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Alex Murdaugh trial viewers incorrectly claim to spot author John Grisham in the courtroom

Eagle-eyed viewers following the explosive Alex Murdaugh murder trial sparked frenzied — but incorrect — speculation that acclaimed author John Grisham was in the courtroom.

Screenshots of a man bearing striking resemblance to Mr Grisham began circulating on Twitter on Thursday as Mr Murdaugh testified in his own defence about the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.

Law&Crime and Court TV both speculated about his appearance, with reporter Cathy Russon tweeting: “I guess a book is coming...”

However, the rumours were swiftly debunked as the man in question was correctly identified as Walterboro Mayor William T Young Jr.

Reporter Jennifer Wood confirmed Mr Young’s identity in a Twitter post, writing: “After chasing this lovely gentleman down the street and speaking with him, I can confirm he is actually the Mayor of beautiful Walterboro and not John Grisham as everyone seems to think.

“It would have been awkward, but he was delightful and got a chuckle out of it.”

Mr Grisham has not publicly commented on the bizarre claims. The Independent has reached out to the author’s representatives for comment.

The trial, now nearing the end of its fifth week, reached a boiling point on Thursday as Mr Murdaugh took the stand.

He began his testimony by defiantly stating he did not shoot Maggie or Paul.

He did, however, admit to lying to investigators about his alibi on the night of the murders, and lying when he said he was never at the kennels where they were killed.

Mr Murdaugh blamed his opioid addiction for giving him “paranoid thinking” and his distrust of SLED which together led him to lie to law enforcement agents, family members and friends on multiple occasions and for the past 20 months.

Alex Murdaugh cries as he testifies at his murder trial (AP)
Alex Murdaugh cries as he testifies at his murder trial (AP)

The disgraced heir to a powerful legal dynasty went on to break down in tears as he described the moment that he claims he discovered the bloodied bodies of his wife Maggie and son Paul by the kennels of the family’s estate.

He sobbed as he faced the jury and repeated the same phrase he was heard making on the night of 7 June 2021 to describe the scene of the murders: “It was so bad.”

“My boy was lying face down... I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

The court heard his 911 call reporting the discovery, in which he claimed he had touched both bloodied bodies. He did not offer an explanation for claims by multiple law enforcement officers on the scene that Mr Murdaugh did not appear to have any blood on his hands or clothing.

Toward the end of several hours of direct examination, Mr Murdaugh confessed to stealing money from his law firm - blaming it on his 20-year opioid addiction.

In a move that sought to undermine the prosecution’s theory of a motive, Mr Murdaugh insisted that he was not concerned that his financial crimes were on the brink of exposure on 7 June 2021 – the day of the murders.

His testimony continued into Thursday afternoon as the prosecution began its questioning.