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Alex Murdaugh testifies he did not kill son and wife, but confesses to a bevy of other misdeeds

It’s rare for a defendant to take the witness stand — rarer still when he has dozens of other charges hanging over his head. Murdaugh confessed to thefts, lies and fraud, but he denied killing his wife and son during Thursday's testimony.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred attorney and former part-time prosecutor at the center of one of the most closely watched trials in South Carolina history, took the stand Thursday and denied he brutally gunned down his wife and son at the family's hunting estate even as he confessed to committing a slew of other misdeeds.

The defendant answered a battery of questions in a day of testimony that wended through the night of the grisly crimes and into the state’s sometimes muddled investigation.

Murdaugh admitted he repeatedly lied about his whereabouts the night of the killings. In three separate interviews, the 54-year-old man insisted he never visited the dog kennels on the estate where Maggie and Paul were found shot to death with two different guns.

The lie was exposed in March when federal investigators discovered a cellphone video his 22-year-old son recorded the night of June 7, 2021, at the crime scene. The family patriarch could be heard in the background of the video shouting about a guinea fowl one of the family’s dogs had caught, according to multiple witnesses who listened to the recording.

Murdaugh told the jurors he lied because his decades-long opioid addiction made him paranoid and he did not trust the state’s investigators. He visited the kennels that night, he testified, but only for a few minutes before going back into the house.

He offered a partial quote from novelist Walter Scott — “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” — before admitting to jurors: “Once I told a lie … I had to keep lying.”

He admitted he stole millions from his former law clients. After the killings, he asked his drug dealer to kill him in a staged roadside homicide so his son could collect from his life insurance policy, he confessed.

He lied, cheated and stole. But he was not a murderer, he said.

“I did not shoot my wife or my son. Anytime. Ever,” he testified.

Murdaugh has cried, smiled, scowled and sometimes even laughed during the month-long double murder trial. Former colleagues have testified that the disbarred attorney was once a charismatic legal tactician who could read people’s emotions and exploit them at trial. South Carolina Prosecutor Creighton Waters suggested in cross-examination that Thursday’s testimony was the chameleonic man’s most bravado performance, as lies tangled up with half-truths in an attempt to fool the jurors and escape a likely life sentence in prison.

It’s rare for a defendant to take the witness stand — rarer still when he has dozens of other charges hanging over his head.

But Murdaugh is a unique defendant. Before the murders, he was the sterling scion of a legal dynasty built by his great-grandfather more than a century ago among the marshy pinelands of the Lowcountry.

Three generations of Murdaughs were elected solicitor, or top prosecutor, for five counties across the southeastern portion of the state. The family built its significant wealth running a private law firm during that time, representing victims of various tragedies across South Carolina.

The ruddy-faced lawyer graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1994 and joined the family’s firm four years later. Murdaugh admitted Thursday he considered running for solicitor himself, but his drug problems made him reconsider.

He still dabbled in prosecutorial work and enjoyed the trappings of the position, according to testimony. He owned two prosecutorial badges, one of which he sometimes kept on his car dashboard, as well as two identification cards from the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. His law firm’s vehicle was equipped with flashing emergency lights he testified were installed with the permission of local law enforcement officials.

The Murdaughs were catapulted into the public eye amid a true-crime renaissance that has turned the bizarre saga and ensuing trial into a lurid spectacle. More than 200,000 people were watching a livestream of Murdaugh’s testimony at one point on the Law & Crime Network’s Youtube page.

Judge Clifton Newman informed Murdaugh of his right against self-incrimination Thursday morning. He affirmed he understood them but still wished to take the stand.

He cried, rubbed his eyes with a tissue and gulped down a bottle of water during testimony. Mucus poured from his nose at one point as he eulogized his wife and son in long soliloquies.

He talked movingly about the difficulties of his wife’s pregnancies and her contagious laugh. He described his son as an industrious and inquisitive “man’s man” with a tender heart, the father testified.

He would never hurt his family members under any circumstances, he said.

But he hurt others, he confessed.

Murdaugh told the jury he became addicted to opiates after he underwent surgery in the early 2000s to repair a knee he injured playing college football. He visited a detox facility three times before the murders, and tried to quit many more times at home, but he could not kick the habit.

“I’m not quite sure how I let myself get where I got,” he testified. “But I battled that addiction for so many years."

He confessed to stealing millions from his law clients and the family firm, in part, to feed the addiction. When the firm's partners, along with his brothers, confronted him about the thefts on Sept. 3, 2021, he was forced to resign.

The next day, he contacted Curtis “Eddie” Smith to buy more opioids, he testified, but instead asked the drug dealer to shoot him. He wanted his son to collect his life insurance policy, worth $12 million at the time, he testified.

“At the time, in the bad place that I was, it seemed like the better thing to do,” he told the jury.

Smith shot the defendant in the head, but he survived and was transferred to a hospital, he told the jury. He initially claimed he was targeted by an unknown assailant, but confessed to investigators a week later it was all a ruse.

Creighton Waters, the state’s lead prosecutor, began cross-examination in the late afternoon. He needled the defendant over his betrayals, asking the ex-attorney several times if he could recount for the jury a time when he looked a client in the eyes, promised he was on their side and then robbed them blind.

He admitted there were many times he had done it, but he could not recall the details.

He instead repeated the same lines like a mea-culpa mantra: “I stole money that didn’t belong to me. I misled people. And I was wrong.”

He admitted not all the money went to opioids. The family could be described as wealthy, Murdaugh testified, and some of the ill-gotten funds went to maintaining their lavish lifestyle.

He stole money from a quadriplegic victim, he admitted. He siphoned money from a child’s settlement account. And he ripped off a woman whose daughter died in a car collision, he confessed.

These were real people, Waters emphasized.

“They were very real people,” the defendant agreed. “The saddest part of this whole thing is — these were people I cared about, and I still did them this way.”

Waters is expected to continue cross-examination Friday.

Follow @SteveGarrisonPC
Categories / Criminal, Law, Trials

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