No Winners in the Murdaugh Trial

Stephen Raburn
3 min readMar 3, 2024

(originally posted on Facebook, March 3, 2023)

Regarding the Alex Murdaugh trial…

Admittedly, I didn’t follow the story closely and don’t much care for these made-for-television kinds of real-life dramas that unfold before us on prime time, or, for that matter, crime and punishment TV shows. I’ve never seen CSI or Law and Order, etc. Just not my cup of tea. I’m squeamish. Images stick in my brain that I can’t shake and haunt me as I try to sleep. Pain and suffering, fiction or nonfiction, just isn’t entertaining to me — unless it involves something absurd like a Demogorgon from the Upside Down.

But I don’t live under a rock. This one piqued my curiosity more than most as it played out like a John Grisham novel, or, better yet, a Pat Conroy novel, given the location. I tuned in to CNN when I learned the jury had reached a verdict, surprised like most people how quickly they’d done so. To quote my attorney friend Matt Davenport, “I’ve seen juries deliberate longer on a two-hour misdemeanor trial.”

From far outside looking in and from all the posts on social media by armchair judges and jurors and by pundits and experts on CNN, it seems the correct verdict was handed down. Whatever Judge Newman decides regarding sentencing this morning, Alex Murdaugh will most certainly spend the rest of his life behind bars, and the world is a safer place as a result.

What really rubbed me wrong was the press conference led by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson afterward, with grins all around and applause from spectators, etc. I understand the guilty verdicts were a culmination of months of hard work by a lot of agencies and individuals. I just think the celebration should’ve stayed behind closed doors. Wilson came off like a head coach after winning the game against the big rival, with his giddy star players behind him. I kept expecting high fives and pats on the butt and some rah-rah chants. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson uses this “opportunity” to launch a campaign for US Senate or Governor or something. A good politician never misses out on face time in front of the cameras. And I’m sure there are plenty of book deals waiting to be signed.

Justice was served, but to me, justice is a somber, solemn, sober thing. You have a young man whose brother and mother were brutally murdered and his father who will die in prison, a father who was born into this world with all the benefits of privilege one could imagine which he squandered and abused… the guilty verdicts the final pieces of a tragic American story of power and greed and patriarchy and privilege and addiction. With no happy ending.

I’m not even sure what the point of the press conference was. The verdict rendered by the jurors said all that needed saying, in my opinion. I just think somber reflection, a sense of relief, humility would have been a more proper tone for the Attorney General to strike.

Nobody “won.”

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I’m not sure how many generations removed Alex Murdaugh is from some decent, law-abiding low-country barrister (if any of his ancestors ever were). It just seems most families are too weak to manage multi-generational power, no matter how honorable its beginnings; eventually, it gives way to unbridled greed, entitlement, toxic masculinity… ultimately leading to its own demise.

I grew up in a small town and know about little big shots and the “you know who my daddy is, don’t you?” descendants of little big shots. Nothing to the scale of the Murdaughs, but there are skeletons in closets and only a small few who know where the bodies are buried (figuratively, I hope), even in my hometown.

I think big fish in small ponds (Murdaughs) are even more despicable than big fish in big ponds (Trumps) because they have no rivals. But, ultimately, when you sell your soul to the devil, the devil comes out on top because he doesn’t play by the rules. Sometimes it’s not just your soul you lose, sometimes you rot in prison with only the thoughts of your dead wife and son (and who knows how many others) to keep you company.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and team in a press conference after the trial.

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Stephen Raburn

Stephen Raburn is a writer, daydreamer, activist, and father of two amazing daughters. He lives in Durham, NC.