Judge's Sentencing Remark Shows Murdaugh Family Pull

Painting in courtroom of Alex Murdaugh's grandfather had to be removed to 'ensure a fair trial'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2023 1:32 PM CST
Judge: I Had to Remove Old Murdaugh Portrait
Judge Clifton Newman presides during Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Jan. 26.   (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post and Courier via AP, Pool)

Alex Murdaugh received two life sentences Friday in South Carolina for the murder of his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul. But before Judge Clifton Newman handed down his decision, he mentioned the sad downfall of Murdaugh, who comes from a prominent family of attorneys in the region, and commented on the family's storied history. "You have a wife who has been killed, murdered. A son savagely murdered. A lawyer, a person from a respected family who has controlled justice in this community for over a century," Newman noted, per the Greenville News. He then added a detail that underscored how heavy the Murdaugh name hung over the proceedings.

Referring again to Alex Murdaugh, Newman called him "a person whose grandfather's portrait hangs at the back of the courthouse that I had to have ordered removed in order to ensure a fair trial." The portrait he cited, which was taken off the wall of the Colleton County courtroom in December, was one of Randolph "Buster" Murdaugh Jr., Murdaugh's grandfather, who served as the 14th Circuit solicitor, or prosecutor, for nearly a half-century before he retired in the 1980s. The portrait is described by the State as a "large oil portrait," showing the late Murdaugh Jr. as "broad-shouldered, bald, and with a familiar Murdaugh family face" (catch a glimpse of it here). It's not clear when or if the portrait will be replaced.

Meanwhile, Liz Farrell, co-host of the Murdaugh Murders podcast, spoke with NPR about her shock over the guilty verdict, considering the Murdaugh family's longtime influence in the area. "There's just sort of a fatalism here among the people that have grown up with the Murdaughs that whatever the Murdaughs get into, they can get out of," she says, adding she was "so surprised" when the conviction was announced. "The justice system in general has sort of favored the rich and powerful in South Carolina, and this family in particular," she notes. "Because we're talking about 86 years of this family being in charge of the solicitor's office ... basically deciding who goes to jail and who doesn't, and who doesn't includes themselves." Farrell adds: "This was a Murdaugh being tried in Murdaugh country ... I'm still stunned." (More Alex Murdaugh stories.)

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