Disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his murder trial Thursday and admitted to lying to police and stealing money from clients. During several hours of testimony, he sniveled as he told jurors that although he lied to authorities about his whereabouts the night of the murders, he was “nowhere near” his wife and son “when they got shot.”
Murdaugh, 54, the scion of a South Carolina legal dynasty, is accused of shooting his wife, Maggie, 52, and his son Paul, 22, on the family’s hunting compound in June 2021. Prosecutors claim Murdaugh killed his family members to distract from his financial misdeeds — specifically, the theft of millions of dollars from his law firm and legal clients — which, the prosecution claims, he knew were about to come to light. He faces additional charges for allegedly embezzling around $8.8 million. He has maintained his innocence in the killings. If convicted of the murders, he faces a life sentence.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin questioned Murdaugh for most of the day Thursday. Early on, Griffin brought up prosecution evidence debunking Murdaugh’s alibi that he had not been in the area of the murders the night of the shootings. Murdaugh initially said he had not been to the kennels that day until he arrived late in the evening and discovered Maggie and Paul’s bodies near the dog kennels. On Feb. 1, however, prosecutors presented a video taken by Paul just minutes before prosecutors allege the murder took place. In the clip, taken near the kennels, Paul examines his friend’s dog’s tail, and multiple witnesses said Murdaugh’s voice can be heard in the background.
On the stand, Murdaugh admitted for the first time that he lied about his whereabouts that night. When asked whether he was by the kennels around 8:44 pm the night of the murders, he said “I was.” And when asked if he lied to authorities, he said, “I did lie to them,” then proceeded to blame his longtime opioid painkiller addiction, which he claimed he developed after a college football knee injury.
“As my addiction evolved over time, I would get in these situations or circumstances where I’d get paranoid thinking,” he said. “Anything could trigger it,” he added, from a look or a reaction, or a police officer following him in a car. He said the night of the murders, June 7, 2021, being questioned by detectives and having his hands tested for gunshot residue made him feel paranoid. “Normally, when these paranoid thoughts would hit me, I could take a deep breath real quick, think about it, reason my way through it, and just get past it real quickly,” he said.
The day of the murder, he said, he wasn’t thinking clearly. “I don’t think I was capable of reason,” he testified. “I lied about being down there and I’m so sorry that I did.” He apologized to his surviving son, Buster, to Maggie’s parents, and to Maggie and Paul. “I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them,” he said. “Ever.”
He testified that he continued to lie after the first night because he felt like he had to. “What a tangled web we weave,” he said. “Once I told a lie and I told my family, I had to keep lying.”
During the remainder of the Griffin’s questioning of Murdaugh, he asked Murdaugh about his activities in the days before and after the murders, played a recording of the 911 call when Murdaugh allegedly first discovered his wife and son dead, and showed a video of Murdaugh being questioned by authorities. He also asked Murdaugh to describe his relationships with his son and wife.
During one pointed moment, Griffin asked him about misappropriating funds from his former law firm, for which he was forced out of the company in September 2021. Griffin asked what his partners had confronted him about around that time. “Stealing money,” he said. He told Griffin that he admitted to his brother and to one of his law partners that he had taken money.
Shortly after his colleagues confronted him, he testified, he’d hired Eddie Smith to kill him in a botched suicide attempt. Murdaugh and Smith are charged in an insurance fraud scheme in a hitman-for-hire incident during which Murdaugh called 911 on Sept. 4 saying he’d been the victim of a hit-and-run attack while he was changing a tire on the side of the road. He claimed the bullet grazed his head. On the stand, Murdaugh claimed he’d hired Smith to kill him because he was suicidal. “I meant for him to shoot me so I’d be gone,” he said. Smith has denied wrongdoing.
Several times throughout his testimony to Griffin, Murdaugh sniffled and sobbed when describing finding Maggie and Paul’s bodies. Griffin asked if Murdaugh had touched the bodies, then asked him to specify where on their bodies he’d touched them. Murdaugh said he grabbed Paul by his belt loop and tried to turn him over. When asked where he touched Maggie, his face crumpled. “I think I touched her down around like the — I don’t know,” he whimpered. “I think around her waist but i don’t know. She was so bad.”
At other times during the questioning, Murdaugh referred to his son Paul as “PawPaw” and Maggie as “Mags.” Other recurring mentions included “RoRo” (a nickname for Rogan Gibson, a prosecution witness who identified Murdaugh’s voice on Paul’s video recording), Grandma, and Papa T, who jurors learned are Maggie’s parents. Murdaugh also identified the dogs Bubba and Grady, two labradors who were running around their kennels the evening of June 7, 2021.
At the time of his death, Paul was facing felony charges amid accusations that he had killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach after drunkenly crashing a boat into a bridge. Murdaugh has long suggested the killings were linked to the boating accident. In his testimony Thursday, Murdaugh said for the first time on the court record that Paul had received several threats before his death. “Paul got the most vile threats,” he said. “The stuff that was on social media, I mean it was — you just couldn’t believe it. It was so over the top, truthfully, we didn’t think anything about it.”
Before wrapping up the day’s questioning, Griffin asked Murdaugh to describe his relationships with Maggie and Paul. Murdaugh, shaking and red-faced, described Maggie as a proud mother of their two boys who fought through two difficult pregnancies to build a family. Paul was a tough “country boy” on the outside, he said, but he loved to take his boat out to watch sunsets. “I did not kill Maggie. I did not kill Paul,” he said as snot dripped off of his face. “I would never hurt Maggie. And I would never hurt Paul. Ever. Under any circumstances.”
Prosecutor Creighton Waters began cross-examining Murdaugh around 3:45 pm and completed close to two hours of questioning before the jury was dismissed for the evening. After the jury left, Waters estimated he had another three to four hours of questions for Murdaugh on Friday. Re-direct examination may continue into Monday.