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Alex Murdaugh repeatedly questioned over financial crimes during cross-examination on day 21 of double murder trial


Jurors returned to the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday morning as Alex Murdaugh is set to take the stand and testify in his own defense during his trial on charges for the double murder of his wife and son at the family’s hunting lodge in June 2021.

The 54-year-old disgraced legal scion – disbarred soon after murder allegations and various alleged financial improprieties came to light – is accused of shooting and killing his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and their youngest son Paul Murdaugh, 22.

The state rested their case late last week – taking slightly longer than expected – with surprise, last-minute-allowed testimony about the defendant’s admittedly botched 2021 suicide attempt.

During that effort, part of an admitted insurance fraud scheme, Alex Murdaugh suffered what law enforcement termed a “superficial” injury to his head. Jurors heard the 911 call about that incident and both sides hashed it out over the particulars.

It was the defense’s cross-examination of a state’s witness that allowed that testimony to come in. On Wednesday, defense attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin were concerned about the state’s own cross-examination strategy should their client testify.

The defense’s overarching concern was the extent to which the defendant might be cross-examined on financial crimes allegations if he takes the stand. The defense sought a quick ruling on the matter and said they needed it by Thursday at the latest. Judge Clifton Newman, however, declined to issue a formal ruling on Alex Murdaugh’s legal rights, but said he would go over those rights with the defendant if desired.

It is considered a rarity in the U.S. legal system for criminal defendants to take the stand.

On Wednesday, the defense called a total of five witnesses – and they will have called nine in total as he trial resumes Thursday morning. More witnesses will be called, but Law&Crime has since confirmed that the accused himself will testify in front of jurors.

As trial began, Newman apprised the defendant of his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment.

Alex Murdaugh being apprised of his Fifth Amendment rights

Alex Murdaugh stand with his lawyers, on the left, while being apprised of his Fifth Amendment rights by Judge Clifton Newman, on the right, on Feb. 23, 2023.

“Whether or not you testify is a personal right,” the judge said. “No one can waive this right but you.”

The court went on to explain that if he did testify, he would be subject to cross-examination and that if, in the end, he decided not to testify, jurors would be told they cannot hold that against him.

Newman then asked the defendant if he wished to confer with his lawyers any further on the matter and if he indeed wished to testify.

“No, sir, I don’t need to talk to them anymore,” Alex Murdaugh said. “I am going to testify, I want to testify.”

Before the defendant, however, the defense called their 10th witness, Nolan Tuten, the brother of Nathan Tuten, who previously testified during the trial. During his testimony, Nolan Tuten repeatedly brought up the dead sunflowers at Moselle that he and Paul Murdaugh had planned to replant – the day of the murders. Ultimately, though, Paul Murdaugh’s friend never made it.

After a short break, right at 10:45 a.m. EST, Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh took the stand.

Immediately upon taking the stand, the defendant denied shooting his wife and son – as defense attorney Jim Griffin asked outright, while displaying versions of the weapons used to kill each victim.

Immediately after that, things took another dramatic turn as Alex Murdaugh admitted to a series of repeated lies to police – at least three in total – about the last time he saw his family alive.

SEE ALSO: Alex Murdaugh tells jury he ‘did lie’ about whereabouts on night of murders but blames drug use: I’d never ‘intentionally’ harm my wife and son

The defendant later described the macabre discovery he came home to find on the night of the murders – repeatedly sobbing through his testimony as he recounted the awful scene.

“My boy’s laying face down,” he said. “And he’s done the way he’s done. His head was the way his head was. I could see his – I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk. I didn’t know what to do.”

Later, the defendant called out law enforcement for a “lie” about blood spatter found on the T-shirt he was wearing the night of the murders. That testimony came in over an objection from the prosecution – marking a rare and perhaps significant victory for the defense as Judge Clifton Newman overruled the state.

The trial broke for a lunchtime recess at 1:23 p.m. EST.

After lunch, Alex Murdaugh’s testimony focused on his drug addiction and his admitted theft of money from his legal clients.

The locus of that drug addiction, the defendant mused, was a football injury to his knee that he sustained in college. After a successive series of failed surgeries, he said, he was prescribed opioids and eventually became hooked on “pills.”

During cross-examination, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters spent a considerable amount of time seeking to establish that the defendant came from a “prominent” legal family in the Lowcountry region and that he was a “successful” lawyer – to some amount of friction from the defendant over the choice of words used to describe his esteem in the community and how he plied his trade.

After some time, the state centered in on Alex Murdaugh’s behavior at the hospital on the night of a drunken boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. The boat in question was being piloted by Paul Murdaugh.

Waters seemed to be suggesting the defendant had improperly used his solicitor’s badge to curry favor with law enforcement at the hospital or access areas he was not supposed to have accessed the night of the crash.

Later, the prosecution painstakingly recounted several instances in which the defendant stole from his clients.

Often naming names and the basis of civil lawsuits – including accidents that left some clients disfigured and handicapped – Waters sought to establish that Alex Murdaugh repeatedly sat down with people and lied to them, while talking fast, and looking them in the eyes, and then stole their money.

The defendant didn’t question the basic thrust of that line of questioning but occasionally pushed back on whether or not he actually talked fast or had to sit down with and deceive everyone he stole from because some of his clients trusted him.

“I don’t dispute any of this,” Alex Murdaugh said at one point. “I misled people to do that.”

Newman put the kibosh on proceedings around 5:30 p.m. EST. The state will continue their cross-examination of the witness on Friday morning.

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