Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced South Carolina lawyer on trial accused of murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and one of his sons, was barely able to speak the first time his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, saw him after the killings, the younger Murdaugh testified Tuesday.
Buster Murdaugh, who testified in the morning as the first witness for the defense, said his father cried heavily during the encounter.
"He was heartbroken," Buster Murdaugh said, contrasting the prosecution's portrayal of his father as deceptive and conniving.
The eldest son painted the picture of a loving, "close-knit" family that solved disagreements or disputes with civility, headed by their patient patriarch, Alex Murdaugh.
During cross-examination in circuit court in Walterboro, however, the state questioned Buster Murdaugh's description of a harmonious family. Prosecutor John Meadors asked him whether there were any family tensions after a fatal boating accident and a wrongful death lawsuit against members of the family.
"It caused stress within the family, didn't it?" Meadors asked the younger Murdaugh.
"It was stressful," he responded. "I wouldn't say within the family, because we supported each other."
"I'm not questioning that, but your mom felt ostracized?" Meadors asked, appearing to refer to earlier testimony in which Buster Murdaugh said his mother distanced herself from Hampton County after having felt like the center of unwanted attention amid news coverage of the lawsuit.
"Yes," he answered.
The prosecution’s case has consisted mostly of circumstantial evidence, including strained relations between Alex Murdaugh and his wife, a murky alibi the night of the killings and a sprawling list of financial misconduct allegations. No smoking gun has been presented to pin the disbarred lawyer to the killings.
Throughout the case, the defense has tried to cast reasonable doubt on Murdaugh's culpability by rebutting the prosecution’s version of events and questioning the integrity of the initial investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
In one instance, the defense played Buster Murdaugh an audio recording of his father's interview with police, in which he emotionally discussed seeing his dead son. A witness for the prosecution claimed that Alex Murdaugh said, "I did him so bad." The younger Murdaugh said Tuesday that his father instead said, "They did him so bad."
The defense attorneys also asked Buster Murdaugh about his father's showering habits.
Buster Murdaugh said that because of the summertime heat, it was not unusual for his father to shower frequently if he was performing tasks around Moselle, the family's hunting lodge. The line of inquiry could have been in response to a prosecution witness' testimony that Murdaugh appeared clean after the killings, as if he were wearing fresh clothes.
The defense on Tuesday also called its first expert witness, Mike Sutton, a forensics engineer, who introduced a theory that Murdaugh was too tall to be the shooter.
Based on his analysis of the locations of gun shell casings, Sutton reasoned that the shooter was holding the firearm at hip level.
"It just makes it very unlikely that a tall person made that shot," Sutton said.
Alex Murdaugh, who is about 6-foot-4, would have had to be holding the weapon below his kneecap, Sutton said.
“How can somebody hold the weapon that height off the ground?" he asked.
The defense’s case is not expected to last more than a week, concluding a five-week-long trial that has captured international attention.