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Prosecution shows Alex Murdaugh lies, but did he kill his wife and son?

Alex Murdaugh listens to testimony during day 20 of his double murder trial.
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Alex Murdaugh listens to testimony during his trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Walterboro, S.C.- Prosecutors tried to show disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh routinely spun a web of lies as they rested their case Friday following four weeks of testimony in his double murder trial.

They said Murdaugh lied when he set up a fake bank account mimicking a legitimate company. He lied as he used that account and others to embezzle millions from his family’s law firm. And he lied when he told the vulnerable sons of his late housekeeper a much promised, insurance settlement had yet to be reached.

It had.

Murdaugh later admitted to pocketing $5 million meant for the sons of the woman who’d spent nearly 20 years raising his own.

Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters wrapping up case against Alex Murdaugh during week four of murder trial.
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters wrapping up case against Alex Murdaugh during week four of murder trial. Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

There was so much testimony about lies, even the defense seemed sick of it. As the prosecution tugged to unravel more, attorney Dick Harpootlian argued lies about another crime, a staged roadside shooting, weren’t relevant to the murders of Murdaugh’s son and wife, “other than he lied about something else”.

The comment drew laughter from the gallery in the jury’s absence. But lead prosecutor Creighton Waters quickly seized upon it, pointing out the staged shooting created a sense, “the real killers are back”.

And that is the crux of the prosecution’s case; when Murdaugh is confronted with his own misdeeds, he spins a web of lies like a spider luring prey, only he’s the one ensnared and in need of saving.

Prosecutors say that’s what happened Sept. 4, 2021, three months after the murders of Maggie and Paul. Murdaugh had just been fired from his law firm and confronted by a friend about embezzling money when he staged his own shooting along a rural roadside.

Suddenly those angry at Murdaugh for stealing millions, were concerned about his safety. The gunman who murdered his family, it seemed, was back to finish business.

But Murdaugh later confessed to police, he lied. The roadside gunman was someone he knew, a drug dealer he claimed to pay as much as $60,000 a week to support his Opioid addiction. Investigators said the story still didn’t make sense but stopped looking for a fictious gunman.

The Murdaugh family, (left to right) Buster, Maggie and Paul
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Alex Murdaugh trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

As for the murders of his family, 54-year-old Murdaugh has adamantly denied killing his wife and son, saying he was never at the crime scene the night of June 7, 2021, instead visiting his mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

But is Murdaugh lying about this crime too? That’s what prosecutors hoped to prove.

They showed jurors video taken from Paul’s cell phone in which Murdaugh’s voice can be heard, along with Paul and Maggie at the crime scene, just minutes before they were killed. The video appears to shatter Murdaugh’s alibi.

The jury also heard from a woman who cared for Murdaugh’s ailing mother. Shelly Smith testified Murdaugh did stop by that night for 20 minutes, but said he later tried to convince her the visit was more like 30 to 40 minutes. Smith felt so uncomfortable, she immediately called her brother who works in law enforcement.

The family housekeeper, Blanca Simpson, shared a conversation she had with Maggie who she says was concerned about a civil lawsuit in which the Murduaghs would likely lose everything. Simpson also recalled exactly what Murdaugh was wearing the day of the murders. She’d fixed his collar that morning. She told jurors Murdaugh later tried to tell her what clothing he'd worn, despite what she had witnessed.

It’s not the first time Murduagh has been accused of orchestrating stories.

In the immediate hours of a 2019 boat crash in which Murdaugh’s son Paul was charged, the families of the other teens involved said the then prominent attorney appeared more concerned about establishing who was driving the boat than the young woman who was missing and killed. The boat crash led to the civil lawsuit against Murdaugh the housekeeper alluded to her in testimony, the same suit prosecutors have argued was coming to a head before Maggie and Paul were killed.

Murdaugh needed another web; the murders of wife and son, the prosecution has contended.

The defense has called that ludicrous and repeatedly pointed out there is no direct evidence tying Murdaugh to the murders, no weapon, no bloody clothing and no fingerprints. And even if Murdaugh lied or misremembered at times, that doesn’t mean he did the unthinkable, slaughtered his wife and son.

SLED special agent details gps data provided by GM.
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
SLED special agent Peter Rudofski testifies about gps data points provided by GM during the Alex Murdaugh trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

The prosecution has tried to tie inconsistencies in Murdaugh's story to his loved ones' murders using cell phone and GPS data detailing the family’s whereabouts during their final night together.

In fact, data just received from General Motors regarding Murdaugh’ s Chevy Suburban appeared to be particularly damming as it showed him speeding down rural roads at night to visit his sleeping mother and taking a flurry of steps immediately following the murders.

The defense will likely introduce their own experts to tackle technology and a myriad of missteps they allege kept police from finding the real killer.

Other tidbits from the prosecution the defense might address: Maggie’s wedding ring found beneath the driver’s seat of her car; a credit card statement with a circled GUCCI item recovered from the trash; and a text from Paul a month before the murders telling Murdaugh they needed to talk because Maggie found his drugs.

The defense will lay out its case this week, which it began briefly late Friday.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.