Alex Murdaugh Is Expected to Testify at His Double-Murder Trial

WALTERBORO, S.C. — Alex Murdaugh, the prominent South Carolina lawyer charged with murdering his wife and son, was scheduled to take the witness stand Thursday morning to testify in his own defense, a risky move that could prove decisive in whether he is acquitted or sent to prison for life.

Prosecutors have accused Mr. Murdaugh, 54, of fatally shooting his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and his younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, on the family’s rural hunting estate in June 2021. They say that Mr. Murdaugh feared he was about to be exposed for stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and clients over many years, and that he carried out the killings to gain sympathy and halt investigations into his finances.

Understand the ‘Murdaugh Murders’

A South Carolina mystery. The unraveling of the life of Alex Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer, is at the center of a sprawling saga of mysterious deaths — including the killing of his wife and son — and allegations of multimillion-dollar swindles. Here’s what to know about the case:

Two murders and an indictment. The fatal shooting of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh in 2021 rocked South Carolina’s Lowcountry region, where the Murdaugh family’s powerful legal dynasty originated. On July 14, the police charged Alex Murdaugh with killing his wife and son. Mr. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty.

The Murdaughs are powerful. The family has dominated the legal profession in a rural swath of the state for more than a century. For nearly 90 years, the post of chief prosecutor for a five-county region was held by a Murdaugh. And for even longer, the family’s law firm has been one of the state’s leading tort litigation firms.

There was a botched suicide plot. A day after he was forced out of his family’s law firm for misusing funds, Alex Murdaugh reported that he had been shot in the head. He soon admitted that he had actually asked a former client to kill him because he wanted to leave his older son, Buster, with a $10 million insurance payout. Mr. Murdaugh survived and was charged with fraud.

Other strange deaths revolve around the case. The case has brought new scrutiny to three other deaths in the region that may be tied to the family, including a young man found dead along a road in 2015 and a fatal boat crash in 2019.

Mr. Murdaugh has been accused of swindling millions. The lawyer was arrested on Oct. 14, 2021, and charged with stealing millions of dollars from a settlement intended for the children of a housekeeper who died at the family’s home in 2018 after falling on the front steps.

Mr. Murdaugh, who has since been charged with embezzling about $8.8 million, has maintained his innocence in the killings. In South Carolina, a murder conviction brings a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison; prosecutors have said they would seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Here’s what to know about the case:

The most significant piece of evidence revealed at trial is a cellphone video that Paul Murdaugh recorded at 8:45 p.m. on June 7, 2021, about five minutes before prosecutors say the murders took place near the property’s dog kennel. The video captured the voices of Maggie and Alex Murdaugh in the background, an apparent contradiction to Mr. Murdaugh’s repeated claims to the police that he was not at the kennels with his wife and son that night. His defense team has yet to significantly address the video, but he is likely to be asked about it on the stand.

Mr. Murdaugh’s older son, Buster Murdaugh, testified for the defense this week, saying that his father appeared “distraught” and “heartbroken” over the murders, and that he had sounded normal when they spoke on the phone that night before Mr. Murdaugh says he discovered the bodies. The defense also called an expert who testified that at least some of the gunshots had come from a shooter who was at least a foot shorter than Alex Murdaugh.

Mr. Murdaugh has said that he took a nap while his wife and son were at the kennels, about 500 yards from the residence, and that he then drove to check on his ailing mother before returning home to find the gruesome crime scene. Prosecutors say he shot and killed the victims — using a shotgun and then a rifle — and then visited his mother for about 20 minutes to build an alibi. Mr. Murdaugh made a series of calls to friends and relatives on the way to and from his mother’s home.

The police have not found any weapon that can be tied to the crimes.

Hours before the killings, the financial chief of Mr. Murdaugh’s law firm confronted him over a missing lawyer’s fee payment that Mr. Murdaugh was supposed to hand over to the firm. The financial chief told him she believed he had wrongly pocketed the money.

The trial was expected to wrap up by the end of this week. It has been closely followed, spawning a series of podcasts and documentaries, in part because of the prominence of the Murdaugh family. Mr. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all worked as top prosecutors for a vast swath of the South Carolina Lowcountry region and for the family firm. Mr. Murdaugh has since been disbarred.

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