S. Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh admits lying, denies guilt at murder trial
By Nathan Layne
(Reuters) -Richard "Alex" Murdaugh, the disbarred South Carolina attorney charged with murdering his wife and son, admitted to lying to investigators about his whereabouts on the night of the killings but denied any guilt in dramatic testimony on Thursday.
Four weeks into the high-profile trial, Murdaugh took the stand to testify that he did not shoot his wife, Maggie, 52, or 22-year-old son Paul, who were both gunned down at dog kennels on the family's estate on June 7, 2021.
"I didn't shoot my wife or my son anytime, ever," Murdaugh said in response to questions from his lawyer Jim Griffin, who wrapped up his questioning in mid-afternoon on Thursday. "I was nowhere near Paul and Maggie when they got shot," he added.
During roughly two hours of cross examination before the judge recessed for the day, the lead prosecutor focused on Murdaugh's financial crimes, in an apparent effort to establish his dishonesty. The prosecution will continue its examination on Friday.
Murdaugh, the scion of an influential South Carolina legal family, was indicted by a grand jury in July on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon in connection with the shootings. He pleaded not guilty.
The murders have been subject to intense media coverage given the political influence of the Murdaugh family in the low-lying region of South Carolina in which they took place, as well as a string of scandals hanging over the defendant, once a prominent personal injury attorney in the state.
Prosecutors have said Murdaugh killed his wife and child to generate sympathy and distract from an array of financial crimes for which he is also facing criminal charges, an alleged motive that Murdaugh's lawyers have argued does not make sense.
Murdaugh admitted to stealing funds from clients and his law partners, a transgression he blamed on an expensive addiction to opioids. He said he started taking opioids after knee surgeries some two decades ago, and sought help multiple times, including three trips to a detox facility since 2017.
"I battled that addiction for so many years. I was spending so much money on pills," Murdaugh said.
LIED TO CLIENTS
State prosecutor Creighton Waters walked Murdaugh through a series of cases he had worked on, getting him to acknowledge that he lied to clients, including one left a quadriplegic from an accident, and personally pocketed huge sums from injury settlements.
"Every single one of these you had to sit down and look somebody in the eye and convince them that you were on their side," said Waters, who did not ask a single question about the murders during his first two hours of cross examination.
Waters estimated he would need three to four hours to finish his cross when the trial resumes.
Among the critical evidence seen by jurors was a cellphone video in which Murdaugh's voice could be heard at the kennels minutes before his wife and son were fatally shot at close range, contradicting what he had told investigators following the incident.
Murdaugh, 54, said he was suffering from paranoia tied to his drug addiction and did not trust the police.
"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 testified.
Murdaugh testified that he left the kennels after removing a chicken from the mouth of one of their dogs. He said he returned to the family home and later drove to visit his mother, who has Alzheimer’s - all the while unaware that Maggie and Paul had been killed.
Rocking back and forth and with tears running down his face, Murdaugh said he returned to the kennels later that evening and found his wife and son motionless and disfigured.
"I saw what y'all have seen pictures of," Murdaugh said, describing Paul's condition in graphic detail. "I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn't know what to do."
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis)