Murdaugh said he lied to SLED about kennels due to addiction


Alex Murdaugh Coverage

The Murdaugh family saga has dominated the news after another shooting, a resignation and criminal accusations — with Alex Murdaugh at the center of it all. Here are the latest updates on Alex Murdaugh.

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Alex Murdaugh strenuously denied killing his wife and son on the witness stand Thursday, but he did admit he lied to state investigators about where he was shortly before they were shot and killed on his rural property.

The moment a closely-watched S.C. double-murder trial has been building to for five weeks came Thursday, as disgraced Lowcountry attorney and accused murderer Murdaugh, 54, took the stand in his own defense at his trial for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul.

Murdaugh took the stand shortly after 10:30 a.m. and was expected to answer questions from defense attorneys throughout Thursday. Prosecutors will get their chance to question Murdaugh later.

Judge Clifton Newman advised Murdaugh early Thursday of his rights, including his right not to testify.

“I am going to testify,” Murdaugh told the judge. “I want to testify.”

Murdaugh was the 11th witness called by the defense, speaking directly to the jury about the murders of his wife and son the night of June 7, 2021. If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of life without parole. He also faces a lengthy prison term on separate charges of a slew of financial crimes, for which he’s been held in jail since October 2021.

A family photo of the Murdaugh’s taken by Marian Proctor, Maggie Murdaugh’s sister, is part of evidence in the Alex Murdaugh trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. Grace Beahm Alford/The Post and Courier/Pool Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan

‘I didn’t shoot my wife or my son’

Defense attorney Jim Griffin started his questions Thursday immediately asking Murdaugh if he killed his wife and son.

“I didn’t shoot my wife or my son anytime ever,” Murdaugh said.

But Murdaugh, who sat at the witness stand mostly positioning his focus and body toward the jury who will decide his fate, did admit he was at the dog kennels with Maggie and Paul before the shootings, and that he lied to investigators about being there.

A short video Paul recorded on his cellphone includes Murdaugh’s voice at the home’s dog kennels moments before the murders are believed to have taken place. Murdaugh had denied being at the kennels that night before he says he discovered the bodies at the kennels after returning from his mother’s house, and other witnesses have testified he told them he wasn’t there.

He blamed the lie on paranoia induced by his opioid addiction.

“All my partners said don’t talk to anybody without Danny with you,” Murdaugh said, referring to fellow attorney Danny Henderson from Murdaugh’s former law firm.

Normally during his paranoid episodes, “I could reason through it really quickly,” an emotional Murdaugh said through tears. “On June 7, I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I lied about being down there.”

He said he would never have done anything to intentionally harm Maggie and Paul, who he often referred to as”Mags” and “Pau Pau” on the stand.

Murdaugh described how he and Paul rode around the property earlier that evening on June 7, 2021, looking at sunflowers that had recently died on the property. After the drive, Murdaugh said he showered and changed out of the clothes he was seen wearing in a Snapchat video shot by Paul on the ride and into the clothes he’s seen wearing later on police body camera footage, shorts and a white T-shirt.

After dinner, Murdaugh says he did drive down to the kennels where Paul and Maggie had gone, where he says he got a chicken away from the family dog Bubba that it had caught in its mouth. He then went “straight back to the house” and laid down on the couch with the TV on.

Murdaugh said he then went to visit his mother’s house, after the family’s longtime housekeeper asked him to visit when his father was taken to the hospital earlier in the day. He said he stopped for a minute in his mother’s driveway, as shown on data pulled from his car, because his phone had fallen between his console and his seat. He flatly denied that he was disposing of the murder weapons or bloody clothes during this time.

When he returned to Moselle, Murdaugh said he went out to the kennels to look for Maggie and Paul. Asked what he saw, he said “I saw what y’all (the jury) have seen pictures of,” he said crying. “So bad,” he added.

Murdaugh said he tried to turn Paul’s body over by pulling on his belt loop, causing Paul’s cellphone to fall out of his pocket. Asked why he tried to turn his son’s body over, he said, “I don’t know why. He was laying face down, his head was the way it was, I could see his brain on the sidewalk.”

At one point on the 911 call, Murdaugh can be heard saying, “I should have known.” Murdaugh said this was in reference to the threats Paul had received over the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach that Paul was involved in.

“I disregarded it because it was so over the top,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh also told 911 he had seen Maggie and Paul about two hours earlier. At the time of the call, it had been approximately one hour and 20 minutes since Paul shot the video in the kennel.

He also denied looking at a group text that was sent after he found the bodies, or doing a Google search for a restaurant, or calling a videographer he hasn’t spoken to in years, activity that shows up on his phone records during this time. Murdaugh explained that he was doing many things on his phone at that point, and may have opened these things inadvertently.

He said he didn’t remember carrying a blue tarp into his parents’ house, a statement his mother’s caregiver testified to. Investigators later found a blue raincoat in the house with gunshot residue on the inside.

“It certainly wasn’t any time around my dad’s funeral or the weeks following,” he said.

Murdaugh also said he had clothes spread out at many family members’ houses after the murders, when he never returned to Moselle. Prosecutors have alleged he disposed of the clothes he was wearing during the murders, and his housekeeper testified she never again saw the clothes he wore earlier that day.

Alex Murdaugh swears to tell the truth before he takes the stand during his trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. Joshua Boucher/The State/Pool Joshua Boucher [email protected]

Murdaugh faces questions about finances

The defense has asked Newman to limit what questions prosecutors can ask him, saying his testimony could be bogged down by questions about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.

The state alleges the potential exposure of those crimes motivated Murdaugh to kill Maggie and Paul, but Murdaugh has not been tried and convicted on those charges, and his attorneys are likely to advise him not to answer those questions and to object if he’s asked.

Earlier on Thursday, family friend Nolen Tuten testified that he spoke to Paul the day of the murders that he would meet him at the property to plow under some dead sunflowers, but that Tuten got tied up at work and didn’t make it. He said Paul was driving to Moselle when Tuten called him that morning. Tuten was the ninth witness so far to identify Murdaugh’s voice on the video from the kennels.

When Tuten came out to the house later that night after he heard about the shootings, he remembers Murdaugh mentioned the boat crash, which prosecutors allege Murdaugh tried to use to deflect suspicion for the killings.

“The boat crash, the boat crash, the boat crash,” Tuten said recalling Murdaugh speaking that evening after the murders.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Buster Murdaugh, the son of Alex Murdaugh, listens as his father, Alex Murdaugh, testifies in his own trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday, February 23, 2023. Joshua Boucher/The State/Pool Joshua Boucher [email protected]

This story was originally published February 23, 2023, 11:42 AM.

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Bristow Marchant covers local government, schools and community in Lexington County for The State. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 2007. He has more than 10 years of experience covering South Carolina at the Clinton Chronicle, Sumter Item and Rock Hill Herald. He joined The State in 2016. Bristow won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.
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