Alex Murdaugh faces cross examination after admitting to lying, stealing but denying double murder

353
0

Disbarred South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh denied killing his wife and son but admitted to lying to investigators Thursday as he testified in his own defense in his double murder trial.

Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in connection with the 2021 shootings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. He has pleaded not guilty.

At the outset of his testimony, Murdaugh vehemently denied shooting Maggie and Paul on June 7, 2021, at the family’s property in Colleton County.

“I didn’t shoot my wife or my son anytime, ever,” he said under questioning by his defense team. “I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them. Ever. Ever.”

On Wednesday, defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Judge Clifton Newman if Murdaugh would be able to use his Fifth Amendment protection against incriminating himself in the nearly 100 other financial crimes he is accused of, including stealing from clients, money laundering, tax evasion and insurance fraud. Newman said prosecutors generally get wide latitude in cross examination.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is seeking life in prison if Murdaugh is convicted.

Murdaugh admits to lying to investigators

Murdaugh admitted that his voice could be heard on a cellphone video taken at the kennels where Maggie and Paul were killed about five minutes before the shootings and that he repeatedly lied to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators about that last time he saw his wife and son, whom he referred to by nicknames “Mags” and “Pau-Pau” on the stand.

Murdaugh, appearing at times emotional and at a loss for words, told defense attorney Jim Griffin that he lied to agents about his whereabouts the night of the murders because of his distrust for the agency and paranoia induced by drug addiction. Murdaugh was treated after the murders for oxycodone dependence.

“I did lie to them,” he said. “I don’t think I was capable of reason and I lied about being down there and I’m so sorry that I did.”

Murdaugh testifies about the day of the murders

Murdaugh recounted the day of the killings, saying he met with Paul after work to spend time together on their property. He addressed a Snapchat video taken by his son that shows Murdaugh wearing different clothes from those in which he was later seen by responding officers.

Murdaugh said he showered and changed clothes after getting sweaty from moving around the property and taking drugs.

After spending time with the family’s dogs in the kennels, Murdaugh said, he went to visit his ailing mother. Murdaugh said stopped briefly in her driveway before driving home and denied using that time to dispose of a murder weapon or bloody clothes.

Murdaugh broke down as he recounted discovering the bodies of his wife and son. He testified that he called 911 as he tried to “tend” to Maggie and Paul.

“Paul was so – he was so bad,” Murdaugh said. “I know I tried to check him for a pulse. I know I tried to turn him over.”

Murdaugh said he could not remember exactly where he touched his wife’s body.

Witnesses who saw Murdaugh in the minutes and hours after the shooting said they didn’t see any blood on him. Murdaugh testified that he did get blood on him after touching the bodies, but said “there’s no way I had high velocity blood splatter on me.”

“I was nowhere near Paul and Maggie when they got shot,” he said.

Murdaugh explains his actions, comments in the aftermath of the murders

Griffin played the 911 call Murdaugh made after finding the bodies, and Murdaugh explained what he was doing while talking to the dispatcher. Murdaugh repeatedly said he didn’t know why he went back to the main house get a gun and ammunition then indicated he thought the killer might be at large.

“I didn’t know if somebody was still out there,” he said.

Murdaugh could be heard on the 911 call saying “I should have known.” He explained the family disregarded a number of “vile” threats against Paul related to a deadly 2019 boating accident in which he was implicated because they were “so over the top.”

Murdaugh also offered an explanation for suspicious phone activity presented by the prosecution that showed he searched for a restaurant and called a wedding photographer in the moments after the murder. In the rush to call family members, Murdaugh said they must have been an accident.

Murdaugh denied taking a blue tarp or raincoat to his parent’s home during that time in the days after the murders.

The family’s caregiver Mushelle Smith previously testified that roughly a week after the killings, she observed Murdaugh carrying a blue, vinyl object into his mother’s home. SLED Investigators later seized a blue tarp and blue raincoat from that home and the raincoat had “significant” amounts of gunshot primer residue inside and out.

“Never seen it before, never touched it, and don’t know anything about it,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh admits to stealing money, orchestrating assisted suicide plot

Prosecutors allege Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and buy time to cover up his financial crimes that were about to be discovered. Murdaugh admitted to stealing client’s funds, but testified that a confrontation with the former CFO of his law firm about his theft the day of the murders “wasn’t a very big concern.”

“Did you believe that your financial house of cards was about to crumble on June 7?” Griffin asked.

“Absolutely not,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh said he’s “not quite sure” how he got into this financial situation but said he was “spending so much money on pills.” He described how his addiction to opioids began after a knee injury and a series of surgeries and tried multiple times to kick the habit. Murdaugh said he has been sober for 535 days and is “very proud of that.”

Before entering detox September 2021, Murdaugh said he asked a friend, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him. Police said Murdaugh arranged the botched shooting so his surviving son would get a multimillion dollar life insurance payment. But Murdaugh testified that Maggie was the beneficiary for his policy and he “meant for him to shoot me so I’d be gone.”

When asked about his wife, Murdaugh lovingly described her as a wonderful woman whose laugh would light up a room and insisted he would never hurt her. Murdaugh described his son Paul as a good man, who had been misrepresented in the media.

Murdaugh faces tense cross examination

Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters began his sometimes combative cross examination questioning Murdaugh about his family’s legal legacy in South Carolina, his work as a lawyer and his relationship with law enforcement. For three generations, Murdaugh’s family developed legal and political power as back-to-back solicitors of the 14th Judicial Circuit.

Waters questioned Murdaugh about a photo of him wearing a badge at the hospital after the 2019 boat crash involving Paul that took the life of Mallory Beach. Murdaugh admitted he would put his badge in a visible place when talking with law enforcement but said he wasn’t sure why he was visibly wearing the badge. He denied asking anyone not to cooperate with law enforcement during the investigation into the crash.

When asked about his financial misconduct, Murdaugh said he’s not sure when he began stealing money from his clients and appeared to grow frustrated as Waters questioned him about a case from 12 years ago.

“You have charged me with murdering my wife and my son and I’ve sat here all these weeks listening to all this financial stuff that I did wrong that I’m embarrassed by,” he said. “I cannot specifically remember sitting down, the details you’re asking me for.”

Waters repeatedly asked Murdaugh about other clients he stole money from, and Murdaugh insisted what did was wrong but he couldn’t remember all the details.

“Do you have any independent recollection of a time when you sat down and looked at a person in the eye and you are lying to them and convincing them that everything was okay and stole their money?” Waters asked.

“I’m sure I did,” Murdaugh replied.

Cross-examination is expected to resume Friday.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contributing: Michael Dewitt, Jr., Greenville News; The Associated Press

Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at nyanceybra@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg

[Read More…]