Walterboro, South Carolina
Alex Murdaugh took the stand to testify in his double murder trial Thursday morning, admitting he lied to investigators when he said he was not at the scene of the killings of his wife and son minutes before the state says the fatal shootings took place in June 2021.
Almost immediately, Murdaugh acknowledged his voice is heard in a video that appeared to be filmed at the dog kennels where the bodies of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh were found, saying he lied about being at the kennels earlier that evening because of “paranoid thinking” stemming from his drug addiction.
The state has used the video to put Murdaugh at the scene of the killings, contradicting his repeated statements to law enforcement that he had not been there that night, and numerous witnesses have identified his voice in the background of the video recorded by Paul at 8:44 p.m. the night of June 7, 2021.
“Mr. Murdaugh, is that you on the kennel video at 8:44 p.m. on June 7,” defense attorney Jim Griffin asked, “the night Maggie and Paul were murdered?”
“It is,” Murdaugh said, later adding, “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.”
Still, Murdaugh was emphatic in his denial that he shot and killed his wife and son, insisting in response to Griffin’s questions, “I didn’t shoot my wife or my son, anytime, ever.”
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Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the killings of his wife and son at the family’s estate – a property known as Moselle – in Islandton, South Carolina.
Prior to Thursday, Murdaugh had repeatedly denied being at the scene of the fatal shootings. He told investigators he had gone to visit his mother that evening and found the bodies by the kennels when he returned home later that night.
Prosecutors accuse Murdaugh of killing his wife and son to distract from an array of alleged financial crimes, for which the now-disbarred attorney faces 99 charges separate from the murder case. They rested their case last week after calling more than 60 witnesses, working to show Murdaugh lied to investigators in the absence of direct evidence like DNA or an eyewitness.
The defense maintains Murdaugh – the scion of a powerful South Carolina family who held the local solicitor’s office for three generations – is a caring father who has been wrongly accused after a mishandled investigation. But they’re now tasked with persuading a jury Murdaugh is telling the truth about the killings while acknowledging he was dishonest about other parts of his life.
Murdaugh was sworn in Thursday morning, promising to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” soon after telling Judge Clifton Newman he wanted to testify, prompting an audible, collective gasp from the gallery in the Colleton County courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.
Murdaugh opted to take the stand despite Newman’s decision to deny a defense request to limit the scope of questioning Murdaugh would face under cross-examination, specifically in regard to his alleged financial crimes, which the state has pointed to as a possible motive for the killings. Newman ruled he would not issue a blanket order limiting the state’s questions, calling it “unheard of.”
The judge previously ruled to allow prosecutors to present evidence related to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, which the defense has argued are irrelevant to the murder case. The state, however, contends the purported misconduct was about to be revealed at the time of the killings and that he fatally shot his wife and son in order to stave off those looming revelations.
Murdaugh admitted Thursday to stealing from his law firm and his clients, testifying it ultimately led him to resign from his law firm, then known as PMPED.
It has since been renamed Parker Law Group, and several members of the firm, including its CFO, have testified in-depth about discovering Murdaugh’s alleged misdeeds.
“How did you get in such a financial predicament that led you to steal money that wasn’t yours?” Griffin asked.
“I’m not quite sure how I let myself get where I got,” Murdaugh said, but he again indicated it was due to his addiction to opiate painkillers, which dated back to a knee injury he suffered playing football in college. “I battled that addiction for so many years. I was spending so much money on pills.”
Murdaugh testified he went to the Moselle kennels at Maggie’s request the night of the killings, but that he didn’t want to go. He had already showered, he said, and changed his clothes after sweating during a ride with Paul around the property earlier that evening – undercutting questions raised by the state about what he was wearing that night.
A Snapchat video filmed by Paul while they surveyed the property showed Murdaugh wearing long khaki pants and a blue, short-sleeved button-down shirt. But when law enforcement responded to the scene after the bodies were found, he was wearing shorts and a white T-shirt.
“It was hot, and I had just had a shower. I knew that I would end up doing more work and sweating more. And the dogs is always a chaotic scene,” Murdaugh said Thursday. “I just didn’t want to go right then.”
Maggie and Paul went before he did, Murdaugh said, but he ultimately decided to go. He testified he took a golf cart to the kennels, where Maggie had let out the dogs while Paul was “fooling” with the tail of one dog that belonged to his friend.
Soon after, Murdaugh returned to the house, he said, where he lay down on the couch.
“I’m not positive, I dozed off for a minute, or didn’t doze off for a minute,” he said. But when he got up, he’d made up his mind he was going to visit his mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s at her home in nearby Almeda.
Murdaugh testified he spoke earlier that day to one of his mother’s caregivers, Barbara Mixson, who testified Wednesday she called Murdaugh and told him to visit because his mother was “agitated.”
Murdaugh knocked on the door when he arrived, he said, but the other caregiver, Mushell Smith, didn’t hear it so he called Smith to be let in. Smith previously testified for the state that the timing of the nighttime visit was unusual and that Murdaugh had called her when he got to the house.
Griffin asked Murdaugh about GPS data from his vehicle that showed the car stopped for about a minute while in his mother’s driveway. Asked if he was disposing of murder weapons or bloody clothes, Murdaugh said, “No.”
Murdaugh went back to Moselle, where he said he first went to the house. Maggie and Paul weren’t there, he said, and Murdaugh assumed they were still at the kennels, so he went there.
“What’d you see?” Griffin asked.
“I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” Murdaugh told the jury, referring to his wife and son’s bodies, growing emotional and wiping away tears. “So bad.”
“I’m not exactly sure what I did. I know I got out of my car, I know I ran back to my car and called 911,” Murdaugh said. “I was on the phone with 911 and I was trying to tend to Paul Paul,” he said, using his nickname for his youngest son, “and I was trying to tend to Maggie, and I just went back and forth between them.
Paul’s injuries were particularly bad, Murdaugh said, and he recalled trying to check his son’s body for a pulse and then trying to turn him over.
“I don’t know why I tried to turn him over,” an emotional Murdaugh said. “I mean, my boy’s laying face down. 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.”
Griffin played an audio recording of the 911 call, in which Murdaugh was heard saying, “I should’ve known” – a reference, Murdaugh testified, to the purported threats his son was receiving after a February 2019 boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Paul had pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in the accident, though court records showed the charges were dropped after his death. Murdaugh, who owned the boat, was facing a civil lawsuit from Beach’s family.
“He got the most vile threats,” Murdaugh said Thursday, describing social media messages he said were “so over the top, truthfully, we didn’t think anything about it.”
Body camera footage played during the first day of the prosecution’s case showed Murdaugh telling a Colleton County Sheriff’s Office sergeant about the accident and the threats, unprompted, within moments of the deputy arriving on the scene. Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, similarly described the threats when he testified earlier this week.
Murdaugh rebutted earlier testimony about data collected from his cell phone that night, which showed he searched Google for a restaurant in Edisto Beach, read a group text message soon after finding the bodies and called a videographer.
Any of those actions were “unintentional,” he said, adding he was trying to call his brothers and a family friend.
“I’m not trying to call those people. I’m not doing a Google search for any Whaley’s restaurant and I’m certainly not reading any text.”
Murdaugh also rejected the suggestion he had blood on his shirt the night of the murders, saying, “There’s no way that I had high velocity blood splatter on me.”
“I was nowhere near Paul and Maggie when they got shot.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Alex Murdaugh’s last name.