What to know about Alex Murdaugh's trial
- Murdaugh is on trial in the murders of his wife, Margaret, and their younger son, Paul. He testified today: "I didn't shoot my wife or son."
- Murdaugh admitted he lied to law enforcement officers about his location before the murders because of his addiction to prescription pain pills and general paranoia.
- Murdaugh broke down multiple times on the stand as his attorney asked him to describe the murder scene.
- Prosecutors claim Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and "escape the accountability" for a string of financial crimes.
- Murdaugh's surviving son, Buster, took the stand Tuesday to defend his father.
Court recesses for the day
The state spent the afternoon walking the jury through Murdaugh's extensive law background, how he may have misrepresented himself as law enforcement to gain advantages and his alleged financial crimes.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution has argued that Murdaugh is a deeply dishonest and deceptive person. Still, the examination of his previous misconduct, particularly the focus on his alleged financial fraud, has not been connected yet to the double murder charges he is on trial for.
"This is a murder case. For two hours now, we haven't heard the word 'murder' once," one of his defense attorneys told Judge Newman after the recess.
Court will resume at 9:30 a.m. ET Friday.
Prosecutor grows frustrated with Murdaugh's responses
Prosecutor Creighton Waters grew increasingly frustrated as his questioning about Murdaugh's financial crimes continued. He alleged that Murdaugh could never quite recall specifics about how he misled or stole money from his clients.
Murdaugh continued to fall back on lines that were similar to one another and that tended to include the sentence, "I don't dispute it." The former attorney would never admit exactly what he did, however.
"You have said that 100 times," Waters said in response to Murdaugh's again saying he didn't dispute his allegations. "But you can't recall for this jury one of these people, looking them in the eye while you lied to them? You can't recall a single one? I've asked you this three times now."
Murdaugh's attorney quickly rebutted with "Your honor, asked and answered three times" to laughter from the courtroom.
Nevertheless, Murdaugh continued to say that he didn't dispute that he took money that wasn't his or that he misled clients, but he never quite provided any details.
Murdaugh gives a testy rebuttal to prosecutor's question about his finances
Prosecutor Creighton Waters pushed Murdaugh fairly hard about his financial crimes, even getting the former lawyer to say he couldn't remember the first time he stole money from a client. (Murdaugh acknowledges that he stole from them.)
After a period, however, Murdaugh appeared to lose his patience as he was asked to recall particular details.
Alex Murdaugh becomes impatient during questioning over financial crimesFeb. 23, 202303:55
“You have charged me with murdering my wife and my son, and I’ve sat here all these weeks listening to all this financial stuff that I did wrong that I’m embarrassed by," Murdaugh said. "I’m happy to talk about as much of that as you want to talk about. I’m required to talk about it as much as you want to talk about it. But the fact is I cannot specifically remember the details that you’re asking me for.”
Prosecution grills Murdaugh about previous fraud
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters made it clear that the state would go into minute detail about Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes.
"Mr. Waters, just try to get through this quicker," Murdaugh said.
"I know you want to get there quicker, but we’re not," Waters replied.
The state brought up the Pinckney case, in which Murdaugh was recruited to seek financial damages on behalf of Pamela Pinckney and her son, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a car crash and died two years later. Pinckney blamed the crash on a malfunctioning tire. The family represented by Murdaugh sued the car tires' manufactures. Murdaugh pocketed $1 million owed to the Pinckney family.
He would have received $4 million in legal fees from the settlement by the books.
"In the end, that wasn't enough for you?" Waters said.
Murdaugh has repeatedly said he does not deny stealing money from clients and misleading them.
Prosecutors attempt to make Murdaugh sound manipulative of law enforcement
Prosecutors questioned Murdaugh about his ties to law enforcement, focusing on a badge he was given by the local solicitor and blue lights typically used by police that he installed on his own car.
Under questioning, he said he prosecuted only five cases in about 20 years as a volunteer assistant solicitor, an unpaid position. His father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather served as the local solicitor general, which is an official law enforcement position.
Creighton Waters, the state’s lead prosecutor in the case, appeared to make a point that Murdaugh held no official office in law enforcement but that he used his connections, badge and lights to manipulate authorities. Murdaugh admitted he would put his badge in a visible place when he was speaking to police.
Waters used an image that showed Murdaugh carrying the badge hanging out of his pocket when he was speaking to officers to emphasize the point, asking, "What advantage did you want?"
"A badge has a warming effect with other law enforcement," Murdaugh said, "and so if I was seeking any advantage, as you say, then I guess that would be what it was."
Prosecution questions Murdaugh's use of 'Paul Paul' and other nicknames
Murdaugh has repeatedly used nicknames during Thursday's testimony, calling his son "Paul Paul" (or "Paw Paw" to some ears), his wife "Mags" and family friend Rogan Gibson "RoRo."
Prosecutors questioned him about the nicknames during cross-examination, asking him whether he'd ever called his son "Paul Paul" during the course of the investigation.
Murdaugh said he didn't know. He said he used names like "Paul Paul" and "RoRo" all the time.
Prosecutors begin cross-examination with questions about Murdaugh's attorney ancestors
The judge called a brief recess around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday in Alex Murdaugh's murder trial. Upon return, the prosecutors began their cross-examination.
Creighton Waters, the state’s lead prosecutor, began his questioning focused on Murdaugh's family history as attorneys in the county. For nearly 100 years, a member of the Murdaugh family served as the local solicitor general. That includes Murdaugh's father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
"I actually worked a case with him about a guy who killed a trooper," Waters said about Murdaugh's father. "A fine, fine man."
Inquisitive, bright and masculine: Murdaugh describes dead son
When asked by the defense to describe his deceased son, Murdaugh said Paul was "bright," "the most inquisitive young man" and "100% country boy tough."
Murdaugh testified that Paul, 22, was also sad and sweet, and he began to sniffle when he recalled how Paul would take care of his grandparents or go watch a sunset with his friends. He then charged that Paul had often been misrepresented in the media.
"I would challenge everybody in this room to go find somebody — somebody that knew Paul Paul, really knew him, that did not have an ulterior motive — that would say something negative about him," Murdaugh said.
Paul faced a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a friend on a boating trip. Murdaugh noted that his son also struggled with ADHD.
"Did I love him?" Murdaugh responded when asked how he felt about his son. "Like no other — him and Buster."
Murdaugh said he paid someone to shoot him to contend with money issues and family embarrassment
After beginning withdrawals from his opioid addiction, Murdaugh said, he made plans for someone to shoot him. He believed it was "a better thing to do."
His plan came together after the murders, he said, because he "knew all this was coming to a head. I knew how humiliating this was going to be for my son," referring to his surviving son, Buster.
He said he had two life insurance policies on himself: one $4 million policy and an $8 million policy. His wife, Margaret, was the beneficiary. He did not have policies for Margaret or their younger son, Paul.
Alex Murdaugh says he planned roadside shooting so he could ‘be gone’Feb. 23, 202302:35
'I would never hurt Maggie,' Murdaugh says
"She was just as beautiful inside as she was outside," Murdaugh said as he described his wife in glowing terms.
He choked up on the stand as he shared stories about Margaret. She was playful, adventurous and devoted to their family, he said.
"I would never hurt Maggie," Murdaugh testified.
I stole clients' money to fund opioid addiction, Murdaugh says
"I was spending so much money on pills," he testified.
He said his drug problems began after a knee injury he received as a college football player decades ago persisted, despite surgical treatment. He began to take Hydrocodone to treat the pain, he said.
"It escalates and escalates," he said.
He checked into an Atlanta detox facility on three separate occasions, starting in 2017 but would eventually relapse.
Murdaugh said with a smile that he has been sober for 535 days.
Murdaugh says he stole clients' money to fund opioid addictionFeb. 23, 202303:35
Margaret's death made financial issues more difficult, Murdaugh alleges
The death of his wife made financing around the properties owned by his family more difficult and complex, Murdaugh alleged in his testimony.
Because Moselle, the family's hunting property, was fully in the name of his wife, he said, it made it more difficult to obtain financing thereafter as he faced a number of financial challenges. Margaret also owned half of the family beach house in Edisto, South Carolina.
"With Maggie, all I had to do is get her to sign the documents, which she always did because she didn't question finances, so she signed the papers," Murdaugh said. "When Maggie wasn't here, there were estate issues. I couldn't go and sign the papers like I would normally go and get a loan."
Prosecutors previously alleged Murdaugh killed his wife and son to try to cover up a trove of financial crimes in a desperate attempt to “escape the accountability.”
Defense tries to explain away inconsistencies in Murdaugh's story
The defense's strategy of asking Murdaugh to recall the events of the day of the murders is to try to suggest that he might not have perfect recall of certain times during the night of the killings. This will help explain away inconsistencies in his story. But this morning, the jury heard him recite a fair amount of granular detail about what happened with dogs at the kennels on the evening before the killings.
Watch for the prosecution to pick apart what he remembers and what he doesn’t during cross-examination.
Defense takes law enforcement to task over Murdaugh's clothes
The defense dedicated a line of questioning to what clothes Murdaugh was wearing, which has been a focus of authorities in the aftermath of the murder and in the trial.
Murdaugh said that members of law enforcement showed him a Snapchat video his son Paul made prior to the murders. In the video, Murdaugh appeared to be wearing a different set of clothes than what he was found in after he said he discovered the bodies of his wife and son.
"I'm well aware that my clothes never became an issue in this case until my lawyers proved that this blood spatter that they said I had on my shirt from my wife and my son was a lie," Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh says he 'never spent another night' at the house where his wife and son were killed
Murdaugh said he never spent another night at the family's vast hunting lodge Moselle after the Jun. 7 fatal shootings of his wife and son.
When defense attorney Jim Griffin asked why, he paused for a bit, shaking his head and rocking side to side before answering.
"I couldn't," Murdaugh replied.
The trial breaks for lunch
The judge called for a lunch break just before 1:30 p.m. ET with Murdaugh still on the stand. The trial will resume with his continued testimony around 2:40 p.m. ET.
Why the defense keeps asking about Margaret's cellphone
The defense has repeatedly asked Murdaugh to talk about his wife's cellphone. He said he believed it would have GPS data and "it was very important for me to find that."
The defense is trying to highlight the fact that Murdaugh wanted to get the GPS data off Margaret’s phone to clear his name, but we’ve heard from a prior defense witness that it was unavailable because investigators failed to preserve it.
Back on the stand, Murdaugh says he wasn't near his wife and son when they were shot
After a short break, court has resumed with Murdaugh explaining that he got blood on his fingers when he checked the bodies of Paul and Margaret.
However, the former lawyer denied having any blood on him that would have indicated he was in the vicinity of the shootings.
"There's no way that I had high-velocity blood spatter on me," Murdaugh said, emphasizing that he was nowhere near his wife and son when they were shot.
How Murdaugh could appeal to the jury by testifying in his own defenseFeb. 23, 202303:35
Jury and audience have been highly attentive to Murdaugh's testimony
WALTERBORO, S.C. — As Murdaugh testifies today, the jury has remained deeply attentive to his words and some have nodded along to what he said.
The courthouse is packed with audience members from across the country, with many whispering to one another as Murdaugh spoke. Much of the crowd appears to be made up of middle-aged white women.
Outside the courthouse, people are still waiting to get inside.
Before the recess, many members of Murdaugh's family could be seen crying as he spoke and got choked up on the stand. His sister, Lynn Murdaugh Goettee, and younger brother, John Marvin Murdaugh, were both audibly sniffling.
What the defense hopes they've accomplished so far
Right off the bat we see the defense team trying to get out ahead of all the worst evidence for Murdaugh: the lies and inconsistencies in his story.
The defense team knows their greatest weakness is that nearly a dozen different witnesses have identified Murdaugh’s voice at the crime scene just minutes before the killings happened, so he had no choice but to admit he lied.
But watch for cross-examination to pounce on the fact that he’s “not positive” what he did after he left the crime scene.
Defense asks Murdaugh to explain searches, texts and calls he made after the deaths of his wife and son
Murdaugh said that Google searches and FaceTime calls on his phone in the immediate aftermath of his wife and son's deaths were accidental. He also denied checking an unrelated group text.
"I can promise you, I wasn't reading any text messages," he said.
He was asked why he searched on his phone for Whaley’s Restaurant and Bar at Edisto, a local seafood restaurant in South Carolina, while his son and wife were dead on the ground.
Murdaugh said it was a restaurant his family visited regularly, and it was an accidental search as he frantically attempted to call family and friends about the murders. He said he "wasn't doing any Google searches" at that point.
"Obviously, they're unintentional," he said. "I mean, I'm doing something with my phone trying to call people, but I'm not trying to call those people, I'm not doing a Google search for any Whaley's Restaurant and I'm certainly not reading any texts."
Court recessed for 10 minutes
Court proceedings will resume at approximately 12:35 p.m. ET.
Asked why he got a gun after discovering the bodies, Murdaugh unable to answer
Defense attorneys asked Murdaugh why he decided to get a gun after he discovered the bodies of his wife and younger son, but the South Carolina attorney was unable to answer.
"I don't know," he said, as he once again grew emotional. In the audio of the 911 call, he can be heard saying that he plans to return to the house to grab a gun.
"I know you're upset, Mr. Murdaugh," the 911 operator said in response, "but I don't want you to get a gun and have a gun out whenever my officers get there, OK?"
Murdaugh returned to his home and claims to have picked up a 12-gauge shotgun. He then loaded it with 16-gauge shells, which is an error he said he would never normally make as a lifelong hunter.
"That's not a mistake I would have made under any circumstances other than that night," he testified.
'I should have known,' Murdaugh says in 911 call after finding wife and son murdered
A recording of the 911 call that Murdaugh made after finding the bodies of Margaret and Paul was played for the jury. In it, he is heard saying, "I should have known."
He clarified that he was referring to Paul's compromised safety amid death threats he'd received.
Paul received multiple "vile" threats on social media that the family did not take seriously, according to Murdaugh's testimony.
"We disregarded it because it was so over the top," he said.
'My boy's laying facedown': Murdaugh wails as he describes his son's body
Murdaugh began to cry again when he attempted to describe his son's body, which he claims to have discovered after checking whether his wife, Margaret, and Paul were still at the family's dog kennels.
At first, all he could say was "Paul was so— he was so bad." He then said that he attempted to check his son's pulse and turn him over.
"I don't know why I tried to turn him," he said, as he continued to sob. "My boy's laying facedown. He's done the way he's done. His head was the way his head was. I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn't know what to do."
Murdaugh said he grabbed his son's belt loop to try to turn him over. When he did, Paul's phone fell out of his pocket and he put it back on his son's body, he said.
When asked to describe murder scene, Murdaugh breaks down
When Murdaugh was asked what he saw when he drove down to the dog kennels, where his wife and son were found dead, he choked up and struggled to describe the murder scene.
“So bad,” he said between sobs.
The South Carolina lawyer wept uncontrollably to the point that saliva dripped from his mouth. After pausing, he asked for a bottle of water and took a long gulp before beginning to answer questions again.
Murdaugh sobs as he describes the murder scene of his wife and sonFeb. 23, 202305:57
Murdaugh said he did not dispose of a murder weapon or bloody clothes
After leaving his parents' home in Almeda, Murdaugh said, he stopped for approximately one minute in the driveway.
The defense asked if he was disposing of a murder weapon or bloody clothes in this period.
Murdaugh testified that he was retrieving his phone, which had fallen in the cracks of his vehicle.
The state's biggest hurdle so far has been a lack of direct evidence, such as witnesses or a murder weapon that could prove Murdaugh's culpability.
An alibi in question
Murdaugh said that on the day of the murders, his mother who has Alzheimer's disease was crying a lot and fussy.
"Your mom’s agitated. You need to check on her," he recalled Barbara Ann Mixon, the housekeeper for his parents, telling him.
Murdaugh's testimony corroborates what Mixon said on the stand yesterday, about asking Murdaugh to visit his mother on the afternoon of June 7, 2021.
Murdaugh testified that he did spend time with his mother before driving straight to Moselle where, he said, he came across the bodies of Paul and Margaret.
The prosecution has questioned throughout the trial whether Murdaugh went to visit his parents' home in Almeda to fabricate an alibi.
Murdaugh testifies: ‘I didn’t shoot my wife or my son, any time, ever’Feb. 23, 202304:29
'Mags' and 'Paul Paul': Murdaugh uses nicknames for his dead wife and son in testimony
As Murdaugh testified about the moments leading up to his wife and son's deaths, he continued to refer to them using his nicknames for them.
Murdaugh often referred to his wife, Margaret, as "Maggie" or "Mags" and his son Paul as "Paul Paul" — though there is some confusion over whether Murdaugh is saying "Paul Paul" or "Paw Paw."
"I called him Paul Paul and Paul Terry, Mags called him Paul Paul, [my son Buster] called him Paul Paul," Murdaugh said. "A lot of people call him Paul Paul."
Murdaugh addresses clothes he was wearing on the day of murders
Murdaugh testified that he took a shower the day of the murders because he had sweated from working around the Moselle property, and also due to Oxycontin, the prescription pills he was taking.
He also testified that the clothes he was seen wearing in the Snapchat video placing him near the dog kennels before the murders were also the clothes he had on at work earlier.
An investigator previously testified that it seemed odd that Murdaugh appeared clean on the night of the murders, almost as if he had fresh clothes on.
Murdaugh breaks down on stand talking about his murdered son
Murdaugh broke down in tears speaking about Paul, with whom he said he had spent the day before the 22-year-old died.
Murdaugh, who is accused of his son's murder, said that he deeply enjoyed spending time with his son. He said he was quite close with Paul and his other son, Buster.
"I love doing anything with (Paul)," he said, as he found his voice again after choking up. "It was an absolute delight."
Alex Murdaugh breaks down in tears on stand talking about murdered sonFeb. 23, 202301:31
Murdaugh apologizes to his family on the stand
While on the stand, Murdaugh apologized to his and his wife's family for lying to law enforcement after the murders.
He claimed that once he started lying in the aftermath of his wife and son's deaths, he told his family that he had to keep lying.
"I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them — ever," he told his defense attorney on the stand.
Murdaugh admits lying about his whereabouts due to his addiction and paranoia
The defense dove immediately into one of the state's most compelling pieces of evidence against Murdaugh, the video that placed him around the dog kennels shortly before the murder.
Murdaugh testified that he did lie to SLED agents about being there.
"Why did you lie?" defense attorney Jim Griffin asked him.
"As my addiction evolved over time I would get in these situations or circumstances where I would get paranoid," Murdaugh replied.
Murdaugh takes the stand and denies shooting his wife and son
Murdaugh was sworn in and began testimony around 10:45 a.m.
The defense began by asking if he took any gun to “blow his son’s brain out,” or to shoot his wife, Margaret. Murdaugh testified that he did not shoot his wife or son at any time ever.
Local sheriff charges prison inmate for calling bomb threat into courthouse earlier in trial
The Colleton County Sheriff's office said it charged a prison inmate Wednesday for calling in a bomb threat to the county courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, earlier in the Murdaugh trial.
Joey Dean Coleman, an inmate at a prison about 30 minutes from the courthouse, is accused of calling a court clerk with the claim that there was a "bomb in the judge's chamber" earlier this month.
After authorities did not discover a bomb, they traced the phone call to a cellphone that was in Coleman's possession. A felony arrest warrant was issued for him.
The sheriff's office said that "no direct connection has been identified between Joey Coleman and Alex Murdaugh or the Murdaugh trial," but the matter remains under investigation.
Murdaugh's testimony draws large audience
The line to get into the small county courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, wrapped around the block today, as members of the public clambered to see Murdaugh testify in his own defense.
Because of the intense interest in the case, people started lining up to get into the courthouse in the early morning hours. That forced the court to cap the line for public tickets at 7:30 a.m. Seats inside the courthouse were crammed full of spectators.
A group of women, who didn't give their names, stood at the front of the line. They said they arrived at the courthouse from Augusta, Georgia, at 5 a.m. to get their spots in hopes of seeing Murdaugh or his family testify.
Friend of murdered son testifies about day of murder
The defense called to the stand a close friend of Paul Murdaugh, the son who was killed, in advance of Murdaugh's testimony this morning.
Nolan Tuten testified that he spoke with Paul the day of the Jun. 7 murders. Tuten drove to the family's sprawling hunting lodge property Moselle in the morning to check on the dying sunflowers, planted to attract doves for hunting.
Tuten was supposed to return in the afternoon to replant the sunflowers but ultimately had a work conflict.
Later that night, around 10:30 p.m., he received word from his mother about an incident at Moselle and drove straight there.
"The f------ boat wreck," Tuten recalled a "distraught" Murdaugh saying to him when they saw each other after the murders, referring to the 2019 fatal boat crash.
During cross-examination, prosecutor David Fernandez also questioned Tuten about a Snapchat video captured on Paul’s phone. The prosecution has used the video as evidence that Murdaugh was present at the dog kennels with his wife, Margaret, and Paul, minutes before they were shot and killed, contrary to his assertion that he was taking a nap in the Moselle main house.
Tuten testified that he did hear the voices of all three family members in the video.
Murdaugh will testify today
Murdaugh was read his rights regarding testifying in his own defense and he told the judge that he decided he wants to testify.
Defense attorneys raised concerns again about the scope of the prosecution's cross-examination questions, particularly with their client's alleged financial crimes.
"This is a Bernie Madoff trial, it’s not a murder trial," defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said.
Judge Clifton Newman clarified again that the court will address evidence as it is presented, and cannot pre-emptively exclude certain lines of inquiry.
What the prosecution did, and didn't do, so far
The prosecution rested last week and did not offer hard proof — such as a confession, eyewitnesses, video or fingerprints — that Murdaugh, a once-powerful lawyer and part-time prosecutor in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, had pulled the trigger.
Although the Murdaugh family owned guns, several of which were seized from their Colleton County hunting property in the investigation, the prosecution has said investigators didn’t find the actual murder weapons: a shotgun and an AR-style rifle.
Creighton Waters, the chief prosecutor for the state attorney general’s office, had relied heavily on circumstantial evidence to posit a motive for why Murdaugh, 54, would have wanted his wife, Margaret, 52, and their son Paul, 22, dead, and offered a timeline based on cellphone and car GPS data to show he had the opportunity.
Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, takes the standFeb. 22, 202304:52
Witness in Murdaugh’s trial describes chaotic crime scene
The defense for Murdaugh, the disgraced South Carolina lawyer accused of killing his wife and younger son, called into question the integrity of the crime scene in the second day of their case while also trying to distinguish between Murdaugh’s alleged deceptions, including financial misconduct, and the double murder charges he is facing.
Mark Ball, a former law partner who once considered Murdaugh a close friend, testified Wednesday morning in Walterboro that there were no roadblocks at the crime scene and that he was able to freely wander throughout Murdaugh’s property in Moselle after the killings.
“There was a piece of Paul’s skull, about the size of a baseball, laying there,” he recalled seeing, referring to Paul Murdaugh, the son Murdaugh is accused of killing.