Murdaugh denies killing wife, son during testimony, admits to lying, theft
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - In the historic South Carolina courtroom where his family once tried cases as solicitors, Alex Murdaugh took the stand for his murder trial in his own defense.
The disbarred Lowcountry attorney is accused of murdering his wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Paul on June 7, 2021, at the family’s hunting property in Colleton County.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Murdaugh flat out if he had murdered his wife and son.
“Mr. Griffin I didn’t shoot my wife or son any time,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh was on the stand for around five hours Thursday admitting that he lied to law enforcement about being at the kennels the night of the murders.
When defense attorney Jim Griffin asked him whether it was his voice heard on a video his son, Paul, took at the family’s Colleton County hunting property just minutes before the double shooting, he acknowledged for the first time that he was there and that he lied to investigators and his family when he said he had not been there before discovering their bodies later that night.
“As my addiction evolved over time, I would get into situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid, thinking. It could be anything that triggered it,” he said. After finding the bodies, he said all of his partners were repeatedly telling him not to talk to anyone without his attorney with him, adding that he began feeling paranoid again as a deputy sheriff performed a gunshot residue test on his hands and as he sat in a police car with Investigator David Owen asking questions about his relationship with the two victims.
“All those things, coupled together after finding them, coupled with my distrust for [the State Law Enforcement Division] caused me to have paranoid thoughts,” he said. He said he wasn’t thinking clearly and doesn’t think apologized to his family, including his surviving son, Buster, who watched from the courtroom gallery, for lying about his whereabouts.
“Most of all,” he said, “I’m sorry to Mags and PaulPaul,” the nicknames he used for his wife and son.
Griffin asked if he continued to lie after that night.
“Once I lied, I continued to lie,” Murdaugh said. He quoted a portion of a familiar quotation from Sir Walter Scott’s play “Marmion,” saying, “What a tangled web we weave.”
“But once I told a lie, and I told my family, I had to keep going,” he said.
Murdaugh testified his version of that night for jurors saying he got home and rode around the property with Paul Murdaugh and took a shower before Maggie Murdaugh arrived home that night.
He said Maggie had asked him to come to the kennels after dinner and he originally said no before joining her and Paul later. Murdaugh said he went back to the house shortly after the video was taken at the kennels and sat down before leaving for his mother’s house.
Murdaugh said it wasn’t planned for Maggie to go with him on the trip and that she didn’t like visiting his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Maggie’s sister Marian Proctor testified last week that Murdaugh had asked Maggie to come home that night so they could go visit his father who had been hospitalized earlier in the day. Proctor said then that was the whole reason Maggie went back to the house that night.
Murduagh testified Thursday that he always wanted Maggie to come home.
“I always ask Maggie to come back home and stay with me,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh said he drove down to the kennels after he returned home and no one was in the house.
Murdaugh saw the bodies as he pulled up to the kennels, he said.
“I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh said he was checking both bodies as he was on the phone with 911 operators and when he tried to turn Paul over his phone popped out. He said he didn’t know what to do.
“You could see his brain on the sidewalk,” Murdaugh said.
Witnesses who responded to the scene that night have said Murdaugh appeared to be clean when they arrived at the scene that night. Thursday, Murdaugh said he had gotten blood on his fingertips.
“There was so much blood,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh and Griffin walked through other aspects of the case and evidence presented attempting to discredit witnesses the state called during the course of their trial including a blue raincoat that the defense originally fought to keep out of evidence in the trial.
“Never seen it before, never touched it, don’t know anything about it,” Murdaugh said.
His mother’s caretaker, Shelley Smith, testified that she had seen Murdaugh carrying a blue raincoat or tarp into the home early one morning after the shootings. The raincoat recovered from his mother’s house tested positive for gunshot residue but DNA could not be lifted off the jacket.
Murdaugh said he asked for updates on the case often, but by the Aug. 11, 2021, interview with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, it was clear he was a suspect in the case.
“There was no question in my mind what was going on,” Murdaugh said.
Still, as Murdaugh questioned the investigation from his own mouth, Prosecutor Creighton Waters would point out his dealings and friendships with law enforcement over the course of his career.
Waters’s cross-examination started by laying the foundation that Murdaugh’s family has been a prominent family in the area for a long time.
“I think my family helped a lot of people,” Murdaugh said.
Waters’s line of law enforcement questions worked to establish that members of Murdaugh’s former law firm, including Murdaugh, would have gatherings that included members of law enforcement.
Then, Waters brought up Murdaugh’s assistant solicitor badge and asked if having it worked to his advantage when he was pulled over.
“I’d say that’s true,” Murdaugh said.
Waters then asks about Murdaugh having his badge on him when he went to the hospital following the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.
At first, Murdaugh couldn’t recall having it with him but after he was shown a photo with it sticking out of his pocket, he said it had a “warming effect” on other law enforcement.
Court went into recess before cross-examination was complete, but not before Murdaugh admitted to defrauding clients he represented.
“I admit candidly in all of these cases Mr. Waters that I took money that wasn’t mine and I shouldn’t have done. I hate the fact that I did it. I’m embarrassed by it, I’m embarrassed for my son, I’m embarrassed for my family,” Murdaugh said.
Waters would not allow Murdaugh to make a blanket statement about the cases he brought up.
“I know you want to get through it quicker, but we’re not,” Waters said.
“You have charged me with murdering my wife and my son and I have sat here all these weeks listening to all this financial stuff that I did wrong,” Murdaugh said. “That, I’m embarrassed by. I’m happy to talk to you about as much of that as you want to talk about it. I’m required to talk about it as much as you want to talk about it. I stole money that was not my money. I misled people that I shouldn’t have misled and I did wrong.”
Waters wanted Murdaugh to tell the court about the conversations he had with clients before taking the money.
“I remember lying to clients of mine,” Muradugh said. “I did it on more than one occasion. I took their money when I shouldn’t have taken it. I’m sure that I looked them in the eye, I’m sure that I misled them.”
Still, Murdaugh wouldn’t speak to specific conversations he had with clients.
“I’ve been asking you for the past 10 minutes to tell me about one of them where it stuck in your heart, stuck in your brain,” Waters said.
As court was recessing for the day, Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian mention that the defense had two experts flown in and wanted to place them on the stand before the state finished cross-examination of Murdaugh.
Judge Clifton Newman would not allow that but did ask Waters how much longer he expected his questioning to last Friday.
Waters says he didn’t get as far in his questioning as he expected and still had three or four hours of cross-examination left.
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