Alex Murdaugh: Hot shot lawyer in failed ‘hit man suicide’ plot indicted

Alex Murdaugh and Curtis Edward Smith
Alex Murdaugh (right) allegedly paid Curtis Edward Smith (left) to shoot him in the head

Prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh has been indicted over a failed attempt to order a hit on himself so that his son could collect $10m (£7.42m) in life insurance.

Mr Murdaugh and the alleged would-be assassin, Curtis Edward Smith, have been accused of conspiracy and insurance fraud among a slew of other charges.

The September shooting came just three months after Mr Murdaugh’s wife and other son were found shot dead, the latest crime twist in a series of tragedies and scandals that have plagued the family.

Here’s what we know about the case.

Who are the Murdaughs?

Alex Murdaugh, 53, is the scion of a well-connected legal family in South Carolina. Over the course of three generations, his great-grandfather, grandfather and father all served as the top prosecutor for a five-county region in the state.

In June, Mr Murdaugh’s wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22, were found murdered near their home.

At the time of his death, Paul was also facing criminal charges stemming from a 2019 incident in which authorities say he drunkenly caused a boating accident that left a woman dead.

Mr Murdaugh was shot in early September, which came a day after he resigned from his law firm.

The law firm later claimed he misappropriated funds, which his lawyer says he primarily used to fund an opioid addiction. Mr Murdaugh entered rehab several days after the shooting.

the Murdaugh family
Margaret, Paul and Alex Murdaugh (Image: Facebook)

Now what’s happened?

On 4 November, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released indictments against Mr Murdaugh and Mr Smith, 61.

In a statement, the Attorney General’s office said that both men have been indicted for conspiracy and felony insurance fraud.

The conspiracy charge carries a possible penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of not more than $5,000, while the fraud charge carries a longer possible prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Additionally, Mr Murdaugh was indicted for filing a false police report, while Mr Smith was also indicted for “pointing and presenting” a firearm, assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery. Mr Smith has admitted his involvement.

On 4 September, Mr Murdaugh was found with “superficial” wounds to his head after being shot on a roadside.

Originally, Mr Murdaugh’s attorneys had claimed that he was changing a tyre when an unidentified assailant shot him. He was released from hospital two days later.

In mid-September, police alleged – and Mr Murdaugh’s lawyers admitted – that he arranged for a man to shoot him so that his surviving son would be able to collect the insurance money.

Mr Murdaugh’s attorney said in September that he devised the plan in the mistaken belief that his son would not be able to collect insurance money if he took his own life.

“He called this guy [Mr Smith] who met him on the side of the road and agreed to shoot him in the head,” attorney Dick Harpootlian told NBC. “It was an attempt, on his part, to do something to protect his child.”

Mr Harpootlian added that Mr Murdaugh is cooperating with authorities and didn’t want a “fake crime” to distract them as they investigate the killing of his wife and son.

What other charges is Murdaugh facing?

Mr Murdaugh is also facing separate charges that he stole settlement funds from the estate of a housekeeper who died in 2018.

Gloria Satterfield was a 57-year-old housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family. The family said she tripped over a dog and fell down steps at their South Carolina home in February 2018. She died several weeks later in hospital, without regaining consciousness during that time.

Ms Satterfield’s family have said they have yet to receive any part of a multi-million-dollar settlement.

Mr Murdaugh now faces two counts of obtaining property by false pretences, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (Sled) said in a statement.

On 16 October, Mr Murdaugh was booked into a South Carolina jail in relation to the latest charges.

Court affidavits released by the Sled the same day allege that he “coordinated with [Gloria] Satterfield’s family to sue himself in order to seek an insurance settlement with the stated intent to give the proceeds to the Satterfield family to pay for funeral expenses and monetary compensation for Satterfield’s children”.

The affidavits allege, however, that Mr Murdaugh deposited $3m from the settlement into one of his own accounts.

An attorney representing the Satterfield family has disputed the allegations.

“We are committed to following the facts wherever they may lead us and we will not stop until justice is served,” said Sled chief Mark Keel.

For approximately six weeks up until the new charges, Mr Murdaugh was reportedly in a Florida drug rehabilitation facility following the shooting incident in September.

Are the shootings connected?

Police have not charged anyone in the killing of Paul and Margaret Murdaugh in June and have not suggested that Mr Murdaugh is involved.

Speaking to NBC’s Morning programme in September, Mr Harpootlian denied that Mr Murdaugh had anything to do with their deaths.

“He is totally distraught,” Mr Harpootlian said. “He did not murder them.”

The Murdaugh case also prompted police to open an investigation into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old found dead in the same county, less than 10 miles away.

His death was first deemed to be a shooting, but was then ruled to be a probable hit-and-run. Police have not said what information was recovered during the Murdaugh investigation that led them to look into the Smith case.

Authorities have also launched a probe into the 2018 death of the families’ long-time housekeeper, 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield, after her sons alleged Mr Murdaugh has yet to pay them any damages over the death.

Mr Murdaugh said at the time that the nanny had tripped over his dogs and fallen down the stairs, but the county coroner has said Satterfield’s autopsy was inconsistent with “slip and fall injuries”.

Who killed Paul and Margaret Murdaugh?

Police have no comment about possible suspects in the June deaths of Paul and Margaret.

Following the murders, Mr Murdaugh’s brothers, Randy and John, said they were unaware if the family had enemies, although they claimed Paul had received threats.

Attorney Mr Harpootlian has said that Mr Murdaugh doesn’t know who killed his family.

However, Mr Harpootlian added that he is investigating “an individual, or individuals, we believe have some culpability or have done it”.

“We think we’ll know this week whether the one suspect we’re looking at bears further scrutiny,” he said. “We’ll make that information available to law enforcement”.

Although he declined to give further details, Mr Harpootlian said that the “motive would be personal”.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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