Murdaugh murders: S.C. attorney accused of stealing from law firm in wake of family tragedy

HAMPTON, S.C. — A prominent South Carolina attorney who was shot in the head — months after his wife and son were gunned down at the family’s hunting lodge — is now accused by the family’s law firm of misappropriating funds.

Alex Murdaugh, 53, of Hampton, was shot in the head Saturday as he allegedly attempted to change a tire on a rural Hampton County road. Murdaugh, who suffered a minor wound, announced Monday that he had resigned from his job and was entering rehab.

>> Related story: Son, matriarch of prominent S.C. legal family gunned down at hunting lodge

Murdaugh said the June murders of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and their younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, have “caused an incredibly difficult time in (his) life.”

“I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” Murdaugh said in the statement, which was obtained by WCBD in Charleston. “I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders.

“I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt, including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.”

Murdaugh’s attorney, Jim Griffin, confirmed the latest development in an Associated Press story published Tuesday.

“Alex resigned after being accused of diverting lawyer fees from the firm,” Griffin said. “These allegations prompted him to confront a dependency and he voluntarily checked into an in-patient substance abuse rehab facility after being discharged from the hospital today.”

The weekend shooting and Murdaugh’s resignation are the latest twists in a roller coaster of a case involving one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal families.

The double homicide in June called attention to Paul Murdaugh, who was killed as he awaited trial in a high-profile 2019 boating crash that killed his cousin’s girlfriend, 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

According to authorities, Murdaugh was intoxicated when he smashed his family’s boat into the pilings of a bridge, ejecting several of his passengers.

Beach’s body was recovered a week after the crash.

Details about Beach’s death and the case against Paul Murdaugh have been made public since Murdaugh was slain. Records indicate that the impact was so violent, one witness said the craft “came apart at the seams.” Click here to watch several videos on the case produced by the Island Packet in Hilton Head.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators have also opened an investigation into the cold case of Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a Hampton County road in 2015. Smith, 19, of Brunson, reportedly died of blunt force trauma, and authorities suspected a hit-and-run crash.

Smith’s mother believes he may have been the victim of foul play, The Associated Press reported. Sandy Smith has told multiple news outlets over the years that she believes her son was beaten to death.

She has also said she believes Paul Murdaugh could have been involved.

State police officials said information gathered during the Murdaugh homicide investigation led to the fresh look at Smith’s case, WCSC reported in June. Authorities did not say how, or even if, the two cases are otherwise connected.

The Island Packet reported that Smith graduated in 2014 from Wade Hampton High School with Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.

Police last month officially debunked rumors that multiple vehicles, including one involved in Smith’s death, had been found buried on the Murdaugh property, according to Bluffton Today.

The newspaper reported that rumors circulated in 2015 that there had been a cover-up in Smith’s death and that one or more members of the Murdaugh family had been involved. The Murdaugh name came up numerous times during the Smith investigation, according to recently released case files.

‘Nobody’s breathing’

Authorities have also been tight-lipped about both the double homicide and Alex Murdaugh’s weekend shooting, during which Murdaugh suffered a “superficial gunshot wound to the head,” reported The State newspaper in Columbia.

Murdaugh’s lawyer, Jim Griffin, told the paper that his client was on his way to Charleston around 1:30 p.m. Saturday when his Mercedes-Benz SUV got a flat tire a few miles from the family’s property. Murdaugh had pulled over and gotten out of the vehicle along Salkehatchie Road when the driver of a passing truck turned back and pulled up near Murdaugh.

Murdaugh said someone in the truck asked if he was having car trouble, Griffin told The New York Times. He next heard a gunshot.

Murdaugh was flown to a hospital in Savannah, where he was treated for his wound and released.

It was unclear Tuesday if investigators have any leads on who fired the shot.

“The Murdaugh family has suffered through more than any one family can ever imagine,” Murdaugh’s family said in a statement. “We expect Alex to recover and ask for your privacy while he recovers.”

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Murdaugh was the person who found his wife and son dead the night of June 7. According to police, Murdaugh called 911 at 10:07 p.m. to report that he’d returned to his family’s hunting lodge, Moselle, in Islandton and found their bodies.

A frantic Murdaugh could be heard sobbing on the 911 call, the audio of which has been released by police. He reported finding their bodies near the dog kennels on the property and described the scene as “bad.”

Multiple times, the dispatcher asked if the slain mother and son were breathing.

“No, nobody’s breathing,” Murdaugh responded.

As deputies began responding to the scene, the dispatcher continued trying to get details out of Murdaugh.

“OK, did you hear anything? Or did you come home and find them?” she asked him.

“No ma’am, I’ve been gone,” Murdaugh responded, beginning to sob. “I just came back.”

“Okay and was anyone else supposed to be at your house?” Fraser asked.

“No ma’am,” Murdaugh cried. “Please hurry.”

Paul Murdaugh was reportedly shot in the head and upper body with a shotgun. Maggie Murdaugh was killed with a semi-automatic assault-style rifle, the Hilton Head Island Packet reported.

According to a statement from Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED), Alex Murdaugh resigned Friday, a day before he was shot. Law enforcement, as well as the South Carolina Bar, have been informed of the allegations, WCBD reported.

A forensic accounting firm will also be hired to investigate the missing funds, PMPED told the news station.

“This is disappointing news for all of us. Rest assured that our firm will deal with this in a straightforward manner,” the PMPED statement read. “There’s no place in our firm for such behavior.

“Due to the ongoing investigations into these matters and client confidentiality, PMPED cannot comment further at this time.”

The website for PMPED, which was founded more than 100 years ago by Murdaugh’s great-grandfather, went dark on Monday following Murdaugh’s resignation announcement. Several Murdaughs still work for the firm, including Buster Murdaugh.

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The Murdaughs have been a legal powerhouse in South Carolina for generations. Along with his personal injury work, Alex Murdaugh served part-time as a prosecutor for the 14th Judicial Circuit.

His great-grandfather Randolph Murdaugh Sr., who founded the family law firm, was elected solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit in 1920.

When Randolph Murdaugh Sr. died in a train collision in 1940, his son, Randolph Murdaugh Jr., was elected to take his place. Randolph Murdaugh III, who is Alex Murdaugh’s father, took office upon his father’s retirement in 1987.

In a tragic twist, Randolph Murdaugh III, 81, died June 10, three days after the killings of his grandson and daughter-in-law. The AP reported that the longtime prosecutor, who served as solicitor until 2005, died following a lengthy illness unrelated to the murder case.

The prominence of the Murdaugh family — along with the pending case in Beach’s death — has brought closer scrutiny than usual to the slayings in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The brutality of Paul Murdaugh’s killing, specifically, has given rise to speculation that he was the target of the attack.

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