Alex Murdaugh murders: Former lawyer duels with prosecutor on 2nd day of cross-examination

ByTravis Caldwell and Ray Sanchez, CNN
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Alex Murdaugh murders trial
Alex Murdaugh murders trialState authorities reopening the investigation into Stephen Smith's death after saying they found new evidence while looking into the Murdaugh murders.

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. -- After two days on the stand, Alex Murdaugh completed testimony Friday in the murder trial over the killings of his wife and son.

After about six hours of testimony Friday -- which included a prosecutor grilling the former disgraced South Carolina attorney over lies, drug use and details in the grisly case -- the court adjourned for the weekend and is set to resume Monday morning.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters sought to cast doubt on Murdaugh's testimony a day earlier, when he admitted to previously lying about being with his wife and son before they were killed.

"You disagree this is a new story? You disagree this is a new characterization?" Waters asked.

"Yes, this is the first time that this is being told openly," Murdaugh said.

"And you disagree to my characterization that you've got a photographic memory about the details that have to fit now that you know ... these facts but you're fuzzy on the other stuff that complicates that? You disagree with that?"

"I do disagree with that," Murdaugh said. "I think that I have a good memory about a lot of things on this."

WATCH: Alex Murdaugh takes the witness stand in his own defense

Former lawyer Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense in the Murdaugh murders trial Thursday.

Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges regarding the fatal shootings of his wife, Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh, and son Paul Murdaugh, whose bodies were discovered at their family estate on June 7, 2021.

At one point on Friday, Waters asked Murdaugh whether the dogs at the kennels on his property -- where the killings took place -- were barking when he was there with his wife and son.

"There was nobody around the dogs didn't know," Murdaugh said. "There was nobody else around for them to sense."

Referring to cell phone data and other evidence from the night of the slayings, Waters sought to poke holes in Murdaugh's account of his whereabouts at the time.

"I know what I wasn't doing, Mr. Waters, and what I wasn't doing is doing anything, as I believe you've implied, that I was cleaning off or ... washing off guns or putting guns in a raincoat. And I can promise you that I wasn't doing any of that," Murdaugh said.

Pressed about various phone calls he made after the killings, Murdaugh insisted that he was not trying to establish an alibi.

"It's an absolute fact that I'm not manufacturing an alibi, as you say," he testified.

Murdaugh categorized the calls as "very normal." Several calls were to his wife, Maggie, who had been killed near the dog kennels.

"I never manufactured any alibi in any way shape or form because I did not, and would not, hurt my wife and my child," he said. "So I know for a fact that I never, ever, ever created an alibi."

Prosecutor seeks to discredit Murdaugh

The heated cross examination continued after a lunch break. Waters pointed out inconsistencies in Murdaugh's videotaped statements to police after the killings -- including his claim that he had not been at the dog kennels. Parts of the taped interviews were played for the jury.

"Everything about me not going to the kennel was a lie," Murdaugh said.

"You're able to just do that so easily and so convincingly and so naturally?" the prosecutor said.

"That's not for me to judge," the once prominent attorney responded.

"That's true," Waters agreed.

Murdaugh, at another point, said he believes his son was targeted because of a 2019 boat crash in which 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed. His son had been drinking during the crash and was facing charges related to the death. Murdaugh's second day on the stand came on the fourth anniversary of the crash.

WATCH: Alex Murdaugh admits he lied to investigators about whereabouts night of murders

Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of killing his family, says he lied to investigators.

"I can tell you for a fact that the person or people who did what I saw on June 7, they hated Paul Murdaugh," he testified. "And they had anger in their heart."

Murdaugh testified he did not believe anyone involved in the 2019 wreck had anything to do with the murders. But he said he suspected the killer was someone who had heard about what happened.

"What you're telling the jury is that it is a random vigilante?" Waters asked.

"That's your term," the defendant said.

Waters later pointedly asked Murdaugh if he was a "family annihilator?"

"You mean like did I shoot my wife and my son?"

"Yes."

"I would never hurt Maggie Murdaugh. I would never hurt Paul Murdaugh under any circumstances."

"You say that but you lied to Maggie?"

"I did lie to Maggie."

"You lied to Paul?"

"Sometimes."

Waters then went through a list of law partners, friends and family members that Murdaugh had lied to over the years -- with the defendant admitting that he lied to them either directly or by omission.

Shortly before 4 p.m., Waters concluded his cross examination and Murdaugh's defense attorney, Jim Griffin, began questioning him again after a brief break. Griffin ended questioning shortly after and the court adjourned for the day.

Responding to the final questions from Griffin on Friday, Murdaugh again told the jury that he did not kill his wife and son.

"Alex, did you murder Maggie?" asked Griffin.

"I would never hurt Maggie," Murdaugh replied.

"Did you murder Paul?" asked Griffin.

"I would never hurt Paul. If I was under the pressure that they're talking about here, I can promise you, I would hurt myself before I would hurt one of them, without a doubt," he said.

Murdaugh admits stealing from 'people that I care about'

Earlier Friday, Waters also focused on the financial crimes the state alleges drove Murdaugh to murder, asking the former lawyer during whether the clients he stole from are "real people."

"They are real people. They're good people. They're all people that I care about ... And a lot of them people that I love and I did wrong by them," Murdaugh said.

"Every single one, you looked them in the eye at least once? Is that fair?" Waters asked at one point.

"Every client that I had at some point out, I looked him in the eye, and I believe that I had the trust of my clients," Murdaugh said.

RELATED | Paul Murdaugh confronted father about finding pills month before shooting, prosecutors say

How Alex Murdaugh responded when asked if he killed his family members.

"Whether that came from me looking them in the eye or not, I can't answer that. But I will agree with you that every single client I looked them in the eye and I believe that the people that I stole money from for all those years trusted me."

Murdaugh took the stand Thursday to deny he killed his wife and son, and also acknowledged his duplicity in interviews with South Carolina state authorities about his whereabouts that evening.

"I did lie to them," he said of his comments to investigators that he had not been that day to the estate's dog kennels, where the bodies of Maggie and Paul were found, until he forund them dead. He said he lied because of "paranoid thinking" stemming from his addiction to opiate painkillers.

Paul had recorded video on his phone, apparently at the dog kennels, at 8:44 p.m. on the night of the killings. Witnesses have testified Alex's Murdaugh's voice can be heard in the background of the video, and Murdaugh confirmed it was him in Thursday's testimony.

RELATED | Alex Murdaugh's surviving son testifies he was 'destroyed' by fatal shootings of wife, son

Alex Murdaugh was "destroyed" by the fatal shootings of his wife and son, his surviving son testified in his father's double murder trial Tuesday.

After going to the kennels, Murdaugh testified, he went inside his home and briefly laid on a couch before deciding to visit his ailing mother in a nearby town. Murdaugh testified he'd spoken to one of her caregivers earlier that day who asked for him to stop by. So he briefly visited his mother that night and then drove back home, where he eventually found the bodies at the kennels, he testified.

A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigator has testified Murdaugh called 911 from his residence at 10:06 p.m.

Murdaugh was facing severe financial pressure at the time of the killings, prosecutors have said, and Murdaugh has admitted to stealing funds from his law firm and clients. Prosecutors contend the purported misconduct was about to be revealed, and accuse Murdaugh of killing his wife and son to stave off those revelations.

On September 4, 2021, nearly three months after the killings, Murdaugh reported he was shot alongside a road and was treated for a "superficial gunshot wound to the head," authorities said.

A cascading turn of events would then ensue, including Murdaugh's resignation from his law firm, his disbarment, revelations his shooting was a scheme to provide life insurance money to his surviving son, and his eventual arrest in connection with the alleged financial crimes and killings.

Defense attorneys point to what they describe as a mishandled police investigation, adding Murdaugh is a troubled but loving father and husband whose other misdeeds still do not add up to him being a murderer.

"I didn't shoot my wife or my son, anytime, ever," Murdaugh said on the stand Thursday.

An emotional Murdaugh admits financial fault

Before Murdaugh testified Thursday, a motion from the defense to limit the scope of questioning he would face was denied by Judge Clifton Newman -- in particular, allegations of financial wrongdoing.

Murdaugh admitted on Thursday to stealing millions of dollars from his clients and law firm, then known as PMPED and since renamed Parker Law Group, telling prosecutor Creighton Waters, "I took money that was not mine and I shouldn't have done it."

"I hate the fact that I did it. I'm embarrassed by it. I'm embarrassed for my son. I'm embarrassed for my family," he said.

Murdaugh said he had a pill addiction for roughly two decades but was able to maintain his legal practice and was "certain none of my partners knew I had an addiction."

Murdaugh testified his opioid use was "certainly a cause" of his financial problems, but not the only cause. He said he was using some of the money he stole from clients to buy pills, but not all of it. Some money was being used to fund what the prosecution called a "wealthy lifestyle," a term Murdaugh said he would not take issue with.

WATCH: Alex Murdaugh cries as he describes finding bodies of wife, son

Alex Murdaugh cried on the witness stand while describing how he found his wife and son's lifeless bodies.

On Friday, Murdaugh admitted sometimes taking more than 2,000 milligrams of oxycodone per day in the months leading up to the deaths of his wife and son. Opioids, he testified, gave him energy and made "whatever I was doing ... more interesting."

The former attorney broke down in tears several times during Thursday's testimony when speaking of his wife and son.

"You could not be around him and not have a good time," Alex Murdaugh said of Paul.

"Were you close to Paul?" defense attorney Jim Griffin asked.

Still crying, Murdaugh replied, "You couldn't be any closer" than he was with Paul and his surviving son, Buster.

Murdaugh was asked about when he found the bodies in the kennels.

"I saw what y'all have seen pictures of," he told his defense attorney, crying and taking a pause before saying it was "so bad."

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