The double homicide trial of disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh nearly ‘jumped the shark” on Tuesday afternoon as extramarital affair allegations were leveled at the man at the center of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga.
These allegations were made outside the presence of the jury, however, and S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman – who has done a masterful job thus far of keeping these proceedings on the rails – ruled any testimony related to the allegations inadmissible.
The affair allegations were raised by lead prosecutor Creighton Waters during the testimony of Marian Proctor, the sister of the late Maggie Murdaugh. According to Proctor, her sister confided to her on multiple occasions about an alleged affair involving Alex Murdaugh and an unidentified woman that took place “several years ago.”
While the Murdaughs reconciled in the aftermath of this alleged dalliance, Proctor testified in camera (outside the presence of the jury) that Maggie Murdaugh made her husband leave the house at the time – and that she brought it up in conversation as recently as 2020.
The jarring admission – which prosecutors sought to include as a counter to the defense’s pervasive “loving family” narrative – was not allowed by Newman.
“She cannot testify to fidelity issues,” Newman ruled after hearing arguments from Waters and defense attorney Jim Griffin.
Still, Proctor provided damning testimony about Alex Murdaugh’s demeanor in the aftermath of the double homicide.
“I thought his priority should have been on finding out who killed Maggie and Paul,” Proctor said during cross-examination from Griffin. “He never talked about that – about finding who had done it. It was just odd … we thought this horrible person was out there.”
“We were afraid – we didn’t know what was going on,” she testified, adding that “Alex didn’t seem to be afraid.”
Over Griffin’s objection, Newman did allow Proctor to testify to her knowledge of a bizarre September 2021 roadside shooting incident in which Murdaugh allegedly hired his longtime friend and alleged drug dealer/ check casher Curtis “Eddie” Smith to shoot him in the head.
The stated goal of this shooting? To allow Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, to collect on a $10 million life insurance policy.
According to prosecutors, the roadside shooting incident – which occurred hours after Murdaugh was confronted by his best friend Chris Wilson over $192,000 he had stolen from him – was not a botched suicide attempt but rather another attempted deflection by Murdaugh, a perpetuation of the false narrative that he and his family were being targeted by vigilantes following a high-profile 2019 boat crash involving his late son Paul Murdaugh.
“Oh my gosh, the real killers are back,” Waters told the court, paraphrasing Murdaugh’s “intended effect.”
“The real killers are back to finish the job,” Waters added.
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Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife and son on his family’s hunting property near Islandton, S.C. on June 7, 2021. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and is currently standing trial in Walterboro, S.C. – part of the Lowcountry region of the Palmetto State which the Murdaugh family ruled like a fiefdom for more than a century.
Three generations of Murdaughs served as S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor from 1920-2006, and Alex Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor at the time of the killings.
At the heart of the prosecution’s double homicide case against Murdaugh is the belief the 54-year-old former lawyer killed his family to evade scrutiny over his looming exposure as a fraudster and a thief. Prosecutors – who have indicted Murdaugh on 99 counts of alleged financial crimes – have maintained he wanted to pin the blame for the killings (and the roadside shooting) on vigilantes intent on avenging Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old who died on February 24, 2019 when Paul Murdaugh crashed his father’s fishing boat into a Beaufort County bridge while “grossly intoxicated.”
Paul Murdaugh was staring down three felony boating under the influence charges – and a lengthy potential prison stint – at the time he was killed. Alex Murdaugh was also staring down significant financial liability in connection with a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of Beach’s family by attorney Mark Tinsley.
In the immediate aftermath of the June 2021 double homicide, Alex Murdaugh pointed police to the boat crash as the reason his wife and son were killed. And in the immediate aftermath of the roadside shooting, Murdaugh tried to claim he was shot by an unknown passerby as he attempted to change a flat tire on his late wife’s Mercedes SUV.
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“They pulled over like they were gonna help me … when I turned my back they tried to shoot me,” Murdaugh said on a 9-1-1 call following the incident.
That narrative quickly collapsed, however …
Prosecutors have claimed there is a “symmetry” to these events – namely Murdaugh’s use of them to try and manipulate public opinion (and his own family members).
Based on the testimony of his own sister-in-law, it worked … at least initially.
“I thought they were being targeted,” Proctor testified. “I thought the family was being targeted. I thought whoever killed Maggie and Paul had shot Alex. I was terrified Buster was next.”
Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian rebuked the notion that his client used the roadside shooting to advance the vigilante narrative, insisting “he intended to die.”
“He didn’t do it to get sympathy, he did it to get dead,” Harpootlian told Newman. “Unfortunately, Eddie Smith at four feet couldn’t kill him.”
Newman expressed an interest in hearing testimony from Smith, who was subpoenaed by the state but has yet to be called to the witness stand.
“He’s on the witness list,” Waters told the judge. “I didn’t necessarily say we were calling him.”
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Assuming he is called, Smith is expected to tell jurors that Murdaugh admitted to killing his family during their exchange on the side of Old Salkehatchie Road on September 4, 2021.
Prosecutors had planned on calling senior special agent David Owen to the stand on Tuesday, but Owen had a death in the family and was unavailable to testify. Owen is expected to be back in Walterboro on Wednesday and could take the stand as early as Wednesday morning, we are told. His testimony is considered critical to the state’s discombobulated case – which has been all over the map up to this point. According to my sources, Owen will walk jurors through all of the previously introduced evidence and testimony – lending some badly needed chronology and cohesion to the prosecution’s narrative of these crimes.
Just as prosecutors appeared to be getting their case organized, though, another interesting (and potentially paradigm-shifting) wrinkle emerged during Proctor’s testimony.
According to Proctor, Maggie Murdaugh had nickname for her younger son – “little detective.”
“He was always looking to see that his dad was behaving,” Proctor said.
“What was his concern?” Waters asked.
“Pills – prescription painkillers,” Proctor responded.”If there were pills in the home his dad wasn’t supposed to be taking it was Paul’s job to take them.”
Up to this point, there has been no indication drugs played a role in Murdaugh’s alleged motive in this case. In fact, the state has focused exclusively (and exhaustively) on the looming threat of exposure for his financial crimes as the reason he allegedly killed his wife and son.
Is this a last-minute narrative shift? We shall see …
Testimony is scheduled to resume on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. EST after Newman hears from both prosecutors and defense attorneys regarding the admissibility of evidence and testimony related to the roadside shooting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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