Disgraced South Carolina lawyer and double murder suspect Alex Murdaugh took the stand Thursday in his own defense. This highly anticipated and complicated case goes back years and involves a fatal boat accident, fraud, embezzlement, a botched suicide, and multiple murders. The trial will focus on Murdaugh’s murder charges for the shootings of his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22, at the family’s lodge in June 2021. The state rested its case last week with a surprise, last-minute-allowed testimony about the defendant’s admittedly botched 2021 suicide attempt. Although it is rare in the U.S. legal system for criminal defendants to take the stand, Murdaugh was quoted saying, “I am going to testify, I want to testify.” He faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder.
NEW YORK TIMES: Alex Murdaugh Admits Lying to the Police, but Denies Murders: Watch Live Testimony -LIVE COURT RECOUNT
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs; February 23, 2023
On the witness stand, the prominent South Carolina lawyer blamed his addiction to painkillers for his lies to investigators, but said he did not kill his wife and son.
A defense lawyer is playing a recording of Alex Murdaugh’s 911 call from the night of the murders. The defense and prosecution narratives diverge significantly here: Murdaugh says he had just discovered his wife and younger son dead on the ground, while prosecutors say he had actually killed them more than an hour earlier and was faking his emotions.
Prosecutors have suggested, based on tracking data from his car, that Alex Murdaugh did not have time to check on the bodies of his wife and son at the dog kennels — as he claimed — before making a 911 call. But Murdaugh is testifying that he actually tried to check on them as he was on the phone with a 911 operator. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said as he recalled gruesome details about his son’s injuries.
Alex Murdaugh said that when he returned to his family’s home at 10 p.m. after visiting his mother on the night of the murders, he was surprised that his wife and son had not returned from the dog kennels, where they had gone after dinner. He testifies that he drove down to check on them. “I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” he tells the jurors, referring to photos of the crime scene, and begins to cry on the witness stand. “So bad.”
As the jurors hear testimony about Alex Murdaugh’s phone call to his wife on the night of the killings, they will have to weigh whether he was phoning in a genuine effort to check on her — not knowing she had been killed — or if it was, as prosecutors allege, all part of a ruse on his part to seem less suspicious and get away with the murders.
Alex Murdaugh’s lawyer is walking him slowly through the timeline of his movements on the night of the murders. Though he has now admitted to being at the kennels where his wife and son were killed, Murdaugh testifies that he got a chicken out of a dog’s mouth and then drove a golf cart back to their house alone, leaving his wife and son there. “I went straight back to the house, to the air conditioner,” he said.
Murdaugh said he decided to visit his ailing mother, who had Alzheimer’s and lived about a 15-minute drive away. Car and phone records indicate that Murdaugh left the family property at about 9:07 p.m. In the prosecutors’ version of events, this was after he carried out the murders and was an attempt to create an alibi.
Alex Murdaugh said that after he had dinner with his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, on the evening of the murders, she asked him to go down to the dog kennels, which were about 500 yards away from their home on the family’s vast hunting estate. Initially, he said, he did not want to go because he had just taken a shower. That’s where she and their son, Paul Murdaugh, were killed.
Murdaugh testified that later, he did go to the kennels, following after his wife and younger son on a golf cart. Until this testimony — more than 20 months after the murders — he has denied being at the kennels with his wife and son at all that night.
After Alex Murdaugh addressed the trial’s most pressing issues, admitting that he had lied to the police about his whereabouts on the night that his wife and younger son, Paul Murdaugh, were killed but denying that he had done it, he talked about his affection for Paul. “You couldn’t be any closer,” he said of their relationship.
On the stand, Alex Murdaugh apologized to his surviving son and other relatives for lying about when he last saw his slain wife and younger son, but maintains that he did not kill them. He said that once he had lied the first time, he felt he could not stop. “What a tangled web we weave. Once I told a lie — then I told my family — I had to keep lying,” he said.
Alex Murdaugh admitted on the stand that he had lied when he told the police several times in the months after the murders that he had never been with his wife and son at the family’s dog kennels on the night that they were killed there. He blamed his longtime addiction to painkillers, saying he was overly “paranoid.” He also said that his law firm partners were urging him not to talk to anyone without a lawyer present. “I lied about being down there, and I’m so sorry that I did,” he said.
Jim Griffin, one of Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers, wasted no time in getting to the most pressing questions as the defendant took the stand. He asked Murdaugh if he had shot his son or his wife. “No, I did not,” Murdaugh replied several times.
Alex Murdaugh is now taking the witness stand. It’s a big gamble for the South Carolina lawyer, and it could be the difference between whether he is convicted or acquitted in the June 2021 murders of his wife and son. His decision to testify comes after he met with his lawyers until late last night at the local jail, where he has been held throughout the trial.
Court has resumed, and the judge has called for the jury to come back into the courtroom. Alex Murdaugh is about to take the stand.
The judge has called for a 10-minute break. The court will resume at about 10:30 a.m., at which point Alex Murdaugh will take the witness stand to testify in his own defense.
On cross-examination, a prosecutor asked Nolen Tuten, a close friend of Paul Murdaugh, whether he could identify Alex Murdaugh’s voice on a crucial video taken by Paul, Alex’s son, near the Murdaugh family’s dog kennels, where Paul and his mother were killed. Tuten said he heard Alex Murdaugh’s voice in the background of the video, adding to testimony from several other witnesses who said the same thing. That’s important because it contradicts Alex Murdaugh’s claim that he was never at the dog kennels with his wife and son on the night they were killed.
Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers have called one witness before the defendant takes the stand: Nolen Tuten, a close friend of Paul Murdaugh, the son of Alex Murdaugh who was killed. The defense lawyers said they expect Tuten’s testimony to be brief.
Photo: Murdaugh Family Friend