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.