The defense called its final witness Monday in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a powerful family in rural South Carolina who exists at the hub of a sprawling web of fraud and death.
Murdaugh, 63, is accused of killing his son Paul and his wife Maggie in June 2021 at a 1,700-acre family property in Colleton County. Prosecutors assert that he murdered the two in an effort to relieve the scrutiny he’d been under since a fatal boat crash in 2019 that Paul Murdaugh was involved in. (Paul was accused of crashing a family boat while heavily intoxicated, resulting in the death of one of his friends; Alex was accused of trying to use his family’s influence to scapegoat another individual for the crash, and has since also admitted to having stolen millions of dollars from clients at his law firm over the course of several years.)
Murdaugh’s trial, which is in its sixth week, reached a dramatic culmination last Friday as he testified in his own defense. Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were shot to death at a dog kennel on the Colleton property, and Alex Murdaugh claimed to police as early as the night of their deaths that he had not seen Paul and Maggie since well before the time period in which they are believed to have died. His defense team initially contended that Murdaugh had found them at the kennel only after leaving the property to visit his ailing mother and father, returning to the property’s main house, and then taking a nap.
Investigators, however, discovered what they believed to be Alex Murdaugh’s voice on a video recorded at the kennel on Paul Murdaugh’s phone just before activity on the phone stopped. Prosecutors have attempted to establish that the voice in question was in fact Alex Murdaugh’s; on the stand, Alex admitted that it was, but asserted that after he saw Paul and Maggie alive and well, he returned to the main house before they were shot to death. Even though the main house was only about a quarter-mile away, Murdaugh said he did not hear gunshots from the kennel. Further, he claims to believe his wife and son were attacked by someone motivated by news coverage of Paul’s boat crash.
From South Carolina’s Post and Courier:
Between breaks to compose himself, Murdaugh said Paul had been misrepresented and vilified by news outlets and on social media. His son had received “vile” messages and threats.
“I believed then and I believe today that the wrong person saw and read that because I can tell you for a fact that the person or people who did what I saw on June the 7th, they hated Paul Murdaugh, and they had anger in their heart,” Murdaugh said. “And that is the only — only — reason that somebody could be mad at (Paul) like that and hate him like that.”
As the prosecutor in the case pointed out, this would have required the assailant to have located Paul on a remote section of a private, rural property. Alex Murdaugh had also testified that the dogs at the kennel were not behaving in an agitated manner, as they might be expected to have done if a stranger were nearby, before the murders took place. (Reporter and podcast host Mandy Matney, who has covered the case since the murders took place, says she has never seen evidence of threats being made against Paul’s life.)
In the defense’s defense, there isn’t strong physical evidence—blood spatter on clothing, fingerprints or footprints, or a definitive murder weapon—tying Alex Murdaugh to the killings. The trial continues Tuesday, with prosecutors saying that they plan to call several witnesses to respond to arguments raised by the defense.