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Murdaugh spars with prosecutor as jurors weigh ex-attorney’s credibility

The lead prosecutor in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh used the disbarred attorney's confession to past misdeeds to paint him as a liar during cross-examination.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh finished his testimony Friday afternoon as the state’s lead prosecutor in the former attorney's double murder case grilled him over the lies and misdeeds that swirled around the killings almost two years ago of his wife and son.

Murdaugh confessed he abused pain pills for decades while stealing millions of dollars from his family’s law firm and its clients. He lied to authorities and family about where he was the night his wife Maggie and son Paul were brutally gunned down on the family’s estate. After the murders, he staged his own roadside suicide so his other son could collect from his multimillion-dollar life insurance policy, he admitted.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters used those misdeeds to attack the defendant’s credibility during cross-examination, raising an essential question for the jurors who will decide if the once-respected attorney committed the heinous crimes: Why should we trust him now?

Murdaugh managed to keep his cool across more than six hours of cross-examination — the minimum bar for any defendant who makes the perilous decision to take the witness stand. But Waters pounced on the ex-attorney’s sometimes stilted responses and cornpone expressions as the two men fought for credibility in front of the jury.

The defendant's repeated response to questions about the millions he stole from his former clients — “I stole money that didn’t belong to me. I misled people. And I was wrong” — prompted Waters to ask him Thursday afternoon how often he practiced the answer before testifying. Murdaugh denied rehearsing.

The prosecutor also questioned why the defendant kept referring to his son as “Pawpaw” — a nickname he had not previously used in interviews. Murdaugh said it wasn't unusual, but he offered to use his son's formal name if it made the prosecutor more comfortable.

Murdaugh called 911 shortly after 10 p.m. on June 7, 2021, to report finding Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son shot to death at the dog kennels on the family’s sprawling hunting estate in Colleton County. He told investigators and family members that he did not visit the kennels that night, but instead slept on the couch before leaving to visit his ailing mother.

The alibi would crumble in March, when federal agents cracked the passcode on Paul’s cellphone. On it, they found a video Paul recorded at 8:44 p.m. outside the kennels — minutes before the son and mother would stop answering text messages and phone calls. More than a half dozen witnesses have testified at the trial they hear Alex’s distinctive voice in the video.

Murdaugh told the jury he lied to investigators about visiting the kennels on the night of the murders, in part, because his opioid use made him paranoid. On Friday, Waters played a recording of the defendant’s first interview with the state’s lead investigator and asked if he could pinpoint when specifically his “dope paranoia” made him lie.

The prosecutor called Murdaugh a “busy bee” around the time of the murders. The ex-attorney’s cellphone recorded him traveling nearly 300 footsteps in a four-minute period shortly after 9 p.m. Murdaugh testified Thursday he was only at the kennels a few minutes before returning to the house.

Why the frantic movement, then, Waters wondered.

The defendant could not say for certain.

The lawyer and the ex-lawyer quibbled over the definitions of “successful” and “accountability” during the two-day inquisition. They parsed the meaning of a lie so thoroughly it would make an ethics professor weep.

As he neared the end of questioning, Walters asked Murdaugh if he was a “family annihilator.”

“Like did I shoot my wife and son?” the defendant asked. “No, I would never shoot my wife and son under any circumstances.”

Murdaugh offered his theory for the murders. He claimed “half-truths” and “misrepresentations” caused a media firestorm after his son was charged with boating while intoxicated in a 2019 crash that killed a 19-year-old girl. The father did not take seriously the “vile” attacks digital trolls hurled at his son, but the assailant must have, he testified, as evidenced by the brutality inflicted on Paul.

“I believed then it was the boat wreck, and I believe now it was the boat wreck,” he said.

Waters said Murdaugh had no evidence to support the “random vigilante” theory, pointing out an assailant would need to know the family’s schedules and estate’s layout to commit the murders in such a short window of time.

Waters hammered in his final questions on Murdaugh’s confession that he lied to dozens of people – friends, family members, law clients, colleagues and investigators.

“You are just able to do that so easily and so convincingly and so naturally, aren’t you?” Waters asked.

“That’s not for me to judge,” Murdaugh replied.

On that point, the men agreed.

The trial is expected to continue Monday with more witnesses from the defense.

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