(AP) – Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh denied killing his wife and son but admitted lying about when he last saw them alive as he took the stand in his own defense Thursday at his double murder trial.
Murdaugh, 54, is charged with fatally shooting his wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, who were killed near kennels on their property on June 7, 2021. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted. In his testimony, Murdaugh continued to staunchly deny any role in the killings.
“I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them,” Murdaugh said, tears running down his cheeks.
Prosecutors spent four weeks of testimony painting Murdaugh as a liar who stole money from clients and decided to kill his wife and son because he wanted sympathy to buy time to cover up his financial crimes that were about to be discovered. They have detailed what they called lie after lie, saying Murdaugh reacts violently when the truth is about to emerge, like trying to arrange his own death after his law firm fired him three months after the killings.
Taking the stand on day 23 of the trial, Murdaugh admitted he lied to police about being at the kennels with his wife and son shortly before the killings. But he blamed his addiction to opioids for clouding his thinking and creating a distrust of state law enforcement agents.
“As my addiction evolved over time, I would get in these situations, these circumstances where I would get paranoid thinking,” Murdaugh said.
The once-prominent attorney had told police that he was visiting his ailing mother in another town and not near his Colleton County home in the hours before the killings. But several witnesses testified that they believed they heard Murdaugh’s voice along with his son and wife on cellphone video taken at the kennels about five minutes before the shootings.
Once he started lying about being at the kennels, he said he felt he had to continue: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Once I told a lie — I told my family — I had to keep lying.”
Murdaugh testified that his wife asked him to go to the kennels the evening of the killings, so he rode down in a golf cart and wrestled a chicken away from a dog before returning to the house and deciding to go visit his ailing mother.
He said that, after returning home from visiting his mother, neither his wife nor son was in the house. After several minutes, Murdaugh said, he drove his SUV to the kennels where he said he last saw them.
Murdaugh described arriving to find the grisly scene of the killings, pausing for several seconds as he cried. “It was so bad,” he said.
Murdaugh said he briefly tried to roll over his son, who was lying face down, to check on him but decided he couldn’t do anything to help.
“I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn’t know what to do,” Murdaugh said.
He testified that he also checked on his wife before calling 911 and then went back to the house to get a gun for safety.
Witnesses who saw Murdaugh in the minutes and hours after the shooting said they didn’t see any blood on him, despite the gruesome crime scene.
Several witnesses, including Maggie Murdaugh’s sister, have testified that Alex Murdaugh didn’t appear scared for the safety of himself or his surviving son in the weeks after the killings despite the brutality of the shootings and no apparent leads from police.
Throughout his testimony, Murdaugh called his son “Paul Paul” and his wife “Mags,” though he didn’t use those nicknames in three interviews with police the night of the killings, three days later and months later.
Defense attorneys told the judge that Murdaugh might not have testified at all if prosecutors hadn’t been allowed to introduce evidence of financial crimes.
Murdaugh is charged with about 100 other crimes, ranging from stealing from clients to tax evasion. He is being held without bail on those charges, so even if he is found not guilty of the killings, he will not walk out of court as a free man. If convicted of most or all of those financial crimes, Murdaugh would likely spend decades in prison.