Alex Murdaugh has told his murder trial about his son Paul’s heartwarming words to friends in the wake of a boat crash that killed his 19-year-old friend - for which he was criminally charged.
Testifying in his own defence against charges for killing Paul and his wife Maggie at Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina on Thursday, Mr Murdaugh recounted how a friend of his son shared in his eulogy that Paul had encouraged friends to be appreciative in life.
The disgraced legal scion theorised that his late son had become more perceptive and empathic following a boat crash he was involved in back in 2019. Paul, then 19, was allegedly drunk driving the family’s boat when it crashed, throwing him and his friends overboard and killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
“[Paul’s friend] said Paw Paw would tell his friends, ‘Be present, appreciate where you are, the things you have, and the people around you,” Mr Murdaugh said. “I think all that came after Mallory died.”
The prosecution has argued that Mr Murdaugh committed the murders to divert attention from his growing financial and legal troubles - including a lawsuit over the boat crash.
Mr Murdaugh also said that Paul had been “misrepresented in the media,” with “not a single article” portraying him in a good light.
At the time of Paul’s death, he was also awaiting trial on charges of boating under the influence and faced up to 25 years in prison.
The Murdaugh family reached a wrongful death settlement with the Beach family earlier in January.
“He is the most special boy,” Mr Murdaugh said as he fought tears. “Did I love him? I sure loved him.”
“I would never hurt Maggie. And I would never hurt Paul. Ever. Under any circumstances.”
The disbarred lawyer also said Paul was “loyal” and “sweet” and would often check on his grandparents, and take his friends on the boat “and go watch a sunset.”
Mr Murdaugh also described his slain wife as a devoted wife and mother, who had dedicated her life to “her boys.”
Although the couple had initially wanted to have a big family but had decided to stop having children after Paul was born because both her two pregnancies made her incredibly sick.
“I just think how hard it was on her just made her love those boys so much more,” he said. “She never took not working for granted. She might not have worked, but I promise you she worked. She made sure me, Paul and Buster had everything.”
Earlier in his bombshell testimony, Mr Murdaugh recounted making the gruesome discovery of his loved ones’ bodies on the night of 7 June 2021.
“I’m not exactly sure of what I did,” Mr Murdaugh said as he broke down in tears. “I know I got out of my car and then went back in my car to call 911.”
“I was trying to tend to Paw Paw, I was trying to tend to Maggie. I was going back and forth between them.”
Mr Murdaugh said he tried checking for a pulse and turning Paul’s body, but acknowledged that he knew he was dead.
“I don’t know why I tried to turn him over. I mean, my boy is laying face down and I knew he was gone the way he was,” he said through sobs. “I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk, I did not know what to do.”
Mr Murdaugh also addressed a Snapchat video recorded by Paul around 8.40pm on the night of the murders, which placed him in the dog kennels shortly before the shooting. The accused killer confessed that he had lied to investigators when he said he wasn’t at the kennels because he had developed “paranoia” due to his opioid addiction.
“As my addiction evolved over time, I would get any situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid thinking,” he said. “It might be a look somebody gave me, it might be a reaction somebody had to something I did, it might be a policeman following me in a car.”
“That night, June 7th, after finding Maggs and Paul … 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.”
The decision for Mr Murdaugh to testify comes as the defence plans to wrap up its case on Friday – a case that seeks to present the alleged killer and financial fraudster as a loving family man who would never have murdered his wife and son.
So far, jurors have heard from 11 defence witnesses including experts who testified about mistakes in the preservation of crime scene evidence, a ballistics expert who claimed Maggie’s shooter was 5’2” tall and not the 6’4” Mr Murdaugh, and the accused killer’s surviving son Buster.
In total, 61 prosecution witnesses covered a trove of circumstantial evidence, including cellphone and car data, a damning video allegedly placing Mr Murdaugh at the crime scene and apparent holes in his alibi for the time of the murders.
Mr Murdaugh’s decision to testify will also give the prosecution a major opportunity to cross-examine him on the plethora of scandals that surround the murders of his son and wife.
Mr Murdaugh, once a scion of a legal dynasty in his home state, is now facing at least 100 other criminal charges over a string of financial fraud allegations from his former law firm. He has also allegedly conspired to pay a hitman to shoot him dead so that his surviving son Buster would inherit a $10m life insurance.
The 54-year-old is facing life in prison on the murder charges.