‘He was gaslighting everybody’: reporter Mandy Matney on exposing Alex Murdaugh | Alex Murdaugh


Mandy Matney was at her home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, video-chatting with true-crime fans when a Colleton county jury found Alex Murdaugh guilty of killing his wife and son on Thursday.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared for this to happen today!” exclaimed the foremost chronicler of the Murdaugh dynasty’s collapse.

Not only has she been reporting on the family since Alex’s son Paul emerged as a central figure in a 2019 boat crash that left a 19-year-old woman dead, Mandy kept a harsh light on the family despite their sweeping power in the state’s Lowcountry and the threats to her career and mental health.

It was only after her podcast about the family’s unsolved mysteries, Murdaugh Murders, became a runaway sensation that her courage and persistence were validated, and the walls finally closed in on Alex – who, on Friday, was sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison.

As her phone buzzed with notifications from family, friends and fans expressing their shock, we discussed what the verdict means for Alex’s other crimes, how the prosecution won without actual smoking guns, and whether good ol’ boys everywhere should be running scared.

officer ushers Murdaugh through courtroom
Alex Murdaugh is sentenced on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters

The last time we spoke, the national media was slowly tuning into what had been the biggest story in our community for years. Now OJ Simpson is weighing in.

I’m so glad that the world caught on to this. People were so disgusted by the idea that a privileged white man who spent his life stealing from the less fortunate was treated with kid gloves when a Black or brown person in his predicament certainly wouldn’t have gotten a six-week trial.

There was a minute there when the cable news pundits had me believing there could be a hung jury.

Every day I’d get texts from friends and family who were like, ‘Are you sure he did it?’ Just the fact that Alex could get the benefit of the doubt is infuriating. Race is definitely involved here, and every time I mention that people freak out. They just can’t wrap their heads around the idea of a prominent white man killing his family. But they believe it so easily when it’s somebody of color or with a lot less power or super poor or someone who looks like Cousin Eddie [aka Curtis Smith, a longtime associate Alex is alleged to have hired to kill him in a suicide plot]. I get it. You don’t want someone who looks like he could be your dad to be a murderer. That’s scary.

Who wants to believe their dad is capable of this level of domestic violence and emotional abuse?

Those are two huge themes that have gotten so overlooked throughout this case. I never believed Alex and [his wife] Maggie had a healthy relationship. The defense wanted us to believe that it was perfect on the outside, even as Alex was apparently exerting so much control on the inside. I’m not a psychologist, but he just strikes me as such a narcissist.

One thing I found especially self-indulgent was the folksy act he put on in the dock, in a clear effort to win over rural jurors.

I keep using this phrase, but he was gaslighting everybody. I think it’s so powerful that these common people of Colleton county were like, ‘This is complete bullshit.’ His lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, underestimated their common sense. Six weeks of testimony, and they came back in less than three hours. Also, Alex was a very difficult client.

I found it telling that Dick didn’t call Alex to the stand. He said Alex “wants to take the stand”, sounding deflated and looking resigned.

Alex behaves like he believes his best skill is talking his way out of anything. He’s done it his entire career. So of course he was going to stand because he believes he can still fool everybody.

But the lines about Maggie! “Such a feminine person” … “a girl” who “became a boy’s mom”. He went on and on about what a pain in the ass she was while pregnant.

One of my girlfriends who just had a baby was like, “I hope that’s not how my husband remembers me 20 years later.” He just could not fake being a normal person. He really tried.

I thought the prosecution did a masterly job of marrying Alex’s pathological lying to his abuse of power: the police blue lights in his private car, the assistant solicitor badge he kept out at all times, etc.

I applaud the strategy very much, but at the same time I want the attorney general’s office to fucking go after that. There needs to be an investigation into the office of SC solicitor Duffie Stone, who empowered Alex all this time.

Even after seeing video of Alex at the hospital after the boat crash, I totally missed the badge hanging out of his pocket, as if he left his fly purposefully undone.

But it’s also hard for prosecutor Creighton Waters, who’s a part of the same system, to call that out. Because then it gets into a territory of, “Do I look bad because I’m part of the same system?” But I’m really glad he showed the jury this was a guy who had every advantage, including a badge and blue lights.

On the bright side, this is over for Alex’s defense team. And yet I can’t help but feel a bit for Jim Griffin, who seemed like he gave it his best.

Yeah, Dick Harpootlian has made his name and his millions and can go to Slovenia and be with his wife, US Ambassador Jamie Lindler Harpootlian. But I always got the sense from Jim that he wanted to believe Alex was his friend. And I think that he was fooled.

Well, he’s in good company. Alex charmed so many for so long.

The case is a huge wake-up call to people who have been abusing the system and relied on old traditions and horrible ways of thinking. Pretty much all of Alex’s victims are Black people, children and the infirm. They’re getting justice, too.

men sit in court as one man stands
Alex Murdaugh listens as attorneys speak during a bond hearing in 2021. Photograph: Lewis M Levine/AP

What do you make of him ’fessing up to what seemed like every fraud, like there aren’t still cases out there against him?

Liz [Farrell, Matney’s writing partner] and I always talk about his habit of admitting to the “lesser” crime. We’re still wondering if he faked his $60,000 a week pill story, because he’s still hiding money from fraud victims.

For as pricey as Murdaugh’s defense team was on paper, seems like they really cheaped out on experts. Ripped from the yellow pages.

I think the defense spent more money and time on the court of public opinion – and I don’t have any proof of that beyond the bots I saw on Twitter. One day, they’d be anti-Judge Newman; the next, it was Creighton who was awful. I’d look at these accounts and see most of them were started in the past six months. You can’t underestimate the power of Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian. Dick could totally call Joe Biden for a favor. Amanda Loveday, who ran PR for Alex, was at a White House Christmas party. These people are very, very connected.

[Alex’s elder son] Buster, though, would appear to be left even more adrift. Not only is his Dad now behind bars on consecutive life sentences, but the verdict likely further complicates his ability to inherit family assets.

I still don’t know what I think about Buster. Learning so much about how his father and family operate – the passing of the John Grisham novel, which got Alex another contraband charge – it shows they think they’re above the law and can do whatever. At the end of the day I don’t think Buster ever had any normalcy. It’s amazing that he’s still with us.

Even though this closes a chapter, there’s still so much we don’t know – like what really happened to Buster’s former peer Stephen Smith, and who killed the family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, and how the legal fraud really adds up.

That’s something I was thinking about this morning as I was getting ready for the day, not expecting that it would end with a guilty verdict. I really didn’t. I was preparing to be a nervous wreck all weekend while waiting for a jury verdict.

What do you make of them coming back so quickly?

It’s the biggest middle finger to a system that has oppressed so many people, dating back to slavery. I said from day one, the best story usually wins – which was the lesson I took away from the OJ trial. In this case, you had to do so many mental backflips to embrace a scenario where someone other than Alex murdered Maggie and Paul. And the defense never presented another story that made sense.

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity

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