Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor on the Murdaugh case, talked to PEOPLE Wednesday about the impact Murdaugh's crimes had on his victims
Earlier this week, convicted murderer and disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to 27 years in prison for financial crimes.
Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor on the Murdaugh case, talked to PEOPLE Wednesday about the impact his crimes had on his long line of victims and Murdaugh’s ability to use “trust” as a “weapon.”
“The wreckage that was left is unprecedented,” says Waters. “This was as egregious as it comes.”
Murdaugh, the scion of a once-powerful legal family in the South Carolina Lowcountry, who is serving two life sentences for the murders of his wife Maggie, 52, and his son Paul, was accused of bilking more than 18 clients, including friends, of millions of dollars over the last decade. Earlier this month, in a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to 22 financial crimes, including money laundering, breach of trust and financial fraud.
“I think that he felt like he was ultimately entitled to that money because of who he was and the power and influence that he held,” says Waters, who also prosecuted Murdaugh on the murder charges.
“His main weapon was trust,” adds Waters, a Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General who worked closely with the State Grand Jury team and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on the case. “Everyone would always describe Alex as a charismatic, friendly person. He was able to speak to and develop relationships with people, regardless of economic status or race or any sort of demographic. And he used that to his advantage because he is so very good at that.”
But “the reality is there is not one person out there who knew who he really was,” says Waters. “And ultimately, I think that that was very much the hardest part on his victims, on his law partners, on his family and friends, to have been so fooled by someone for so long. When you have a man who so many people thought they were close with but no one knew who he really was, that's really chilling.”
Waters says many of Murdaugh’s victims were afraid to come forward at first because of his status in the community. “I heard the comments, ‘Mr. Waters, you don't know who you're messing with. I have to live here.’ No one down there really thought that any sort of consequence would happen to him. I had to sit down and have a conversation with them eye-to-eye and say, 'Look, I can't tell your story without you. I can't make change without you.' And I'd reiterate that that was just a level of courage from those victims that was so important to this case."
One of the victims who spoke at the sentencing was the son of Murdaugh's longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in a mysterious trip and fall.
"You lied, you cheated, you stole," Michael "Tony" Satterfield told Murdaugh, NBC News reported. "You betrayed me and my family and everybody else."
"Gloria had served that family for so long, and Alec went to the family, went to those sons, and promised that he was going to help them, and then just stole every single bit of the money that he didn't let his friend keep," says Waters. "And so that one was particularly egregious."
Murdaugh came into the national spotlight on the night of June 7, 2021, when his wife, Maggie, 52, and youngest son, Paul, 22, were shot to death on the grounds of their hunting lodge.
In July 14, 2022, more than a year after Paul and Maggie's deaths, Murdaugh was indicted for the murders. Murdaugh's murder trial began on Jan. 23, 2023. During the sensational trial that lasted for nearly six weeks, a cell phone video Paul took on the night of the murders was shown to the jury.
The video — which was taken near the dog kennels on their Islandton property — featured the voices of Paul, Maggie and Murdaugh. Murdaugh had initially denied being near the dog kennels on the night of the murders, but when he was testifying in his own defense, he admitted to lying about his whereabouts that evening.
He was found guilty of the murders in March and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His sentence for the financial crimes will run concurrently to his murder sentence.
Ahead of sentencing Tuesday, Murdaugh apologized to his family and his victims and then denied he had anything to do with the murders of his wife and son.
“It did not surprise me at all that he said that, and he was staring me down as he did so,” says Waters.
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