The trial of Alex Murdaugh: A Sociological Primer For Sub-Rock Dwellers
Updated: Mar 2
First off, I'm just going to put right out there that I have been known to watch live courtroom TV like it's a job, attending to whatever case is being broadcast into my living room as if auditioning for a seat as an alternate. I can opine about guilt, innocence and the social context affecting a legal outcome with (possibly oversized) confidence. I especially enjoy learning the backstories (gossip) about the various participants. Defendants, attorneys, bloggers and turf-guarding journalists.
It's all fascinating.
(In another life I might've been a court reporter.)
Quick aside: I recently learned I may have come by this avocation naturally. I discovered a few pages in a steamer trunk holding copies of my mother's writings in which she detailed her experiences as an audience member in the Boston Five Conspiracy trial. Pre-livestream she word painted the event. Of course that case had personal ramifications as my dad was one of the defendants and my mom was facing a 60-month sentence of single parenting if he were to be convicted for counseling young men to evade the draft. He wasn't.
These days though, watching a trial live (from the comfort of one's couch) is like sharing in a cultural event without having to put shoes on. Generally there's history and psychology, family dynamics and impending climax, theories and teams. Talking heads expound and Twitter lights up.
It's a happening.
And nothing has been as gobsmacking as the Alex
trial rising like swamp gas from the drawl of South Carolina Lowcountry. The heinous double-murder of Alex's wife Maggie and their 22-year-old son, Paul, is replete with generations of good ol' boy white collar corruption, class warfare, and drug abuse; it's an unbelievable story of power and heartbreak, murder and destruction all following this one prominent clan.
(The term blood kin comes to mind.)
Up until recently multi-generations of the Murdaughs exerted undue control over their neighbors by serving as Solicitors (which is like a D.A. or prosecutor but Southern), effectively deciding who would be charged with crimes and what they would face if convicted. Serious power. The Murdaughs were a family to be feared. Played to. They were connected.
And there were whispers about what happened to people who crossed them.
This included the unsolved (possible beating) death of young Stephen Smith, a gay classmate of Buster Murdaugh, Paul's older brother, whose body was found in the middle of the road. The suggestion was that the case, or maybe deliberate lack thereof, might have been influenced by the Murdaughs' decision to keep it all lowkey.
Alex, although never an actual Solicitor himself, did volunteer with the office, and was allowed to carry a pseudo-badge. (And, weirdly, install blue lights on one of his vehicles.)
The Smith case quietly went away.
And Alex continued on, dropping his own name with aplomb, living high on the hog (which he and his boys also hunted with wildly expensive guns on their 1000 acre spread) hosting crazy vacations for his sons and girlfriends. There was deep sea fishing and trips to championship ball games. Alex and Maggie Murdaugh were known for their hospitality and serving as second parents to the hard partying friends of their boys.
Thing was, this lifestyle was expensive.
Fortunately, Alex was a personal injury attorney and knew how to work the insurance system. Big time. Corrupt as they come, he took advantage of people across the board, committing fraud; doing it with a down-home charm -- yes sirring and no ma'aming his victims, with his hands elbow deep in their pockets.
Sad case in point: When the Murdaughs' hardscrabble, longterm housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, was reportedly (according to Alex) knocked down their outdoor brick stairs by his dogs and later died from her injuries, Alex sued himself on behalf of Gloria's sons. Only they didn't know they won anything because Alex hijacked the whole settlement.
And weirdly, the incident occurred right after Alex had quietly taken out additional insurance policy on his property.
A little ways down the road, the double murder case of Paul and Maggie started with a different death altogether. In February of 2019 Paul slammed his boat into a bridge pylon following a night of heavy (underage) drinking. His ugly and violent alter-ego (nicknamed 'Timmy') had appeared (with telltale outstretched, Hulk fingers) to refuse to give up control of the steering wheel to his less-impaired passengers.
Mallory Beach paid with her life.
Paul and the other survivors were taken to the hospital. They were followed by Alex and his own father, the former S.C. Solicitor, who immediately began trying to muddy the waters about who was actually captaining the vessel.
The Murdaughs knew where this could end up.
Wearing his volunteer solicitor badge, Alex bigfooted his way into the private exam rooms to try and pressure the traumatized survivors into saying that that one of the other boys had actually been at the helm. Paul's girlfriend had her (soon-to-be ex) boyfriend's dad thrown out.
Being sued would expose Alex's longterm, no-joke Oxy habit that for years had left him as dopesick as anybody jonesing outside a pill mill. (You know, the pop-up places where people would go to feed their addiction to the Sackler family's pain killers.) Fortunately for Alex, though, he had a personal dealer Curtis Edward Smith --Cousin Eddie-- who supplied him with the drug in private. Who knows though, if he had to line up for the drug he might even have found himself standing next to one of his own clients, someone who had been injured on the job, and Alex had represented.
And stole from.
Alex, who proudly talked on the stand of his wife comfortably volunteering at a food bank had been embezzling from poor people for years, stealing from desperate and grievously injured clients; profiting off their hardship, depositing their award settlements into a dummy account, named almost identically to the real business that his firm used to handle trusts.
(Which you've got to admit is pretty slick.)
But the walls were closing in after Mallory Beach died.
And then in June of 2021 Paul and Maggie were gunned down on their estate. Alex who claimed not to be on their compound during the killings (he was, he finally admitted later in court) pointed to the possibility of the murders being retaliatory for the boat wreck.
The police didn't buy it. They said he was looking to deflect a forensic accounting and garner sympathy in the process. Shortly thereafter Alex called 911 claiming to be the victim of a shooting, a near-murder, on the side of the road.
It turned out though that he staged the whole thing. Later he'd claim that he was just trying to get Cousin Eddie to take him out so he could leave his insurance policy to Buster. (The supposed assailant balked at this telling, saying he was actually being set up to take the blame for the murders of Paul and Maggie. And if he'd meant to kill Alex, he would have.)
Anyway, I have to get to work. Court is almost back in session. The defense has rested. And they may in fact secure a hung jury if not an actual acquittal. The crime scene was utterly contaminated by shoddy police work. There may be reasonable doubt.
But the fact is the curtains have been drawn on this kind of corruption. And hopefully they will stay open.