After almost two years of speculation and a stunning fall from grace as a once-prominent South Carolina lawyer, Alex Murdaugh finally took the stand Thursday to provide a jaw-dropping testimony in his double murder trial, including admitting to stealing from clients and conceding that he’d lied about his whereabouts on the night of the murders because of drug-induced paranoia.
“I did lie to them,” Murdaugh told a packed Colleton County courtroom, four weeks into the trial. “As my addiction evolved over time, I would get into these situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid thinking.”
Breaking down several times on the stand, Murdaugh insisted he did not murder his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and his 22-year-old son, Paul, at the dog kennels of the family’s hunting estate on June 7, 2021.
“I did not shoot my wife or my son anytime. Ever,” he declared almost immediately after taking the stand.
But in order to finally tell his side of the story, he also had to admit that he was at the kennels with his wife and son minutes before they were murdered, even though he previously told investigators that he was asleep at the main house at the time of the slayings.
Prosecutors previously showed jurors a video filmed by Paul at the kennels minutes before the murders, in which Alex and Maggie’s voices could be heard in the background.
Murdaugh said that he initially lied about being at the dog kennels because of his years-long addiction to opioids, which he said made him paranoid. He said that paranoia set in during the first police interview in a squad car after he called 911. (He later said the addiction began in the early 2000s after he had knee surgery for an old football injury.)
“On June 7, I wasn’t thinking clearly. 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 said, before apologizing to his family. “I would never do anything intentionally to hurt them, ever.”
His only surviving son, Buster, leaned forward and put his hands over his mouth as he watched his father, who began to cry on the stand. Several other members of the family sat alongside Buster, including Murdaugh’s two brothers, and often looked down during the damning testimony.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave. Once I told the lie, and I told my family, I had to keep lying,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh, 54, is facing four charges in connection with the June 2021 slayings. Prosecutors allege the brutal slayings were part of a desperate attempt to garner sympathy and evade questions over years of stealing from his law firm and clients.
The decision for Murdaugh to take the stand in what has been deemed the “trial of the century” in South Carolina is highly risky. While Murdaugh is on trial for murder, he is separately facing upwards of 80 criminal charges for a slew of financial misdeeds, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
He is also facing a separate case in connection to a September 2021 fake assisted suicide scheme that would yield a $10 million insurance payout to his only surviving son, Buster. Judge Clifton Newman said Thursday that prosecutors are within their rights to ask questions about his other crimes because jurors have heard evidence about them in court.
Murdaugh briefly described the roadside shooting, telling jurors that he asked his drug dealer to shoot him that day. He confirmed he had two life insurance policies on himself totaling $12 million.
“I meant for him to shoot me so I’d be gone,” Murdaugh said. “I knew all of this was coming to a head. I knew how humiliating it was going to be for my son.”
During cross-examination on Thursday, prosecutor Creighton Waters had Murdaugh reiterate that he stole from his clients and law firm—and that his family had a prominent legacy in the Lowcountry. Waters also had Murdaugh explain his role in the community, including that he was a volunteer assistant solicitor and that he had a badge he kept in the front seat of his car in case he was pulled over.
“I admit candidly in all of these cases that I took money that was not mine, and I shouldn’t have done it. I hate the fact that I did it. I’m embarrassed by it. I’m embarrassed for my son. I’m embarrassed for my family. I don’t dispute it,” Murdaugh said, before criticizing Waters for asking so many questions about his financial crimes during a murder trial. “I misled them. I did them wrong, and I stole their money.”
South Carolina trial attorney Scott Evans, who has been following the case, told The Daily Beast that Murdaugh’s decision to testify “gives him the best shot of solidifying his defense team’s key theme for the jury—that possessing the ability to commit financial crimes is entirely different from possessing the ability and the lack of conscience necessary to massacre your wife and child.”
Throughout the trial, dozens of prosecution witnesses have detailed how Maggie and Paul were murdered with two different guns near the dog kennels—and how Murdaugh allegedly took steps to cover up the crime.
But without the murder weapons, or any DNA evidence tying Murdaugh to the scene, prosecutors have relied on cell phone data and ballistic evidence to make their case. They have been able to poke holes in Murdaugh’s alibi with the video Paul took shortly before the murders.
On Thursday, Murdaugh’s defense attorney asked him to walk jurors through his movements on the day of the murders. Confirming prior testimony, Murdaugh said that he’d asked his wife to come back to the family’s hunting estate that day after she had a doctor’s appointment in Charleston.
“I always, always asked Maggie to come back home and stay with me,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh said that before dinner, he and his son “spent time together” on the property, running around in Buster’s black pickup truck. Jurors previously saw a Snapchat video that showed Murdaugh and his son trying to stand up a tree drooping with its own weight.
“What you see me doing is fooling with a fruit tree,” Murdaugh said of the Snapchat clip, which was filmed around 7:38 p.m. He then broke down on the stand again as he said, “You could not be around Paul, you could not be around him and not having a good time.”
Murdaugh said that after riding around with Paul, he went back to the main house and took a shower. He said that Maggie arrived soon after they ate dinner in the den while watching TV.
After dinner, he said, his wife wanted to go down to the dog kennels to see the family labradors. He said he didn’t want to go down to the kennels because he had just showered and it was hot.
But eventually, he told jurors, he took a golf cart down to the kennels to meet his wife.
“It was a little bit of chaos. It was clear to me that Mags just let the dogs out. The two dogs that were out were really her pet dogs,” Murdaugh said. “Maggie loved Bubba. She loved Grady too, but she had a special place for Bubba.”
Murdaugh admitted that he was still in the kennels when Paul filmed the 8:45 p.m. video, in which he can be heard trying to get a chicken out of Bubba’s mouth.
“I got out of there,” he said, noting that he went back to the main house “to the air conditioner” before he “dozed” off on the couch in front of the TV.
Prosecutors say Paul and Maggie were fatally shot with two different guns at around 8:50 p.m.
Murdaugh said he was unaware of the grisly crime when he eventually got off the couch to visit his mom, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s. He said he didn’t go see his wife and son before leaving because “there wasn’t a reason to go by the kennels at that point.”
He said he texted and called Maggie during the trip to his mom’s house but she didn’t respond. “At that time it didn’t concern me at all. For one, she was with Paul. Number two, it’s not unusual not to be able to get to somebody all the time,” he said. (Prosecutors have argued he texted and called several people during this trip in an attempt to create an alibi.)
When he returned home, Murdaugh said he spent several minutes inside before realizing that Maggie and Paul weren’t there. He wept on the stand as he said he drove down to the kennels to find their bodies.
Asked what he saw, Murdaugh looked down and sobbed. “I saw what y’all have seen pictures of…so bad,” he said.
“I think I jumped out of my car. I’m not sure exactly what I did,” Murdaugh said, adding that he ran back to his car and called the police before returning to check on his wife and son.
“Paul was so bad. At some point, I know I tried to check him for a pulse. I know I tried to turn him over,” Murdaugh said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know why I tried to turn him over. He was laying face down, and he’s done the way he’s done. His head was the way his head was. I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn’t know what to do.”
Prosecutors previously noted that body-camera footage showed Murdaugh wearing a clean white T-shirt when officers arrived at the scene. Experts testified that there were no traces of blood found on the shirt despite his claims he tended to the bloodied bodies.
Murdaugh walked jurors through the moments after he called 911, testifying about how he grabbed a gun out of the main house for his own safety and got blood on his fingertips after touching Maggie and Paul. He said that he also told investigators that night to check his SUV and cellphone data—evidence he said would prove he wasn’t with his wife and son when they were murdered.
After the murders, Murdaugh said that he stayed glued to his surviving son, Buster. He also denied every trying to dispose of a rainjacket covered in gunshot residue at his mother’s house, as prosecutors have alleged.
“Never seen it before. Never touched it. Don’t know anything about it,” he added.
The trial is continues…