I'm CBS News national correspondent Nikki Battiste. I just spent 6 weeks covering the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial in South Carolina. Ask me anything!
Throughout disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh's six-week double murder trial in Walterboro, South Carolina, I listened to dozens of witnesses' testimony, viewed most of the 500 pieces of evidence presented and interviewed Murdaugh's friends about his relationship with his wife Maggie and the power of the Murdaugh name.
I have covered several high-profile criminal cases, including the exonerations of Amanda Knox and Casey Anthony. But the Murdaugh story is unique. There are multiple stories — and crimes — linked to the prominent family. There are the nearly 100 charges against Murdaugh for various financial crimes, the 2019 fatal boat crash involving his son Paul, the death of the Murdaugh family housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, and the 2015 mysterious death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith.
Murdaugh’s fall from grace is epic, and his family continues to stay in the spotlight, as many wonder what’s next for them.
To give context of the power the Murdaugh’s have wielded in the South Carolina low county: There was a portrait of Murdaugh’s grandfather — once a prominent attorney — hanging in the courtroom where Murdaugh was tried. Judge Clifton Newman had it removed for the trial. Now Murdaugh’s everlasting portrait is his post-conviction mugshot: a shaved head and jumpsuit.
On Friday, March 3, 2023, Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul. His attorneys said they plan to appeal his conviction.
EDIT: Thanks for all the questions! You can watch my "48 hours" report, “The Trial of Alex Murdaugh,” on the CBS News app and YouTube now.
Where did all the money go?
Murdaugh himself said he spent about $50-60,000 a week on opioids.
Can you provide a phonetic spelling for how to pronounce this guy’s name? I swear I’ve heard like 15 different ways that pronounce his name
His defense team told me Alex himself pronounces his name Alec Mur-DAW.
Will anything happen to Buster? I read a headline saying he’s under scrutiny as well. And also how is the rest of the Murdaugh family reacting to the outcome of the trial?
Alex's siblings seem divided. His brother John Marvin and his sister were in court every day. His other brother, Randy, only attended one day. Randy recently spoke out indicating he does not get know how he feels... and said he thinks his brothers knows more than he's admitting.
What was it like being in the courtroom during the trial and when Alex Murdaugh testified? Was the community shocked he decided to take the stand?
I've covered quite a few high profile murder trials in my career, but it is quite rare for a defendant to testify... so although we had heard Murdaugh might take the stand, I was still surprised. The courtroom was packed, and people were straining to see him. I think the community was less shocked to see him on the stand because, as a few locals told me, he was a "lawyer who likes to talk."
Do you think he made a mistake taking the stand?
I do. It's always a risk, and according to a few jurors who spoke publicly, his testimony backfired.
What was the motive for this?
The prosecution alleged that Murdaugh's motive in the murders of Maggie and Paul was to distract from his alleged financial crimes. A boat crash in 2019 that killed 19 year old Mallory Beach -- in which Paul was charged with boating under the influence -- threatened to expose Murdaugh's financial crimes after Beach's family filed a civil lawsuit. A hearing in the civil case was set for June 10, 2021 -- three days after Maggie and Paul were murdered.
Do you think that trial being held in the area, where people knew him, had an effect on the case? Do you think that he testified because he thought that he knew these people well enough to manipulate them.
People have said to me they think he testified because he likes to talk - he was a lawyer - and for years, he was able to convince people of what he was hoping to.
Do you believe the jury produced the correct verdict?
WHY do you think Murdaugh killed his family?
Judge Newman told the jury he "applauded the verdict" and that he believed the jury reached the correct verdict given the evidence they were provided. It's pretty rare for a judge to offer his opinion on the verdict so directly and publicly. Sometimes they will tell the jury privately.
Thanks for doing this! When was Paul's video with the dog discovered and then shown to Alex? Was it shortly before trial or during? Did he then admit to the big lie on the spot?
We do not know exactly when it was discovered, but his defense team would have had it well before the trial as part of discovery. They would have informed Murdaugh of the video in advance too.
Also, I'm so curious about the other cases tied to the Murdaughs -- Gloria Satterfield and Stephen Smith. Do you think there will be charges in those cases now that Alex was convicted?
Both cases were re-opened and investigations are ongoing in both. Satterfield's body was exhumed this summer as a part of the re-opened investigation. The Smith case was re-opened after a search warrant was issues at the Murdaugh resident as a result of Maggie and Paul's murders.
Is the Beach family civil action still pending? What about the Satterfield family's attempts to recoup the stolen settlement funds?
The Beach family has settled with some of the plaintiffs names (including Buster Murdaugh).
Gloria Satterfield's sons have been paid the money they were owed.
Do you have a sense of when the jurors started to draw conclusions about the defendant's guilt? What do you feel was the testimony or evidence that was most compelling?
I think the single strongest piece of evidence was Paul's cell phone video that placed his dad at the crime scene minutes before prosecutors say the murders occurred.
Is it true that asked his cousin to kill him so his son can get the insurance money? Did it also happen whilst he was on trial for murder?
It is true Murdaugh asked a distant cousin, Curtis Smith, to shoot him in the head so his son Buster could collect $10 million in insurance money. It was three months after the murders.
Without having a murder weapon, what are the chances of an actual appeal?
Alex Murdaugh's defense team told me they will appeal the guilty verdict for his double murder trial.
Thanks for all the questions! You can watch my "48 hours" report, “The Trial of Alex Murdaugh,” on the CBS News app and YouTube now.
Is there any thought that Buster might have been involved? Might have had foreknowledge of the plan and/or tried to help cover it up? Either to try to protect the fortune or just out of loyalty to his dad?
There has been absolutely no evidence presented that Buster was involved.
I followed the trial fairly closely, but by no means would I consider myself well versed on every word in the testimonies of those who appeared in court. What do you think were the key facts on which the jury relied to find him guilty of both murder charges? What was (or were) considered the motive(s)?
A few jurors who spoke publicly said that the video from Paul's phone (where you hear Alex's voice within minutes of the murders), the jury visit to the Moselle property and Murdaugh's timeline the day of the murders were key for them.
The prosecution alleged that Murdaugh's motive in the murders of Maggie and Paul was to distract from his alleged financial crimes.
What is the likelihood that Alex's law firm didn't know what he was up to in respect to his financial trouble?
His law firm has said they had no idea until after Maggie and Paul's murders. They confronted him for the first time about two months later.
How did the attorneys choose an unbiased jury given how well-known the Murdaugh family is in the community?
Some of the jurors selected said they did know about the Murdaughs... but they were still selected.
What was you favorite food from the low country l? Did you get to have a boil while you were here?
BBQ and Mac n cheese!
Why is everyone’s name in this case pronounced so differently than it is spelled? Regional dialect?
Correct - changes whether you're from the area or an outsider.
What has Buster Murdaugh said about his father’s conviction?
Buster has not said a word publicly about his father's conviction. When I interviewed Murdaugh's two defense attorneys after the verdict, they told me Buster is "supporting his dad."
from an outside perspective he seemed so obviously guilty. did you encounter any different sentiment from locals?
All but one local with whom I spoke told me they believed Murdaugh was guilty, but most did not think he would be convicted.
Why is it pronounced Alec but spelled Alex?
What is the worst obstacle facing journalists today?
Inaccurate information regarding news that circulates on social media, etc. People tend to believe everything they read, factual or not.
Inaccurate information that circulates on social media, which is not based on original reporting or sourced facts.
Why do cases like this receive a large amount of media coverage rather then other issues/events?
This is always a tough question, but I think 1) the prominence of this family played and role and 2) there are so many layers to it.
Wasn't it the uncle that found the son's phone, in the grass, or in the kennel? Was it speculated that it was thrown away, or the son left it hidden?
Alex's brother, John Marvin, testified that he was the one to find Maggie's phone about a quarter mile from the main residence.
As a resident of SC, there seemingly is very little tangible evidence that he committed the murder. His guilt comes from the fact he lied about being present moments before. I don’t doubt he was involved, but what is your feeling about the lack of concrete evidence?
There was a significant amount of circumstantial evidence. Legal experts will tell you circumstantial evidence can be as influential as more "direct" evidence. Circumstantial carries weight, essentially.
How did Alex seem when Buster was on the stand?
At times, he was emotional. At other times, just looked down or at Buster without expression.
Do you think he did it?
What's something interesting the casual public may not know because they aren't as deeply invested in it or as deeply informed about it?
Murdaugh did not have life insurance policies for either Maggie or Paul. Many people wondered about that in the beginning.
Do you believe the lack of physical evidence is due to the police taking so long to search all the family estates, giving time to get rid of guns and clothing? Did the local police almost screw this one up?
Investigators were on the scene quickly the night of the murders - and back the next day. But the defense often criticized the collection of evidence at the crime scene.
Whats the deal with there being two different murder weapons?
That doesn't add up.
The defense argued there were two shooters. The prosecution argued Murdaugh was a man with a shooting range on his property, so he knew how to handle two guns, one after another.
What was the response to witness testimony in the courtroom? Were there routine spectators?
Over a hundred people lined up as early as 2am to see Murdaugh testify. Spectators lined up everyday.
On what basis do you think Murdaugh's lawyers will appeal his conviction?
What was the general "feel" of the courtroom environment? Was it as solidly against Murdaugh as it felt while watching from afar?
What lingering questions do you think were not addressed in the trial, if any?
I do not want to speculate on the basis of the defense's appeal, but I know they plan to move quickly.
It was hard to read the courtroom because Judge Newman demanded order, BUT on a day Murdaugh was on the stand, spectators were sneering and cheering at points -- so much so, Judge Newman had to use his gavel for the first time. I can tall you all but one local person or spectator waiting in line to try to get into the courtroom told me they believed Murdaugh was guilty... but that they did not necessarily think he would be convicted.
It seems some people still wonder if it's possible another shooter was there.
Speaking to the locals, the Murdaugh family carried a lot of weight in judicial circles. Now that this case has been completed, are more locals going to speak up about the family that gets away with infractions while others don't? How deep does that animosity run?
I think, for the most part, people are still nervous to speak about the Murdaugh's. I have been told by a few locals they're worried because the Murdaugh's "know people."
Was Alex really thinking he was so untouchable he could get away with the murders, and go on with his life? What do you think all the money was really spent on and do you believe Alex was a drug addict or was that just an excuse for erratic behavior?
Based on testimony presented by his brother John Marvin, he described in detail Alec in withdrawal on his way to rehab. Also, there was testimony that Maggie and Paul found "pills" and asked Alex about them.
There are many murders in the US. Some, involving some combination of wealth / fame / notoriety, like this one, get wall to wall coverage. Others get very little attention. As someone on the sensational crime beat, how do you feel about this? Do you see this changing?
I do hope it changes.
What exactly was the time difference between the kennel video and when the murders took place?
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