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SC prosecutor steps aside from Murdaugh murder case, citing new developments

Duffie Stone (copy)

Duffie Stone, 14th Circuit solicitor, has stepped aside from the investigation into the June killings of two members of the prominent Murdaugh family. Provided

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has stepped aside from the investigation into the June killings of two members of the prominent Murdaugh family, citing new developments in the case.

Stone notified Attorney General Alan Wilson of his decision in an Aug. 11 letter, saying he was recusing himself from prosecuting cases arising from the State Law Enforcement Division's probe of the June 7 killings of 21-year-old Paul Murdaugh and his mother Maggie, 52. The two were shot to death at the family's hunting compound along the Colleton and Hampton county lines in a case that has sparked international interest.

"Citing the events of today in SLED's investigation of the homicides of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, I am asking that you assume all prosecutorial functions in this matter immediately," Stone wrote, signaling a potential conflict for his office to proceed further. 

Robert Kittle, a spokesman for the attorney general, confirmed Stone's exit from the case but declined further comment. 

PRINT Murdaugh homicide_1.jpg (copy) (copy)

Investigators were at the Murdaugh family's hunting lodge on June 8, 2021, where Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot dead the night before. The property, known as Moselle, is in rural Colleton County near the Salkehatchie River. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Reached on Aug. 25, Stone declined to elaborate on his decision or what transpired on Aug. 11 to cause him to step away from the case. He previously indicated that he had been consulting a legal ethics expert about his involvement in the case, given the Murdaugh family's ties to his office. 

Paul Murdaugh photo (copy) (copy)

Paul Murdaugh was found fatally shot in June 2021. File/S.C. Attorney General's Office/Provided

Alex Murdaugh, Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father, works part time for the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which was once run by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. After retiring from public office, his father, former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III, continued to work as a “prosecutorial consultant,” according to his biography on the law firm’s website. The elder Murdaugh died on June 10; his death was not related to the shooting.

Stone initially drew criticism from some quarters for involving himself in the case, given the Murdaugh family's ties to his office. By comparison, when Paul Murdaugh was involved in a fatal boating accident in February 2019, records indicate that Stone’s office notified the attorney general of its conflict the next day. 

It sent a letter disclosing the conflict even before search teams located the body of the 19-year-old woman who died in the crash, and weeks before Paul was formally charged with a crime in the case. At the time of the June 7 shootings, he was facing one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury. Wilson's office was prosecuting that case.

Stone drew clear distinctions between the two cases in a statement issued in late June. He recused himself from the boat crash case, he said, after it became immediately apparent Paul Murdaugh would be a suspect — Paul's father owned the boat in which the crash occurred, and other passengers were related to employees in Stone's office. Different circumstances existed in the case involving the killings, Stone said.

"To my knowledge, there is no clear suspect in this case at this time," Stone said on June 21. "As such, speculation about the propriety of my office’s involvement is precisely that — speculation."

An expert in legal ethics came to a similar conclusion at the time, telling The Post and Courier shortly after the killings that the family's connection to the solicitor’s office didn't cross ethical lines at that point. 

Without arrests and a clear suspect, the prosecutor’s role in the case was limited at that point, former University of South Carolina law dean Robert Wilcox told the newspaper at the time. The solicitor’s office should primarily be working in an advisory role, he said, making sure that law enforcement handles the case constitutionally and avoids missteps that could taint evidence or testimony.

But Wilcox cautioned back then that conflicts could arise depending on where the facts lead and what charging decisions prosecutors ultimately face.

It remained unclear late Wednesday what new developments had prompted Stone to decide he should no longer preside over the case. Though theories abound, SLED has not named any potential suspects in the June 7 homicides.

Stephen Hobbs contributed to this report. 

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.