Prominent US attorney on trial for killing wife, son
Alex Murdaugh

The scion of an American family of lawyers went on trial Monday for murdering his wife and son in a bizarre crime saga that included him attempting to stage his own death.

Alex Murdaugh, 54, was part of a multi-generation dynasty of wealthy, high-powered attorneys and prosecutors in the state of South Carolina when he plunged into financial problems and drug addiction.

His wife and son were shot and killed on June 7, 2021 at the family's sprawling hunting estate in Islandton, South Carolina.

As police struggled to pinpoint a suspect, three months later Murdaugh tried to fake his own murder on a country road so his surviving son could collect on a $10 million insurance policy.

Jury selection for his murder trial began Monday in the small city of Walterboro, in an area of the state where his family wielded influence for generations.

While the trial focuses on the murder charges, Murdaugh faces more than 70 others including embezzling millions of dollars, insurance fraud, drug trafficking and money laundering.

And police have opened inquiries into the 2018 death of Murdaugh's family nanny, originally called an accident, and the 2015 roadside death of a young gay man not far from the Murdaugh home whose family alleges was also a homicide.

Murdaugh was first arrested after allegedly recruiting his drug dealer to shoot him on a South Carolina roadside in an insurance scam on September 4, 2021.

But Curtis Smith, the hitman hired by Murdaugh, botched the job. He shot Murdaugh in the head but the bullet only grazed his skull.

When Murdaugh was arraigned in court, his lawyer Dick Harpootlian said he had a "tremendous opioid addiction."

Harpootlian said Murdaugh had financial problems, and that the deaths of his wife and son had "put him over the edge."

"This crime involved his attempt to have himself shot so that his son could collect insurance," he said.

In July 2022 a grand jury indicted Murdaugh for the murder a year earlier of his wife Maggie, 52, and his son Paul, 22.

He has also faced lawsuits from the family of the former nanny, from the family of a young man who was killed in a boating accident involving Paul Murdaugh, and from other creditors.

He was forced out of his family firm and barred from practicing law in the state.

© Agence France-Presse