Newman had a lot to say about Murdaugh's family and Murdaugh's fall from grace. If you - he called him a person from a respected family who had control of the justice system in this community. And then he said this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLIFTON NEWMAN: It was especially heartbreaking for me to see you go on - go in the media from being a grieving father who lost a wife and a son to being the person indicted and convicted of killing them.

FADEL: Victoria, if you could, just remind us who Murdaugh is and what his family was in this community for so long.

HANSEN: Yeah. Sure. His family has been prominent in this community for nearly a century, founding the family law firm that was so well known that made so much money in this community. He is a fourth generation - well, he was actually an assistant solicitor, but he did prosecute cases. His forefathers were all solicitors. He, too, was an attorney, which the prosecution was quick to point out that, you know, his experience in the courtroom made it possible for him to hide evidence because this was a very circumstantial case. And when this story first began to break, there was a lot of fear in this community. People feared the Murdaugh family. You know, they knew him. They know the family. But he has a lot of pull - had a lot of pull with police because, basically, his family was the legal system in this rural community.

FADEL: Yeah. And the judge even mentioned that Murdaugh's grandfather's portrait had hung at the back of the courthouse and was removed to ensure a fair trial. Now, he also mentioned remaining cases against Murdaugh. What are those?

HANSEN: All right, so there are 99 additional charges. This was briefly brought up as the prosecution tried to prove motive, which was basically that there was this perfect storm coming, that Murdaugh was facing these financial - this financial storm, that he needed to create a distraction with these murders to get sympathy. But he's basically accused of embezzling colleagues, friends, the law firm of nearly $10 million, including the family of his late housekeeper whose sons he had promised to get - oh, I think he said he could get them $100,000. And he admitted in court - and has yet to be tried, but he admitted to walking away with nearly $5 million.

FADEL: Wow. And you said 99 charges. I just want to make sure that was the number, right? That's a lot.

HANSEN: Ninety-nine charges. And I am told that the defense plans to start scheduling that case very soon. And the defense, which has yet to speak about this verdict, about the sentence, is expected to come out before the courthouse in the next 10 minutes.

FADEL: South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen, thank you so much for your reporting.

HANSEN: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.