Accused killer Alex Murdaugh broke down in tears in a South Carolina courtroom on Wednesday during the opening statements of his murder trial.
The disgraced 54-year-old legal scion, charged with killing his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, began sobbing as his attorney Dick Harpootlian described the macabre double-murder scene at the family’s Islandton hunting lodge in June 2021.
Murdaugh and his wife’s sole surviving son, 26-year-old Buster, sat stoically behind his father in the Colleton County Courthouse during the emotional opening remarks in his first public appearance at his fathers’ legal proceedings.
Harpootlian said that the night of the murders, Murdaugh, upon returning from his mothers’ house, “comes home to find his son laying in his own blood … shot to hell.”
As the lawyer recounted the horror, Murdaugh began cying in his seat.
“He checks to see if there’s any life there … he tries to get a pulse out of Maggie” before calling 911, he said.
Maggie, 52, had been shot multiple times before receiving a single shot to the back of her head while she was face-down on the ground.
“Whoever the perp was, walked up, took that AR and put one in the back of her head. Executed. Why? This is going to be interesting because we don’t know why,” he said, adding that Murdaugh has his own theories.
Harpootlian said his client would have been covered “head to foot” in blood if he had killed his son.
No bloody clothes were ever recovered, Harpootlian said, and Murdaugh wore a white shirt the night of the slayings. The shirt has been described as a key piece of evidence that was destroyed by the state before the defense could forensically test the shirt themselves, Murdaugh’s lawyers said in a filing this November.
Harpootlian said “it’s much more likely” there were two shooters — neither of which were Murdaugh — which would explain two separate guns used.
South Carolina’s chief prosecutor Creighton Waters claimed that there is “crucial evidence” found in Murdaugh’s and the victims’ phone records that can place him at the scene at the time of murders, and suggested he may have been trying to come up with an alibi in the hours after.
Murdaugh has denied ever being near the dog kennels, where the bodies were found, the night of the murders.
“But the evidence is going to show, that these things every one of us carries around in our pockets, that he was there and he was there just minutes before with Maggie and Paul just before their cell phones go silent for ever and ever,” Waters said, holding up a cell phone.
Waters said Murdaugh, Maggie and Paul were all known as “prolific” cell phone users.
Just moments before they were killed, Paul took a video of a friend’s dog down at the kennel, in which Murdaugh and Maggie can both be heard, he said.
“He was at the murder scene with the two victims and more than that just over four minutes later … Paul’s phone locks forever. He never reads another text, never sends another text, doesn’t answer calls.”
According to Waters, records show Murdaugh called his wife and texted her after they were killed to say he was leaving. He then got into his car to visit his sick mother — who was suffering from late-stage alzheimer’s — around 9:06 p.m. before returning to the property at 10:01 p.m. He called 911 at 10:06, the prosecutor said.
Waters and Harpootlian warned jurors of the gruesome images they see moving through the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks.
“You’re going to see what he did to Maggie and Paul,” Waters said. “It’s going to be gruesome. There’s no other way around it. That’s what he did.”
Murdaugh, who has pleaded not guilty to the slayings, also faces 99 separate charges of financial fraud that will be handled at a later trial.
If convicted of murder, he will face a minimum sentence of 30 years. Prosecutors are not pursuing the death penalty.
Buster has refused public comment on the charges against his father.
Little is known about him outside of photos showing him in Las Vegas with his uncle after the murders, and jailhouse tapes of fairly generic conversations between him and his incarcerated father.