A potential turf war is brewing as to which prosecutorial agency will handle any charges that may result from an ongoing investigation into a brutal double homicide that took place earlier this week in Colleton county, South Carolina. The crime – which is still under investigation – involves one of the Palmetto State’s most powerful families: The Murdaughs of Hampton county.
As my news outlet exclusively reported early Tuesday, agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were called late Monday to investigate the murders of 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh of Hampton, S.C. and his mother, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, also of Hampton.
These savage slayings – and the ongoing speculation over who may have committed them – have dominated discussion in the Palmetto State over the last forty-eight hours.
Numerous theories have emerged as to culpability – and potential motivation – but as of this writing police have made no arrests nor have they identified any suspects in connection with the crime. Law enforcement sources have identified prominent local attorney R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh – who reportedly discovered the bodies of his wife and son around 10:00 p.m. EDT on Monday evening – as a “person of interest” in their inquiries, but as I have repeatedly noted Murdaugh is said to have provided investigators with an “ironclad” alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the killings.
While SLED continues its investigatory work, concerns are being raised over which agency will handle the criminal charges filed in the aftermath of the slayings.
The crime scene officially falls under the jurisdiction of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone – who took office in 2006. However, there are questions as to whether Stone – who is said to be actively involved in the current inquiry – should have already recused himself and handed the case over to the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
Prior to Stone taking office, Alex Murdaugh’s father – Randolph Murdaugh III – was the fourteenth circuit solicitor. In fact, three different Murdaughs held this office from 1920-2006 – during which time the family amassed almost unlimited power in the Lowcountry region of the state.
According to my sources, Stone was “hand-picked” by the Murdaughs for the job.
Both Randolph and Alex Murdaugh now work at the prominent Hampton, S.C. law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED). In addition to his private practice, Alex Murdaugh assists Stone’s office on certain cases – and reportedly carries a law enforcement-style badge issued by the solicitor.
Given his obvious proximity to the Murdaughs, Stone recused himself in the aftermath of a high-profile 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh – a crash which killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. That case was referred to Wilson’s office, which wasted little time in charging Murdaugh with three felony counts of boating under the influence (BUI). Murdaugh had pleaded not guilty to those charges, and was awaiting his day in court at the time he was murdered.
So … why has Stone not recused himself in connection with the Murdaugh murders?
That is a good question …
Sources familiar with the investigation tell me Stone has been active in assisting SLED agents in the ongoing probe – going so far as to suggest what lines of inquiry they might wish to pursue or what evidence they might wish to obtain via search warrants.
To be clear: No one has made any suggestion that Stone or anyone in his office has acted improperly in this matter.
In fact, several sources who favor Stone’s recusal acknowledged privately to me that he and his office have been extremely helpful in advancing the investigation up to this point.
“He seems devoted to truth and justice in this case,” one of those sources told me late Wednesday.
Still, I believe there is clear and compelling case for Stone to recuse himself and ask Wilson’s office either handle it directly or assign it to another solicitor.
Why? First and foremost, Stone has established a precedent by recusing himself from the 2019 boat crash case involving Paul Murdaugh. If he was conflicted in that case, how is he now not conflicted in the Murdaugh murders? Whether or not there is a link between the two cases is irrelevant – the underlying conflict of interest arising from the proximity between Stone and the Murdaugh family remains.
Second, Wilson’s office – and in particular senior deputy assistant attorney general Megan Burchstead – distinguished itself in its handling of the 2019 boat crash case. Many following that story expected Paul Murdaugh to receive preferential treatment given his family’s extensive influence – including potential leniency in terms of the charges he would face – but Wilson’s office looked at the evidence it was provided and determined three serious felony charges were warranted.
And Murdaugh was charged accordingly …
Ultimately, the decision over who handles this case – and any case brought by the state of South Carolina – rests exclusively with Wilson. As the state’s top prosecutor, he can step in at any time and remove Stone from the job – either taking it over himself or assigning it to another solicitor. Personally, I hope he exercises that authority sooner rather than later – not because I have any doubts over Stone’s competency or commitment to the truth in this case, but because I believe clear conflicts exist which dictate such a move.
The fact Stone has previously acknowledged these conflicts by recusing himself from a Murdaugh-related case is all the more reason for him to do the right thing and stand aside …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Minnesota Twins’ lid pictured above).
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