Against the advice of his attorneys, disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his double homicide trial on Thursday, laying out his (latest) narrative regarding the savage slayings of his wife and youngest son.
As Murdaugh prepared to testify, his attorney Jim Griffin announced “the defendant Richard Alex Murdaugh wishes to testify.” At no time did he say the defense had “called” Murdaugh to the stand.
That’s a key distinction …
As this news outlet previously reported, Murdaugh’s attorneys were said to have been at the Colleton County detention center late Wednesday evening pleading their case with their client – to no avail.
Prior to Murdaugh testifying, S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman warned him outside the presence of the jury that he could be “examined and cross-examined on any relevant issue in this case” – noting his decision to take the stand should be “freely, voluntarily and intelligently made.”
“Do you understand?” Newman asked Murdaugh.
“Yes sir,” the defendant responded.
Murdaugh is the scion of an influential Lowcountry legal dynasty – a man who once led the Palmetto State’s powerful trial lawyers’ lobby. Today, he sits at the epicenter of a maze of alleged criminality known as the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga.
In addition to a host of other alleged crimes, Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and youngest son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on his family’s hunting property in Colleton County, S.C. on June 7, 2021. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and is currently standing trial in Walterboro – part of the Lowcountry region of the Palmetto State which his famous family ruled like a fiefdom for more than a century.
Just moments before he testified, this news outlet was granted access to a closed circuit camera feed showing Murdaugh sitting alone in his holding cell – his navy blue blazer folded neatly on a concrete riser next to him. Murdaugh appeared to be looking over a white legal pad as he waited to be escorted into the courtroom. At one point, Murdaugh dropped a pen and fumbled to pick it up. At other points, he appeared to be folding his hands and leaning forward with his head bowed – nodding his head furiously as though he were praying.
It was a moment of absolute isolation – a calm before the coming cacophony in court.
Standing before the judge moments later, Murdaugh was asked whether he wanted to consult with his attorneys before making his final decision.
“No sir, I don’t need to talk to them anymore,” he said.
The apparent discord between Murdaugh and his counselors resurfaced just before he took the stand at around 10:00 a.m. EST – with Newman asking attorneys for the accused killer whether they needed additional time to confer with their client.
“I don’t need any more time,” Murdaugh whispered to his lead attorney, Dick Harpootlian.
(Click to view)
“He hurt my feelings,” Harpootlian joked. “He said he doesn’t need to talk to me.”
When he finally took the stand, Murdaugh was asked point blank by Griffin whether he murdered his wife and son. In fact, Griffin brandished one of the shotguns entered into evidence and asked Murdaugh whether he used a gun like it to “blow his son’s brains out.”
“No I did not,” Murdaugh responded. “Mr. Griffin I didn’t shoot my wife or my son anytime. Ever.”
During his testimony, Murdaugh did admit to a host of financial crimes – including stealing millions of dollars from his former clients. He also waxed extensively, eloquently and tearfully about his late wife and son – rolling out pet names he used for them.
“Paw Paw was just the brightest, most inquisitive young man,” Murdaugh said, referring to his late son Paul Murdaugh. “He was a man’s man. He was a hundred percent country boy.”
“He was such a special boy,” Murdaugh said. “He cared about people. He was fiercely – fiercely loyal. He was so misrepresented by the media.”
Murdaugh referred to his son as being the sort of person who would “take his friends on a boat in the sunset” – an odd reference considering Paul Murdaugh was facing felony boating under the influence charges at the time of his death. Those criminal charges – and a civil case which has figured prominently in these proceedings – were both tied to a February 24, 2019 crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C.
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The boat crash figured prominently in lead prosecutor Creighton Waters‘ cross-examination of Murdaugh – notably the fact the defendant was under investigation for allegedly obstructing justice in the aftermath of that crash.
Murdaugh denied the alleged obstruction of justice, saying he “never told anyone” involved in the boat crash to refrain from cooperating with law enforcement.
Waters pressed Murdaugh on his use of a solicitor’s badge – two badges, actually – during his visits to a local hospital to speak with victims following the boat crash.
“I guess I’m not being charged with that,” Murdaugh said, referring to the obstruction allegations as “totally false” and “totally baseless.”
Murdaugh did confess to enough financial crimes on Thursday to guarantee he will spend most – if not all – of the remainder of his natural life in prison. However, he frequently professed ignorance when Waters sought to pin him down on the specifics of those crimes – including meetings with clients where he was, according to the prosecutor, “looking someone in the eye and convincing them as he was stealing their money.”
“You just said you remember a lot of them – I’m asking you to tell me just one of them,” Waters said. “Just one specific one, Mr. Murdaugh.”
(Click to view)
Murdaugh clearly did not want to get into those details, choosing instead to repeatedly return to a regurgitative litany – ‘I lied, I stole, I did wrong’ – that drew audible groans from the gallery each time he invoked it.
Waters mocked Murdaugh at one point for his seemingly rehearsed responses saying “you can just write that down on a piece of paper and hold it up.”
“How many times have you practiced that answer?” he added. “You keep using it.”
Murdaugh eventually offered up a revealing admission regarding the financial crimes, though.
“One of the saddest parts of this whole thing is they’re people I still care about and I did them this way,” he said. “I did a lot of damage and wreaked a lot of havoc.”
“You did a lot of damage and wreaked a lot of havoc,” Waters echoed. “That’s for sure.”
One question that remains elusive in all these admissions: Where did all the money go?
“I know I was making a bunch of money,” Murdaugh acknowledged at one point during his testimony. “I know I was spending a bunch of money on pills.”
Yes … but even the most severe opioid habit couldn’t come close to accounting for the massive sums he was stealing from clients on top of his “legitimate” income as an attorney. The math simply doesn’t add up.
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Speaking of his opioid addiction, Murdaugh conveniently cited it as the reason he lied to police on multiple occasions about his whereabouts in the minutes leading up to the murders (a.k.a. his shredded alibi).
“On June 7, I wasn’t thinking clearly,” Murdaugh said. “As my addiction evolved over time I became more (prone to) paranoid thinking.”
Murdaugh also claimed to have been motivated by a “distrust” of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – even though he later took credit for giving the agency “carte blanche” to search his properties and to question him and other witnesses in the aftermath of the killings.
“All of my partners were telling me don’t talk to anyone,” Murdaugh said. “I’m sitting in a police car and (senior SLED special agent) David Owen is asking me all of these questions. All of those things coupled together with my distrust of SLED caused me to have paranoid thoughts.”
“I lied about being down there,” Murdaugh continued. “And I’m so sorry that I did. I’m sorry to my son Buster. Most of all I’m sorry to Mags and Paul. I would never do anything intentionally to hurt either one of them. Ever. Ever.“
Murdaugh stated that “once I lied I continued to lie.”
(Click to view)
Asked to explain his dishonesty, he quoted Sir Walter Scott‘s famous line: “What a tangled web we weave.”
“Once I told a lie … I had to keep lying,” Murdaugh said.
Has he stopped lying, though?
Jurors appeared thoroughly unimpressed by Murdaugh’s explanation for his repeated lies to law enforcement, family members and his law partners – and for much of his testimony they seemed to be viewing him with considerable skepticism. The mood seemed to shift as the day wore on, though, especially when Murdaugh invoked the controversy over his bloody (or rather not bloody) shirt – which investigators initially claimed had traces of high-velocity impact spatter.
“Until my lawyers proved that this blood spatter that they said I had on my shirt – from my wife and my son – was a lie, all of a sudden my clothes became an issue,” he said, adding that “there was no blood spatter on me.”
That comment certainly seemed to pique the jury’s interest …
Judge Newman called an abrupt halt to Murdaugh’s cross-examination shortly after 5:30 p.m. EST – announcing that court would adjourn until 9:30 a.m. EST the following morning.
Murdaugh will return to the stand when court reconvenes, with Waters expected to ramp up his cross-examination.
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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Murdaugh did a lot of talking to himself while he was in that jail cell practicing for today.
I’ll be waiting for tomorrow to see if he trips up and contradicts Blanca Simpson, Marian Proctor, or Shelly Smith. None of those credible witnesses for the prosecution have any reason to commit perjury.
There is also the vehicle dynamics, speed, GPS coordinates, that was recorded by the PMPED Chevy Suburban.
I thought it was brain spatter. It was not blood spatter so he was correct. Why did the State object? The tee shirt was declared not admissible.
The shirt was positive for blood and “high impact spatter” but could not be re-tested because testing fluids saturated the shirt. My understanding is that the shirt was excluded from evidence because the defense could not do its own testing.
A $50,000 a week habit sounds more like a gambling habit rather than a drug habit. That would explain blowing through all that money so quickly. In one recorded phone call from jail with his son Buster he is seriously bragging about winning some bets on sports games. He details his winnings that he won which were snacks from the concession like slim jims or something. And he sounds totally serious…. Pathological. Seriously.
IMHO, in addition to paying for pills, the stolen funds supported the family’s lavish lifestyle (very expensive vacations, championship sporting events junkets, etc.) in addition to clothing, jewelry, bad investments, etc., while his legitimate income waned.
About 99% of the lies he has told involves money he stole and tried to cover it up and he admits to all of the thefts. Victims were killed with two different weapons, yes they have empty cartridges but they don’t have the weapons. He was distraught over the deaths of Maggie and Paul and losing his job. This is why he claims he wanted someone to kill him. This didn’t workout so well. To get a conviction for murder you have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt. This jury ( and I have no idea who they are) I assume are from the surrounding area and are well aware of the Murdaugh name and history of the family. I’m guessing somewhere in the past the name Murdaugh has been connected to a family member of sitting jury. It only takes one to hang the jury. I personally think he is guilty based on twenty years in law enforcement and listening to the trial and the evidence presented. But I’m not on the jury.
“Beyond a *reasonable* doubt,” is the standard, not “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” Big difference.
I don’t recall Connor Cook being called to testify. He was a passenger on the boat that Paul was piloting when Paul crashed the boat killing Connor’s girlfriend, Mallory Beach.
He could testify that Alex was coaching the passengers on what to say to DNR and SLED.