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Why are people across the country so interested in a South Carolina murder trial?


Now, people around the country have been, well, fascinated with this murder trial. Cable news outlets broke away from scheduled programming when Alex Murdaugh took the stand. And even before the trial began, HBO Max released a miniseries. Netflix had a docuseries. I definitely watched that. And then there's the "Murdaugh Murders Podcast." Liz Farrell is one of the co-hosts, and she's been reporting on the Murdaugh family since 2019, since before Murdaugh murdered his wife and son and captured the country's attention. And Liz is here on the program. Hi, Liz.

LIZ FARRELL: Good morning. How are you doing?

FADEL: Good morning. So I wanted to start with the why. I mean, you've been reporting on this family for so long. Why do you think the country is so obsessed with this case, these murders that happened in a tiny South Carolina town?

FARRELL: I think there's so many reasons...

FADEL: Yeah.

FARRELL: ...The first being that this is a powerful family. And I don't know, you think - I think that people can relate to sort of the powerful guy versus this sort of community of maybe poorer people who have lived under their rule for four generations. And it's just so unusual in that. And then there's the span of the crimes. There's just so many crimes involved in this one family. And then there's the lack of justice throughout the years. I think 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. So I think that that's sort of - those are sort of universal themes, I think...

FADEL: Yeah.

FARRELL: ...That people can relate to or at least cheer on. You can sort of cheer on the call for justice, so...

FADEL: Yeah.

FARRELL: ...I think that's what it is.

FADEL: Well, you mentioned how for so long people thought this family can get away with anything. And then this verdict comes in less than three hours. And you've been covering the court case from the beginning. Were you surprised by how quickly it came back?

FARRELL: So surprised.

FADEL: Oh, really?

FARRELL: Yeah, I'm still stunned. Yes. I kind of was trying to temper my hopes and just saying that, you know, if we can get a hung jury, that is better than anything I could have imagined before because part of this is that the law enforcement - I would say community or the justice system in general has sort of favored the rich and powerful in South Carolina and this family in particular, because we're talking about 86 years of this family being in charge of the solicitor's office, which is the district attorney's office here, and basically deciding who goes to jail and who doesn't, and who doesn't includes themselves. So...

FADEL: Yeah.

FARRELL: ...I think that that was why. It was just I really didn't know. I mean, this was a Murdaugh being tried in Murdaugh country. And I am just still so stunned and happy. And it's bittersweet because obviously you have two people murdered and just - this was such a tremendous expense for the state and so much energy that everyone put into it. But it was worth it.

FADEL: What do you think ultimately convinced the jurors that Murdaugh was guilty in this case? I mean, you mentioned these other questions around other criminal behaviors that never - there was no justice in those, or no - yeah. So what was different?

FARRELL: Well, I think it was the lie, the big lie, which would be the video that was found on Paul's phone in March 2022. Alex had said that he had never gone down to the kennels that night, and here we find out that he did, in fact, go down there. And I honestly think right into the middle of the trial, he was planning on leaving that sort of nebulous, if not outright denying it. So when he took the stand in his own defense and admitted to it, that was quite stunning. And then he had to retrofit his entire alibi to the evidence and testimony that he had heard over the previous five weeks. So I think that that's hard for anyone to get past. And then the state did such a tremendous job in telling the story of what happened and putting it all together - so many dots to connect, and it can get sort of fuzzy, especially to people who are just joining this saga. So I think that's it. I think it was just - it's hard. You know, how many times can you tell a lie before somebody stops believing you?

FADEL: Do you think, now that he's been convicted, that the public obsession with this family and this case will continue?

FARRELL: I actually do. We have more to do. So there was the death of Stephen Smith, which was clearly a murder that was masked as a hit-and-run in 2015 that the Murdaughs are purported to have been connected to in some way. And we're expecting charges to come in that case. So I think - yeah, I think there's a lot of loose ends that people really want to see tied up.

FADEL: Liz Farrell is the co-host of the "Murdaugh Murders Podcast." Thank you so much for your time.

FARRELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.