(Reuters) – Opening statements were set to begin on Wednesday in the trial of a now-disbarred South Carolina attorney charged with murdering his wife and son in a complex and grisly case that has drawn international attention.
Richard “Alex” Murdaugh, 54, was indicted by a grand jury in July on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon in connection with the shooting of his wife, Maggie, 52, and 22-year-old Paul, the younger of their two sons, on the family’s property in June 2021.
The 12-person jury and six alternates were sworn in on Wednesday by Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, and opening statements were due to begin at 3 p.m.
Murdaugh, the scion of an influential South Carolina legal family, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. Deciding against the death penalty, state prosecutors are seeking a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Murdaugh also faces separate prosecution on dozens of financial and drug-related crimes, including an alleged scheme to have himself killed so that his older son, Buster, could collect a $10 million insurance payout.
The trial is taking place at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, a sleepy, rural town 50 miles west of Charleston in a low-lying region of South Carolina over which the Murdaugh family has wielded immense judicial and political power.
From 1920 to 2006, members of the family served as the leading prosecutor for a five-county district including Colleton. Prior to his recent troubles, Murdaugh was a prominent personal injury attorney in the state.
Prosecutors have said Murdaugh killed his wife and child to generate sympathy and distract from his financial crimes, an alleged motive that Murdaugh’s lawyers have argued doesn’t make sense.
Following the murder trial, Murdaugh will have to face more than 100 additional criminal charges, ranging from drug trafficking to allegations that he stole nearly $9 million from clients and other attorneys.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)