(NEW YORK) — Alex Murdaugh, a disgraced South Carolina attorney accused of killing his wife and youngest son, testified in his own defense in his double murder trial — admitting to jurors that he lied to investigators but denying that he committed the brutal murders.
The bodies of Margaret Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were found dead from multiple gunshot wounds near the dog kennels at the family’s home near Islandton, South Carolina, in June 2021, authorities said.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, who called 911 to report the discovery, was charged with their murders 13 months later.
Alex Murdaugh took to the stand for the second day in a row on Friday. In their cross-examination, prosecutors grilled the former attorney on his actions around the time investigators believe the murders occurred. Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked him to recount what he did during a “crucial” four-minute period around 9 p.m. that night, when Alex Murdaugh said he was in his home getting ready to visit his mother. Waters asked Alex Murdaugh if phone calls he made during that time, including to his wife, was to “manufacture an alibi.”
“It is an absolute fact that I am not manufacturing an alibi,” Alex Murdaugh said. “I never manufactured any alibi in any way shape or form, because I did not and would not hurt my wife and my child.”
Weeks into the trial, Alex Murdaugh was called to take the stand by his defense team on Thursday. His attorney, Jim Griffin, asked right away if he shot his wife and son in the head.
“No, I did not,” Alex Murdaugh said. “I didn’t shoot my wife or my son any time, ever.”
He grew emotional when asked by his lawyer what he saw at the scene of their murders.
“I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” he told the jurors, crying. “So bad.”
Prosecutors have focused on footage taken from Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone the night of the murders, including a video taken at the kennels several minutes before the victims were believed to be killed that investigators said has Alex Murdaugh talking in the background. Alex Murdaugh told investigators early in the case that he was not down by the kennels that night and had last seen his wife and son at dinner before finding bodies upon returning home from visiting his mother.
When asked by his lawyer about those prior statements, Alex Murdaugh admitted to lying to investigators.
“I did lie to them,” he said, and confirmed he was in the video the night of their murders on June 7, 2021.
When asked why he lied about the last time he saw his wife and son, Murdaugh blamed his addiction to painkillers, which he said caused “paranoid thinking.”
“On June the 7th, I wasn’t thinking clearly,” he said. “I don’t think I was capable of reason and I lied about being out there and I’m so sorry that I did.”
Alex Murdaugh detailed on the stand a 20-year addiction to opioids, noting that he has been clean for 535 days.
“I battled that addiction for so many years, I was spending so much money on pills,” he said.
During the cross-examination on Friday, Waters later asked Alex Murdough about family, friends and colleagues he has lied to over the past decade.
“You’ve been able to lie quickly and easily and convincingly if you think it’ll save your skin for well over a decade. Isn’t that true?” Waters asked Alex Murdaugh. “And you want this jury to believe a story manufactured to fit the evidence that you brought forth just yesterday after hearing this trial’s worth of testimony?”
Alex Murdaugh disputed that, replying, “That’s not correct.”
Alex Murdaugh told the court Friday that he lied to investigators about the last time he saw his wife and son due in part to his distrust of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), a state investigative agency. He said that being asked about his relationship with his wife and getting tested for gunshot residue following the murders triggered his paranoia.
Prosecutors wrapped their cross-examination by showing a clip of body-camera footage of the first deputy arriving at the scene of the killings, prior to SLED’s arrival, during which Waters noted that Alex Murdaugh also “told the same lie.”
“All those reasons that you just gave this jury, about the most important part of your testimony, was a lie, too, isn’t that true, Mr. Murdoch?” Waters asked, to which Alex Murdough responded, “I disagree with that.”
Alex Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison without parole if convicted of the killings, for which he has pleaded not guilty and adamantly denied.
During the trial, which began last month, prosecutors have presented more than 60 witnesses and evidence, including body camera footage of police arriving at home following the murders and an interview Alex Murdaugh gave to police two months later, in which he denied killing his wife and son.
In the body camera footage from that night, a distraught Alex Murdaugh told officers, “It’s bad, it’s bad,” and mentioned that his son had been getting threats following a boat wreck he was involved in.
At the time, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on a charge of allegedly boating under the influence after a crash in February 2019 that killed a 19-year-old woman, Mallory Beach of South Carolina.
In the months following his wife’s and son’s murders, Alex Murdaugh resigned from his law firm, which sued him for allegedly funneling stolen money from clients and the law firm into a fake bank account for years. He also said he entered a rehab facility.
Prosecutors claim that Alex Murdaugh, who comes from a legacy of prominent attorneys in the region, killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from his alleged financial wrongdoings.
Meanwhile, the defense has portrayed him as a loving husband and father and argued that police ignored the possibility that anyone else could have killed them.
During hours of questioning on Thursday, Alex Murdaugh’s attorney asked if he believed his “financial house of cards was about to crumble” on June 7, 2021, to which Alex Murdaugh replied, “Absolutely not.”
The trial adjourned Thursday evening while prosecutors were in the middle of questioning Murdaugh about his financial dealings as a lawyer — during which he admitted to stealing money from several clients.
“I did a lot of damage, I wreaked a lot of havoc, there’s no question,” Alex Murdaugh said.
The defense ended their questioning on Friday by again asking Alex Murdaugh if he murdered his wife and son.
“I would never hurt Maggie. … I would never hurt Paul,” Alex Murdaugh said. “If I was under the pressure that they’re talking about here, I can promise you I would hurt myself before I would hurt one of them. Without a doubt.”
Court is adjourned until Monday morning. The defense is expected to have four more witnesses before the state is allowed its rebuttal. Closing arguments are expected to take place Wednesday before the case is turned over to the jury.
The trial has drawn a packed courtroom, with lines outside. After two jurors tested positive for COVID-19, both sides were worried an outbreak could sicken more jurors and force a mistrial.
Alex Murdaugh faces about 100 other charges for allegations ranging from money laundering to staging his own death so his surviving son could cash in on his $10 million life insurance policy.
He was also charged for allegedly misappropriating settlement funds in the death of his housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who reportedly died after a falling accident in the Murdaugh family home in February 2018.
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