Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense at his double murder trial in Walterboro, S.C., on Thursday, testifying that he did not murder his wife and son in what prosecutors alleged was a botched attempt by the former lawyer and scion of a powerful legal family to cover up his financial fraud.
After being sworn in, Murdaugh was immediately asked by his defense attorney, Jim Griffin, whether he had carried out the execution-style killings of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at their sprawling hunting estate on June 7, 2021.
“Did you take this gun, or any gun like it, and shoot your son Paul in the chest?” Griffin asked.
“No, I did not,” Murdaugh replied.
“Did you take this gun, or any gun like it, and blow your son's brains out?”
“No, I did not,” Murdaugh said.
Griffin then asked if he shot his wife in the leg, torso or “any part of her body.”
“I didn't shoot my wife or my son anytime, ever,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh admitted that he had lied to investigators about the last time he saw his wife and son.
"I did lie to them," Murdaugh said of the account he gave to police.
In those initial interviews, Murdaugh said that he had napped in the house after dinner, while Maggie and Paul visited the dog kennels.
Earlier in the trial, however, witnesses identified Alex Murdaugh's voice in a video taken by Paul at the kennel, minutes before the killings began.
Murdaugh testified Thursday that his wife had asked him to go to the kennels, so he rode down in a golf cart and wrestled a chicken away from a dog before returning to the house.
Asked by Griffin why he had lied, Murdaugh blamed his opioid addiction.
"On June 7, I wasn't thinking clearly," Murdaugh said. "I don't think I was capable of reason. And I lied about being down there. And I'm sorry that I did.
"Once I lied, I continued to lie," he added, "I had to keep lying."
Murdaugh broke down in tears while describing seeing the bodies of his wife and son and calling 911.
“I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk,” Murdaugh said of his son. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He broke down again while the defense played a recording of the 911 call in court, and later while recalling his wife’s burial.
"I did not kill Maggie, I did not kill Paul," Murdaugh said at the end of his direct testimony. "I would never hurt Maggie and I would never hurt Paul ever, under any circumstances."
The state then began its cross-examination of Murdaugh, focusing on his admitted lies and history of financial fraud.
Prosecutors allege that Murdaugh, 54, murdered his wife and son at their 1,770-acre hunting lodge in Islandton, S.C., to shift the focus away from financial crimes that were being uncovered.
At the time, his law firm was growing suspicious about expenses and missing payments from one of his cases. Legal questions surrounding Murdaugh’s actions after a fatal boat crash that his son Paul had been involved in were mounting. Those factors, prosecutors say, led a desperate Murdaugh to murder.
He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of the killings.
Murdaugh’s decision to testify is the latest dramatic turn in a trial that has had plenty of drama, both inside and outside the courtroom.
Earlier this month, the judge in the case admonished Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, for making an obscene gesture toward a witness for the prosecution, and his sister, Lynn Murdaugh Goettee, for passing a book to him.
Both Goettee and Buster Murdaugh were warned that any further violations would result in their being barred from the courtroom.
On Feb. 8, the trial was halted and the courthouse evacuated after a bomb threat was called into the clerk’s office. No bomb was found, and the trial resumed several hours later.
The prosecution rested its case last week, and Murdaugh’s lawyers are expected to rest their defense this week.
After a verdict is reached in the murder case, Murdaugh is due to stand trial on roughly 100 financial and drug-related charges.