BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, a mother and son, were found gunned down, dead at their family home in Colleton County back in June.
The person usually responsible for prosecuting these cases in the Lowcountry has stepped aside from the case citing conflicts.
14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone officially recused himself from the case last week.
Stone once worked under former Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, Paul’s Grandfather, and with Alex Murdaugh, Maggie’s husband in the past.
The Solicitor says those relationships had nothing to do with his decision.
“It is a decision based in legal ethics,” explains Stone.
“My relationship with the family does not conflict me out of this case, and does not put me in a position of having to step aside.”
“I believed a prosecutor’s relationship with a victim or a relationship with a witness does not necessarily conflict the office out of prosecuting the case.”
Stone says he only decided to step aside after consulting with USC legal ethics professor and expert Dr. Greg Adams.
“It was something I did not take lightly,” said Stone. “It was something that I took very seriously.”
“I knew there was an ethical issue and I needed advice on it,” said Stone. “I got that advice and I followed that advice. That’s what prosecutors are supposed to do. You don’t get out of a case because it’s uncomfortable.”
“The advice I received was consistent,” said Stone. “I did not change my mind but there were events that took place that changed the circumstances. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those matters of the investigation were, what the circumstances were. But the circumstances change.”
Q: “So there was something that changed before you sent that letter to the Attorney General’s office?”
A: “That’s correct.”
Q: “It’s something you can’t talk about?”
A: “I can’t tell you what it is. It wouldn’t be proper to tell you what it is. Then I would be violating the very same ethics I’ve been following since the very beginning of this case.”
Q: “So if I asked you if it had anything to do with the suspect in the case.”
A: “I wouldn’t tell you.”
Q: “If I asked if it had anything to do with evidence found in the case.”
A: “I wouldn’t tell you that either.”
Q: “From what you know are we close to some kind of resolution in this case?”
A: “I would not tell you that if I knew that.”
Q: “How complicated is this case?”
A: “The case happened.. the event happened two months ago? That should answer your question.”
Stone immediately recused himself in 2019 from Paul Murdaugh’s BUI case. The then 20-year-old was allegedly driving drunk when his boat crashed into a piling, throwing 19-year-old Mallory Beach into the water. It took rescuers almost 7 days to find her body.
Q: “Why leave Paul’s case immediately but wait for months on the murder case?”
A: “There are no similarities between the two cases,” said Stone. “I knew from the very beginning I could not prosecute Paul Murdaugh. People who I was connected to, people from my office were connected to the case.
When asked about claims of improprieties in that investigation by Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Natural Resources, Stone said.
“Once I recused myself, once you conflict out a case you have no contact with it.”
As for the death investigation of Stephen Smith, a teen who was found dead by the side of the road in Hampton County in 2015. An investigation that SLED reopened back in June after finding evidence during the Murdaugh murder investigation.
Q: “Have you been asked to look again at the Stephen Smith or did you look at the Stephen Smith case, to begin with?’
A: “No,” said Stone. “I was not involved in that case at all. I have had no connection with that case. Investigators did not reach out to me about it then.”
Q: “Have you been asked to look at it since?”
A: “No. I’m not an investigator, SLED is doing the investigation.”
As for Maggie and Paul’s murder investigation, Stone says he has stepped aside and is content with his decision. A decision that is part of his oath as a lawyer, part of his office, and just part of the job.
“It requires following the rules, the ethical rules, the legal rules, and without a doubt any decision I make will anger some people,” said Stone. “As a prosecutor, you have to know that every decision you make will upset half the people in the room.”
“Whether that is to prosecute them or not to prosecute. It doesn’t matter if you are recommending life in prison or probation,” Stone says. “It doesn’t matter if your ethical opinion is to conflict out of a case or that your ethical codes require you to stay in a case.”
“You sign up for this job knowing you may not be making the popular decision. So you stick with what you think is right and are comfortable with those decisions.”
“I’m very comfortable with my decision because it was the right decision at the right time,” Stone said.