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Former attorney Alex Murdaugh sentenced to two life terms for murder of wife and son

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In South Carolina today, Alex Murdaugh, who was found guilty of murdering his wife Maggie and youngest son Paul, learned his fate. The once-prominent attorney whose crimes have become the subject of podcasts and TV documentaries was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen has been in the courtroom for the entirety of this six-week-long trial and joins us now from Walterboro. Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?

CHANG: I'm good. But can you just describe what it was like today? What did you see in there?

HANSEN: Well, you know, I've been very fortunate. I've had a very unique view in this 200-year-old courthouse. Court TV allowed me to plug into their audio board, so I have sat right in front of the prosecution and the defense. The day began with the prosecution describing why they believe the maximum sentence should be imposed. But no members of Murdaugh's family wanted to provide victim impact testimony even though several were in court. Alex Murdaugh - he did want to address the judge before sentencing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX MURDAUGH: I'm innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never hurt my son Paw Paw (ph).

HANSEN: Now, Paw Paw is what Murdaugh says he affectionately called his 22-year-old son Paul. Judge Clifton Newman was less than moved by Murdaugh's insistence of innocence, saying his lies are over, and he has to live with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLIFTON NEWMAN: And I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you're attempting to go to sleep. I'm sure they come and visit you. I'm sure.

MURDAUGH: All day and every night.

NEWMAN: Yeah, I'm sure.

HANSEN: Judge Newman called the case one of the most troubling for him as a judge, the community and the nation, pointing out the Murdaugh family has been a dynasty of solicitors and attorneys controlling justice in the community for nearly a century.

CHANG: Indeed. Now, let's talk more about that. The Murdaugh family has cast a big shadow over this area of South Carolina. Can you tell us a little more about that family history?

HANSEN: Yeah, sure. Murdaugh's great-grandfather was a solicitor. He started the family law firm. His grandfather, also a solicitor and had a portrait that once hung in the very courtroom where Murdaugh was convicted and sentenced today. Murdaugh's father prosecuted cases, too, as did Murdaugh. So the family decided who was tried for crimes and had a lot of friends and influence in law enforcement.

CHANG: Well, then what happens now? Like, what are Alex Murdaugh's lawyers saying at the moment?

HANSEN: The defense plans to file an appeal in the next 10 days saying the judge should have never allowed Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes to have been heard to prove motive. That is that Murdaugh had this secret life embezzling millions from colleagues, clients and friends and killed his loved ones because he was about to be found out. Here's defense attorney Dick Harpootlian.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICK HARPOOTLIAN: This jury had to think he was a despicable human being and not to be believed. So it was about character. It wasn't about motive.

HANSEN: Murdaugh has yet to be tried for those crimes. We're talking about roughly 99 crimes involving embezzlement, including from the family of his late housekeeper.

CHANG: That is Victoria Hansen of South Carolina Public Radio. Thank you so much, Victoria.

HANSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.