Murdaugh is to testify in his own defense
Disfellowshipped South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh denied killing his wife and son but admitted lying to investigators Thursday when testifying in his own defense at his double murder trial.
Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in connection with the 2021 shootings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. He has pleaded not guilty.
At the beginning of his testimony, Murdaugh vehemently denied shooting Maggie and Paul on June 7, 2021 at the family’s Colleton County property.
“I never shot my wife or my son,” he said when asked by his defense team. “I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either of them. Never. Never.”
On Wednesday, Defense Attorney Jim Griffin asked Judge Clifton Newman if Murdaugh would be able to use his Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination for the nearly 100 other financial crimes he is accused of, including theft from customers, money laundering, tax evasion and insurance fraud. Newman said prosecutors generally have a wide latitude in cross-examination.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is asking for life in prison if Murdaugh is convicted.
Murdaugh admits to lying to investigators
Murdaugh admitted that his voice could be heard on cellphone video taken at the kennels where Maggie and Paul were killed about five minutes before the shooting and that he had repeatedly lied to investigators at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division about the last time he saw his wife and son, whom he nicknamed “Mags” and “Pau-Pau” at the booth.
Murdaugh, who appeared emotional and speechless at times, told defense attorney Jim Griffin that he lied to agents about his whereabouts on the night of the murders because he distrusted the agency and had drug addiction-induced paranoia. Murdaugh was treated for oxycodone addiction after the murders.
“I lied to her,” he said. “I don’t think I was able to reason and I lied about being down there and I’m so sorry I did.”
Murdaugh testifies about the day of the murders
Murdaugh recounted the day of the murders and said he met Paul after work to spend time together on their property. He addressed a Snapchat video taken by his son that shows Murdaugh in different clothes than those he was later seen in by responding officers.
Murdaugh said he showered and changed after breaking a sweat from moving about the property and using drugs.
After spending time with the family dogs in the kennel, Murdaugh said he went to see his ailing mother. Murdaugh said she briefly stopped in her driveway before driving home and denied using that time to dispose of a murder weapon or bloodied clothing.
Murdaugh broke down recounting how he discovered the bodies of his wife and son. He testified that he called 911 when he was trying to “groom” Maggie and Paul.
“Paul was so — he was so bad,” Murdaugh said. “I know I tried to check his pulse. I know I tried to turn him over.”
Murdaugh said he couldn’t remember exactly where he touched his wife’s body.
Witnesses who saw Murdaugh in the minutes and hours after the shooting said they saw no blood on him. Murdaugh testified that he got blood on himself after touching the bodies, but said, “No way I had blood spattered on me at high speed.”
“I wasn’t even close to Paul and Maggie when they were shot,” he said.
Murdaugh explains his actions, comments after the murders
Griffin played the 911 call Murdaugh made after finding the bodies, and Murdaugh explained what he was doing while speaking to the dispatcher. Murdaugh repeatedly said he didn’t know why he went back to the main house to get a gun and ammunition, then implied he thought the killer was at large.
“I didn’t know if anyone else was out there,” he said.
Murdaugh could be heard on the 911 call saying, “I should have known.” He explained the family ignored a series of “heinous” threats against Paul in connection with a fatal boating accident in 2019 he was involved in because they were “so over the top”.
Murdaugh also offered an explanation for suspicious phone activity, presented by prosecutors, showing that he was looking for a restaurant and calling a wedding photographer in the moments after the murder. In a rush to call family members, Murdaugh said it must have been an accident.
Murdaugh denied bringing a blue tarp or raincoat to his parents’ home during this time in the days following the murders.
Family caregiver Mushelle Smith previously testified that about a week after the murders, she witnessed Murdaugh carrying a blue vinyl object into his mother’s home. SLED investigators later confiscated a blue tarp and raincoat from that home, and the raincoat had “significant” amounts of primer residue inside and out.
“I’ve never seen it, never touched it, and I don’t know anything about it,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh admits stealing money and organizing assisted suicide
Prosecutors allege Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and buy time to cover up his financial crimes, which were on the verge of discovery. Murdaugh admitted stealing client funds, but testified that a confrontation with his law firm’s former CFO over his theft on the day of the murders “didn’t be a big issue.”
“Did you think your financial house of cards would collapse on June 7th?” asked Griffin.
“Absolutely not,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh said he’s “not exactly sure” how he got into this financial predicament, but said he “spent so much money on pills.” He described how his addiction to opioids began after a knee injury and a series of surgeries, and attempted to break free from the addiction on several occasions. Murdaugh said he’s been sober for 535 days and is “very proud of it”.
Before entering the detox in September 2021, Murdaugh said he asked a friend, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him. Police said Murdaugh arranged the botched shooting so his surviving son would receive a multimillion-dollar life insurance payment. But Murdaugh testified that Maggie was the beneficiary of his policies and he “wanted him to shoot me to get me gone”.
When asked about his wife, Murdaugh affectionately described her as a beautiful woman whose laugh would light up a room and insisted he would never hurt her. Murdaugh described his son Paul as a good man who has been misrepresented in the media.
Murdaugh faces cross-examination
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters began his sometimes combative cross-examination by questioning Murdaugh about his family’s legal heritage in South Carolina, his work as a lawyer, and his relationship with law enforcement. For three generations, Murdaugh’s family developed legal and political power as back-to-back attorneys of the 14th Judicial Circuit.
This is an evolving story. Check for updates again.
Contributors: Michael Dewitt, Jr., Greenville News; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg