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Murdaugh son testifies about slayings of mom and brother at South Carolina home

Alex Murdaugh's eldest son took the witness stand as defense attorneys tried to raise doubts about their client's guilt in the closely watched double murder trial.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — The eldest son of disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh testified Tuesday about phone conversations he had with his father on the day his mother and brother were gunned down at the family’s hunting estate.

Buster Murdaugh was the first major witness called by defense attorneys as the family patriarch and former part-time prosecutor battles charges he killed his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul. The surviving son recounted for jurors several phone calls he had with his father on the day of the murders and the Murdaugh clan’s close bond.

A forensic expert raised doubts in the afternoon about whether the defendant, who stands over 6 feet tall, could have reasonably fired some of the shots that killed his wife.

Murdaugh called authorities shortly after 10 p.m. on June 7, 2021, to report finding his loved ones’ bodies near the kennel on the family’s 1,772-acre hunting estate in Colleton County. Maggie, 52, was shot four or five times with an assault rifle, while her 22-year-old son was killed with two blasts from a shotgun.

It was a shocking tragedy for the prominent family, who for decades had prosecuted crimes as the 14th Judicial Circuit's elected solicitor while also running a high-powered law firm. Murdaugh was heir to that legal dynasty, continuing to work part-time as a prosecutor while building a small fortune litigating personal-injury cases.

Some have questioned whether the attorney’s prominence caused missteps in the murder investigation. The lead state investigator on the case was grilled last week about evidence that was overlooked in the early days of the case and misstatements he made to the state’s grand jury. The murder weapons were never located and forensic evidence is scant.

Among the state's strongest evidence is a cellphone video Paul recorded at the crime scene only minutes before he and his mother stopped answering text messages and phone calls, suggesting they were murdered soon thereafter. Murdaugh told investigators he never visited the kennels that night, but more than a half dozen witnesses testified they recognized the defendant’s voice on the video.

Despite his lofty perch in the community, Murdaugh was a cunning thief, prosecutors say, who stole millions from his family’s law firm and its clients in a decadeslong scheme. By the state’s theory, the attorney slayed his kin in a desperate bid to keep investigators from uncovering those long-hidden crimes and save himself from financial and professional ruin.

The defense’s presentation began Friday afternoon with brief testimony from the Colleton County coroner and a former spokeswoman for the local sheriff’s office. Defense attorney Jim Griffin told Judge Clifton Newman they expected to rest their case in the monthlong double murder trial by Friday.

Buster took the stand Tuesday morning. Red-haired like his father, the son sported a navy blazer and white dress shirt as he thoughtfully answered the attorneys’ questions. His father smiled proudly from the defense’s table as his son testified, and patted him on the back during a break in testimony, a courtroom photo showed.

The eldest son showed little emotion on the stand, even as he described learning about his loved ones’ deaths. He said the family called and texted each other often, particularly while they were on the road. He confirmed his father called him around 9:10 p.m. on July 7 – minutes after prosecutors believe the defendant committed the murders – but there was nothing unusual about the conversation. His dad seemed “normal” as they chit-chatted about their days, he said.

His dad called again about an hour later and asked if he was sitting, Buster testified.


“He sounded odd,” he said. “And then he told me my mom and brother had been shot.”

Buster and his girlfriend packed their belongings and drove from Rock Hill to the hunting estate, he testified. He found his father “destroyed” and “heartbroken" when they arrived at the hunting estate. They spent the next two weeks attending the funerals and grieving with family, he testified.

Neither of them spent another night at the Moselle property after the tragedy, he testified.

The eldest son was not asked about the kennel video, but he did address an alleged confession his father made to investigators three days after the murders. A state police investigator told jurors he heard Murdaugh admit between muffled cries, “I did them so bad,” referring to his wife and son’s slayings. Buster, who has attended every day of the trial and heard a recording of the interview, testified his father said, “They did him so bad.”

His grieving father made the same statement several times after the murders, Buster testified.

The defendant coached his sons’ sports teams and had never been violent, except maybe spankings when they were young, the son testified. If there was a problem, they solved it by talking.

Buster testified he knew “a little bit” about his dad’s opioid addiction. He said his father went to a detox center around Christmastime in 2018 and tried to “self-detox” at home a few times. He believed his father had quit the habit, but prosecutors revealed text messages Friday that showed Paul and Maggie had confronted the defendant about his drug use just a month before they were killed.

On May 6, Paul said in a text message to his father they “have to talk.”

“Mom found several bags of pills in your computer bag,” the younger son wrote.

Murdaugh wrote to his wife the next day: “I am very sorry that I do this to all of you. I love you.”

In September, the prominent attorney’s drug habit would become public amid the allegations that first landed him in jail. On Sept. 3, Murdaugh resigned from his family’s law firm after his partners confronted him about millions of dollars he allegedly stole from law clients. The next day, Murdaugh allegedly asked his drug dealer, Curtis “Fast Eddie” Smith, to shoot him in a botched suicide scheme he hoped would net his surviving son a $10 million payout from his life insurance policy.

The would-be assassin’s bullet instead winged Murdaugh, resulting in a hospital stay and the first in a stack of indictments that would pile ever higher in the following months, as prosecutors charged the Lowcountry lawyer with theft, fraud, drug trafficking and, finally, the murders.

Buster testified Tuesday he had no knowledge about the alleged thefts.

Mike Sutton, a forensic engineer for North Carolina’s Accident Research Specialists, offered his expert opinion on the ballistics in the murder case. Like state investigators, his team created a digital map of the crime scene to determine the trajectory of the bullets that slayed the victims.

Sutton testified two rifle rounds that struck a quail pen and doghouse near the kennels were “unlikely” to have been fired by someone of Murdaugh’s height. Murdaugh is at least 6-foot-3, but Sutton theorized the shooter was a little over 5 feet tall.

“In my opinion, it’s very unlikely he fired that shot,” he testified, referring to the defendant.

He acknowledged in cross-examination he did not know if the bullet that hit the quail pen ricocheted, which would change his analysis. The bullets' trajectories did not support a crouched or prone shooter, he testified, but prosecutor David Fernandez argued a taller assailant could have fired the rounds if he or she was farther from the dwelling.

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