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Alex Murdaugh found guilty of murdering wife and son

By Eric Levenson and Alta Spells, CNN

After deliberating for less than three hours Thursday, the jury in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh found him guilty of murdering his wife and son, the grisliest and most severe of the allegations faced by the disgraced former South Carolina attorney.

Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of a prominent and powerful family of local lawyers and solicitors, was also found guilty of two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the killings of Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021.

Prosecutors have indicated they will seek life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders, sparing him the death penalty.

Judge Clifton Newman set sentencing for Friday at 9:30 a.m.

Murdaugh kept a stony face while the verdicts were read. His only remaining son, Buster Murdaugh, could be seen wiping tears from his eyes. Murdaugh appeared to mouth "I love you" to Buster as he was being placed in handcuffs.

Members of the jury kept their heads down and never looked in Murdaugh's direction.

The speed with which the jury reached its decision was astonishing, legal analysts said.

"I was shocked that the verdict came back so quickly, with all of the witnesses -- 70 witnesses of the three-week trial -- there was so much to parse through," trial attorney and legal analyst Misty Marris told CNN's Erin Burnett.

The verdict came after a six-week trial heavy on brutal gore, phone forensics, a mysterious blue tarp, extensive financial wrongdoing and the defendant's own lies.

Earlier Thursday, Murdaugh's defense team delivered closing arguments, saying law enforcement was too quick to pinpoint him as the main suspect in the killings by the dog kennels on the family's sprawling estate.

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In a rebuttal, prosecutor John Meadors took offense at the defense's accusations of wrongdoing.

"I find it offensive that the defense ... is claiming law enforcement didn't do their job, while he is withholding and obstructing justice by not saying 'I was down at the kennels.' "

Prosecutors called 61 witnesses over three weeks of testimony to show Murdaugh was the only person who had the motive, means and opportunity to kill his wife and son on their property known as Moselle in Islandton, South Carolina, on the night of June 7, 2021.

With little to no direct evidence, such as bloody clothing or eyewitnesses, prosecutors hinged their case on consequential video placing Murdaugh at the crime scene that night despite his repeated assertions otherwise.

The defense case was highlighted by Murdaugh himself, who offered dramatic testimony over two days last week in which he flatly denied killing his wife and son. At the same time, he admitted he had lied to investigators about his whereabouts just prior to the killings due to paranoia from his drug addiction. He further admitted to stealing millions of dollars from his former clients and law firm and lying to cover his tracks.

The stranger-than-fiction case has brought national attention -- including Netflix and HBO Max documentaries -- on Alex Murdaugh, the former personal injury attorney and member of a dynastic family in South Carolina's Lowcountry, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as the local prosecutor consecutively from 1920 to 2006.

Murdaugh was a partner at a powerful law firm with his name on it. But that prominence belied underlying issues, and the killings of his wife and son were followed by accusations of misappropriated funds, his resignation, a bizarre alleged suicide-for-hire and insurance scam plot, a stint in rehab for drug addiction, dozens of financial crimes, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.

In a separate case yet to go to trial, Murdaugh continues to face 99 separate charges stemming from a horde of alleged financial crimes, including defrauding his clients, former law firm and the government of about $9 million.

Closing arguments

Defense attorney Jim Griffin's closing arguments, taken together, sought to undercut the prosecution and raise reasonable doubt about the case.

He said the agency failed to investigate hair found in Murdaugh's wife's hand, take fingerprint evidence, examine footwear and tire impressions, or test DNA on the victims' clothes.

"They had decided, 'Unless we find somebody else, it's going to be Alex,'" he said.

The prosecution argued Murdaugh's motive in the killings was to distract and delay investigations into his financial wrongdoing. Griffin mocked that theory as nonsensical and noted that Murdaugh tried to kill himself in September 2021, calling that a "natural" response to being exposed.

"It's totally illogical, irrational and insane ... for someone to kill their loved ones when their criminal conduct is exposed," he argued.

Griffin acknowledged Murdaugh had lied about being at the dog kennels where his wife and son were killed on the night of the murders. He said the lies were to hide his drug addiction and financial problems -- not because he killed his family.

"Because that's what addicts do. Addicts lie," Griffin said. "He lied because he had a closet full of skeletons, and he didn't want any more scrutiny on him."

In the prosecution's telling, the motive was Murdaugh's attempt to distract and delay investigations into his growing financial problems. The means were two family-owned weapons, prosecutors argued. And the opportunity was Murdaugh's presence at the crime scene, as revealed in a pivotal video and confirmed by his own testimony, minutes before the murders.

"This defendant ... has fooled everyone, everyone, everyone who thought they were close to him," prosecutor Creighton Waters told the jury. "Everyone who thought they knew who he was, he's fooled them all. He fooled Maggie and Paul, too, and they paid for it with their lives. Don't let him fool you, too."

After the verdict Thursday, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called it a "great day for the people of South Carolina."

"Our criminal justice system worked tonight," Wilson said. "It gave a voice to Maggie and Paul Murdaugh who were brutally mowed down and murdered on the night of June 7, 2021 by someone that they loved and someone that they trusted, and they couldn't be here to testify for themselves tonight."

"We can't bring them back, but we can bring them justice," Wilson said.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher and Adrienne Vogt contributed to this report.

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