In a murder trial that has gripped the US, the heir of a South Carolina legal dynasty has admitted to lying about his whereabouts on the night his wife and son were killed.
But Alex Murdaugh, 54, denied ever hurting Maggie or Paul Murdaugh, who were fatally shot at the family’s secluded hunting estate in June 2021.
The former lawyer took the stand on Thursday in week five of the trial.
Mr Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison without parole if convicted.
The trial in Walterboro has rocked the southern corner of South Carolina, where the defendant’s family has dominated the legal landscape for more than a century.
Prosecutors have argued that Mr Murdaugh killed Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, in a desperate attempt to gain sympathy and conceal a decade of financial crimes.
Mr Murdaugh, who has admitted to stealing from clients and colleagues, is facing nearly 100 separate financial charges, with prosecutors alleging he stole about $8.8m (£7.3m).
The defence team has dismissed this theory at trial, saying Mr Murdaugh would never have “butchered” his family.
In court on Thursday, Mr Murdaugh wept as he recalled the night he found Maggie and Paul dead.
“I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” he told jurors, referring to graphic photos of the crime scene. “So bad.”
And he addressed perhaps the most incriminating element of the prosecution’s case: that he had lied about being with Maggie and Paul at the dog kennels on the family property shortly before they were killed.
A mobile phone video taken at the kennels by Paul about five minutes before prosecutors say the killings took place, which featured both Alex Murdaugh and Maggie’s voices in the background, contradicted the defendant’s claims that he had been napping inside the family home.
“Once I lied,” he said, “I continued to lie.” He blamed the earlier denials on paranoia from his years-long addiction to painkillers.
That addiction also featured prominently in his testimony. Mr Murdaugh told jurors a knee injury in college led to a deep dependence on oxycodone, one that he drained his bank account to sate.
“I’m not quite sure how I let myself get where I got,” Mr Murdaugh said.
He also referred to one of the more bizarre elements of his saga: a hoax attempt on his life.
He called police in September 2021 – nearly three months after the murders of his wife and son – saying he had been shot in the head on the side of a rural road.
But he later admitted he had paid a distant cousin to shoot him, hoping his surviving son, Buster, could collect on his life insurance policy.
The jury also heard a recording of the 911 call Mr Murdaugh made after his wife and son were killed. In it, he is heard saying: “I should have known.”
Mr Murdaugh explained his statement by saying his son Paul had been the subject of death threats on social media that the family did not take seriously.
“We disregarded it because it was so over the top,” he said.
Through hours of questioning, Mr Murdaugh maintained a mostly contrite demeanour, even under cross-examination by lead prosecutor Creighton Waters.
An animated Mr Waters, who paced around the court during questioning, pushed Mr Murdaugh with increasing intensity on a litany of alleged financial crimes.
“I was wrong,” Mr Murdaugh said, over and over again. “I remember stealing from people, I remember lying to people and I remember misleading people.”
But Mr Murdaugh rejected assertions by Mr Waters that he was concerned about his “financial house of cards” collapsing.
“You have charged me with the murder of my wife and son and I have sat here for all these weeks listening to all this financial stuff that I did wrong, that I’m embarrassed by,” Mr Murdaugh said.
But he denied resorting to violence.
Cross-examination will resume on Friday.
Source – BBC News
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