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Alex Murdaugh exchanges smiles with surviving son as Buster testifies in double murder trial

Buster Murdaugh smiles at his father during recess from his testimony in double murder trial
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Post and Courier/Pool
Buster Murdaugh watches his father enter the courtroom after a break at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

Buster Murdaugh testifies in his father's murder trial. The 26-year-old lost his mother and brother in the 2021 killings in which his father, Alex Murdaugh, is charged.

Walterboro, S.C. – Alex Murdaugh’s demeanor softened as his surviving son Buster was called by the defense to testify Tuesday in his double murder trial. The baby-faced 26-year-old with deep, red hair spoke directly to jurors about his upbringing, love of sports and the family he once knew.

Murdaugh beamed with pride, appearing to hang onto Buster's every word.

Alex Murdaugh listens as son Buster testifies
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Post and Courier/Pool
Alex Murdaugh listens to his son, Buster Murdaughs testimony during his trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

Defense attorney Jim Griffin questioned Buster about the family's guns, a video and the days surrounded the murders, casually scattering seeds of doubt in the prosecution’s newly sown case. The conversation felt familiar, with Buster at one point, referring to attorney Griffin as “Jim”.

The guns

When asked about the prevalence of guns on the Moselle property, Buster told jurors, “We had a lot of guns.”

He named a multitude of rifles, pistols and shotguns he said were primarily kept in the family gunroom but were frequently left in unlocked trucks and on golf carts, adding, “They didn’t always make it back to the gunroom.”

As for that much debated Blackout rifle, the prosecution says could be the murder weapon but is missing, Buster testified he and Paul did get such rifles for Christmas several years ago and while Paul’s was stolen, he never saw a replacement. It’s that replacement rifle the prosecution contend is unaccounted for.

Buster Murdaugh testifies
Grace Beahm Alford gbeahm@postan
Post and Courier/Pool
Buster Murdaugh, the son of Alex Murdaugh testifies in his fathers trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

Visiting grandparents

The questioning then turned to visits to Buster’s grandparent’s house in Almeda, the place Murdaugh says he was the night of the murders and where prosecutors believe he stashed weapons, perhaps at the back of the residence along a wood line where Murdaugh parked.

Buster testified it wasn’t unusual for his family to pull in near the back of the home and he said they visited his grandparents at all hours of the day.

A caregiver for Murdaugh’ s ailing mother said she’d never seen Murdaugh visit the home at 6:30 in the morning as he did after his father’s funeral, carrying what looked like a blue, vinyl tarp bundled up as if there was something inside.

Missing Clothing

Buster also appeared to debunk a housekeeper's account of finding wet clothing and towels in the master bedroom the morning after the murders as well as a disheveled closet. Murdaugh’s son said it wasn’t unusual for his dad to shower several times a day and he had packed his father’s bags when they left Moselle which could account for the fallen, white t-shirt the housekeeper reported.

What’s more, Buster testified his father kept clothes everywhere, in his office, in his car, at his brother’s house, and at a cabin on the Moselle property. Prosecutors have raised questions about the clothing Murdaugh wore just hours before the murders, clothing that so far has not been found.

Alex Murdaugh motions to family in gallery
Jeff Blake
The State/Pool
Alex Murdaugh taps his fist to his chest as he looks at his family during a break during day 21 of the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse on Tuesday, February 21, 2023.

The murders

Buster showed little emotion throughout his testimony, until he was asked about the moment, he learned his brother and mother were killed.

“My dad called me,” Buster recalled. “He asked me if I was sitting down."

Buster testified he rushed to Moselle, arriving around 2 a.m. There, he says, he found his father “destroyed, heartbroken”.

Griffin also asked Buster about a video in which police interviewed his father and an agent testified Murdaugh said “I did him so bad” while referring to a crime scene image. The video was played in court, and Buster maintained his father said, “They did him so bad.” He was sure, he says, because it was something his father repeatedly said following the murders.

On cross examination, Buster was asked when he found out about his father’s alleged financial crimes and if it put pressure on this family.

“I don’t know if pressure is the right word,” Buster testified. “It is definitely an uneasy feeling.”

Once Buster stepped down from the witness stand, he passed his dad and smiled. Alex Murdaugh then mouthed the words, “thank you” to his oldest and now only son.

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.