7 crucial details about the explosive Murdaugh murder trial that you won't see in Netflix's docuseries about the disgraced South Carolina lawyer
Netflix released the three-part docuseries "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal."
Alex Murdaugh was then found guilty of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul in June 2021.
Here are seven important details the Netflix show missed about the story of the two murders.
Netflix's true-crime docuseries "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" may be the most timely it's ever released.
On February 22, a month into an explosive murder trial that rocked South Carolina's Lowcountry region and captivated audiences across the globe, Netflix dropped a highly anticipated docuseries which promised to explore the complex web of power, secrets, and suspicion that ultimately led to the downfall of a local family dynasty.
The three-part series centers around the Murdaugh family, which dominated the legal system in the local area for nearly 100 years with generations of lawyers who not only founded one of the most prominent civil law firms in the area but also worked with prosecutors in a role known locally as "solicitors," affording them connections to law enforcement.
The Murdaugh family legacy has now come crashing down as 54-year-old Richard Alexander Murdaugh (known as Alex, pronounced "Alec") was found guilty on March 3 of murdering his wife Maggie, and adult son Paul on June 7, 2021.
After less than three hours of deliberation, jurors at the Colleton County Courthouse unanimously found Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon.
The next day, Murdaugh was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, and his legal team has filed a notice to appeal the convictions.
Since the murders, Murdaugh — who says he was living with a decades-long opioid addiction at the time — has been disbarred and faces more than 100 further charges in which he's accused of financial crimes, including stealing millions of dollars from clients.
Murdaugh is also charged with insurance fraud and assisted suicide in relation to what has become known as the "roadside incident," in which Murdaugh initially claimed to have been shot in the head by an unknown assailant after pulling over with a flat tire, but which he subsequently told police was an elaborate plot in order to have a former client shoot him to death so that his remaining son, Buster, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
But the cloud of suspicion over the Murdaughs didn't begin with the murders of Maggie and Paul. Two suspicious deaths and a fatal boat crash in the preceding years are all part of this astonishing story that the Netflix documentary was set to unravel.
But for those following closely, it will likely feel like it barely scratched the surface.
Despite purporting to tell the story of five deaths, "Murdaugh Murders" is heavily focused on a 2019 boat crash.
—Mandy Matney (@MandyMatney) February 21, 2023
The docuseries devotes more than half of its airtime to telling the story of Mallory Beach, who died in 2019 aged 19 after a boat seemingly driven by a heavily intoxicated and belligerent Paul Murdaugh, also 19 at the time, crashed into a bridge, hurling her overboard into the waters where she drowned.
The narrative presented in the show relies heavily on heartwrenching interviews with Beach's family and friends, including Morgan Doughty, who was dating Paul Murdaugh, and who describes him as a troubled and entitled young man, prone to extreme intoxication and abusive behavior.
After the crash, and while Beach was still missing, the Murdaugh family sprang into action to pull as many strings as necessary to protect Paul, even appearing to try and frame his friend Connor Cook as the driver of the boat, according to interviews Cook and his parents gave the Netflix docuseries.
This narrative is corroborated in part by reporting by Mandy Matney, a local journalist who was one of the first to begin investigating the incident and whose podcast about the family has been credited with bringing the story to the masses.
The tragic story of the boat crash and Beach's death, the traumatic impact it had on a group of teenagers, and the way it spotlights the weight of the Murdaugh name in the local area make it an obvious entryway to the family's story. But by weighting it so heavily within the series, the murders that many assumed would be central to the docuseries are largely lost in the story.
The brutal murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were overshadowed in the documentary, and a lot of crucial details were nowhere to be found.
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh are not presented in the most flattering of lights in the docuseries.
By the time it gets to describing their murders, viewers have sat through 1½ episodes of people detailing how they were wronged by the Murdaughs, as well as harrowing accounts of the boat crash Paul is accused of causing.
It's hard to tell whether the show expects viewers to care about the murders because two people lost their lives, or feel that some type of karmic justice has been served. Regardless, it certainly backs the hypothesis that Alex Murdaugh is behind them.
According to The Independent, filming for the documentary wrapped before the trial began, so many of the explosive details that came from the murder trial were absent from the show.
Here are seven of the key pieces of information we learned during the trial.
What happened on the day of the murders.
Episode two of the Netflix series is titled "Murders at Moselle," but it's ⅔ of the way through the episode before they're mentioned.
The narrative jumps from speculation about the stress the family was under following the boat crash, to a ghoulish reconstruction of Murdaugh walking around the bodies of his wife and son, overlaid with the audio from his 911 call.
During the trial, however, more detail about that day emerged.
Firstly, Jeanne Seckinger, the CFO of Murdaugh's family law firm, testified that on June 7, 2021, hours before the murders, she confronted Murdaugh about $792,000 of missing legal fees in a case he had worked on.
While the documentary suggested the unraveling of the Murdaughs' finances was due to the boat crash, trial testimony suggests that the law firm was already looking into inconsistencies surrounding funds relating to some of Murdaugh's cases, the severity of which was revealed to him that day.
Secondly, Seckinger testified that the conversation was cut short when Murdaugh received a phone call telling him his father had been taken into hospital in terminal condition. Other witnesses corroborated the story that Murdaugh learned of his father's hospitalization the same day Maggie and Paul were murdered.
According to a text message Maggie sent her housekeeper Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, Murdaugh requested she come "home" to Moselle, where the murders occurred, as opposed to staying at the beach house where she preferred to be in the summer, according to various witnesses' testimony. Subsequent text messages indicated she was concerned about Murdaugh's wellbeing when she decided to return to the Moselle property.
What Murdaugh did after the murders.
Alex Murdaugh called 911 just after 10 p.m. on June 7, reporting that his wife and son had been shot "badly."
Thanks to bodycam footage of interviews, cell phone records, and law enforcement testimony, much of what Murdaugh did from that moment on is documented and plays a large part in the case against him, though the documentary barely touches on it.
After seven minutes, Murdaugh hangs up the 911 call saying he needs to call family and, according to cell phone records, calls his brothers Randy and John Marvin, and tries to call Paul's friend Rogan Gibson, with whom Paul was in communication around the time of his death, multiple times.
Murdaugh's remaining son Buster does not receive a call from his father until 10:44 p.m. that night, according to cell phone records. Bizarrely, this is after Murdaugh opened a group text message, called a videographer he barely knew, and appeared to Google "Whaley's Edisto," a restaurant in the beach town where the Murdaughs were renovating a home. (The defense argued during the trial that this was a result of him mistyping in shock.)
At 11:47 p.m., the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, arrived on the scene, and Murdaugh was interviewed by agents in a car.
The interview sees Murdaugh make various statements that will later be used against him, including that he tried to turn Paul's body over despite having no visible blood on him, and — crucially — that he last saw his wife and son hours before the murders, which a video filmed by Paul would later disprove.
How the investigation led law enforcement to suspect Alex Murdaugh.
The Netflix documentary reports that Murdaugh was arrested for the murders, but does not interrogate what led to that point.
Of the parade of SLED agents and affiliated professionals who testified over the course of the prosecution's month-long case, the defense attorneys poked holes in each testimony, in particular highlighting errors in securing the crime scene early on and collecting evidence.
Law enforcement also acknowledged they had a warrant to search the house where the murders occurred the day after they happened, but chose not to execute it as there were lots of people there that would be "displaced" as a result.
But it was the cross-examination of lead investigator David Owen by defense lawyer Jim Griffin that would leave onlookers with the most questions in the investigation.
Firstly, Owen acknowledged that a detailed search wasn't undertaken in the area between Moselle, where the murders occurred, and Murdaugh's parents' house, where he went that evening. Nor was Murdaugh's parents' house searched for the as-yet-undiscovered murder weapons, potential bloody clothes, or other evidence.
Secondly, Griffin used the opportunity to tell the jury about a controversial blood spatter report to argue a rush to judgment by law enforcement. The T-shirt Murdaugh was wearing when he says he discovered the bodies appeared to have no visible blood on it. However, SLED took the shirt to a former police officer who runs a "forensics consulting company" from his home, where he conducted what the defense equated to "science fair experiments" before issuing two reports. The first said there were no stains consistent with the blood spatter you'd see from this type of shooting, and the second said there were over 100 stains consistent with blood spatter.
Thirdly, Owen acknowledged that SLED was told that Murdaugh was spending $50,000 a week on drugs, which he was buying from gang members who were never investigated by law enforcement in connection with the murders.
Owen's cross-examination also revealed multiple inaccuracies in his prior testimony to the state's grand jury, which some onlookers may interpret as a sign that Murdaugh never should have been indicted for the murders in the first place — all of which was absent from the Netflix documentary.
What led to the roadside shooting incident after the murders.
The docuseries devotes under 10 minutes of its last episode to the September 4, 2021, roadside incident, a tale so strange it left people baffled well into the trial.
Murdaugh's story — that he tried to stage his own murder in a suicide plot in order for his son Buster to collect his life insurance — has been treated with skepticism, especially after the man involved in the incident, Curtis Eddie Smith, said he was set up.
However, two details from that day emerged during the trial. While they don't exactly offer answers, they are important pieces to the puzzle.
Firstly, Murdaugh's former close friend Chris Wilson testified that on September 3, he had been told by Murdaugh's law firm partners that Murdaugh had been stealing money. Wilson had worked with Murdaugh on various cases in which Murdaugh has been accused of misappropriating funds. Wilson said that evening he called Murdaugh to tell him what he'd heard, and they agreed to meet the next day.
Wilson testified that on the morning of September 4, hours before Murdaugh would call 911 saying he had been shot in the head by a stranger on the side of the road, he confronted him about the accusations. He said Murdaugh broke down and told him he had been addicted to opioids for 20 years, and admitted to stealing from a client they had jointly represented. Wilson then left the meeting.
Secondly, the Murdaughs' housekeeper Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson testified that on September 4, Murdaugh asked her to send him a photo of his medical insurance card, telling her he was trying to schedule some routine medical checks.
Hours later, Murdaugh says he was planning to stage his own murder.
Two Murdaugh family workers testified they thought Alex Murdaugh implied they should lie for him.
Two crucial witnesses in the trial were Murdaugh housekeeper Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson and caregiver Mushell "Shelly" Smith, who worked for Murdaugh's parents taking care of his mother, who has dementia.
Smith testified that she was at Murdaugh's parents' house when he visited the night of the murders, before he said he discovered Maggie and Paul's bodies. She said that some days later, Murdaugh had a conversation with her that she found upsetting, in which he told her that the visit had lasted 30 to 40 minutes, but that to her recollection, it had lasted 20 minutes.
Smith also said that in a subsequent conversation, Murdaugh implied he could help her financially with the cost of her upcoming wedding, and that he had connections with the school where she was working a second job at the time.
During Turrubiate-Simpson's testimony, she said she had a conversation with Murdaugh around two months after the murders in which he told her he was wearing a shirt by the brand Vineyard Vines on the day, although she remembered a different polo shirt from that day.
When asked how she interpreted the conversation, Turrubiate-Simpson said, "I know what he was wearing the day he left the house and I was basically confused. I didn't know whether he was trying to get me to say that that shirt, if I was to be asked... that if that was the shirt he was wearing that day."
Murdaugh's defence team argued both instances were misunderstandings.
In a shocking twist, barely 24 hours after the release of the Netflix documentary, Murdaugh himself took the stand on February 23, waiving his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in order to tell his side of the story.
Murdaugh's testimony rendered the Maggie and Paul elements of the docuseries immediately outdated, as Murdaugh, questioned by lawyer Jim Griffin, attempted to explain away inconsistencies in his story.
He also briefly addressed accusations that he tried to stage a cover-up in the 2019 boat case — a huge part of the Netflix series' narrative — saying they were untrue.
Murdaugh also denied the murders, emphatically responding "no" to Griffin's explosive opening questions — delivered while waving guns in the courtroom — that outright asked him whether he shot his wife and son to death.
What potential motive did Murdaugh have for killing his wife and son?
One key question left unanswered by the docuseries is what potential motive Murdaugh could have had for murdering Maggie and Paul.
The show highlights that the family was under immense pressure due to the fallout from the boat crash, which led to Paul being criminally charged and the family being sued for millions of dollars, leading in part to Murdaugh's financial situation getting closer to becoming public.
The prosecution argued that the murders were an attempt to distract from the investigation into his finances, a seemingly outlandish suggestion but a crucial one as it allowed evidence of the financial crimes he was charged with to be entered in the murder trial to demonstrate motive.
However, during the prosecution's monthlong case, there was minimal evidence to suggest Murdaugh would benefit from the deaths, financially or otherwise. Crucial testimony also established that Murdaugh's father was in terminal condition (he later died three days after the murders on June 10, 2021), which would in itself be a cause for sympathy and distraction from the financial matters.
Neither the prosecution nor the Netflix production is obliged to provide a motive in order to accuse Murdaugh of murder — and it seems the former didn't need to. Since the verdict, jurors have spoken out about their decision, saying it was Murdaugh's admitted lie about the evening's timeline and demeanor on the stand that led them to convict.
Sill, with no clarity on what would drive Murdaugh to commit such a shocking act, viewers of the trial and the docuseries alike will likely be left wondering what exactly they are being told to believe happened on the night of June 7, 2021.
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