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Prosecutor: Alex Murdaugh ‘fuzzy’ about new details of case

Prosecutor Creighton Waters grilled the former lawyer about what he repeatedly called a “new story” about what happened at the kennels on the evening of June 7, 2021

Alex Murdaugh is cross-examined by prosecutor Creighton Waters during his murder trial in South Carolina, on Thursday, February 23, 2023.
Alex Murdaugh is cross-examined by prosecutor Creighton Waters during his murder trial in South Carolina, on Thursday, February 23, 2023.Joshua Boucher (AP)

The prosecutor took disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh step-by-step Friday through a timeline of the night his wife and son were killed, frequently challenging inconsistencies in his memory while testifying at his double murder trial.

A day after revealing for the first time that he was at the kennels where his wife and son were shot shortly before they died, Murdaugh returned to the stand in his own defense. During cross-examination, prosecutor Creighton Waters grilled Murdaugh about what he repeatedly called the once-prominent lawyer’s “new story” about what happened at the kennels on the evening of June 7, 2021.

Waters asked Murdaugh if he meant what he told the jury Thursday – that he tried to help police find the killers. “Other than lying to them about going to the kennels, I was cooperative in every aspect of this investigation,” Murdaugh said. “Very cooperative except maybe the most important fact of all, that you were at the murder scene with the victims just minutes before they died,” Waters replied.

For 20 months, Murdaugh insisted that he was never at the kennels. But after more than a year, state agents hacked his son’s iPhone and found a video with Alex Murdaugh’s voice less than five minutes before the victims stopped using their cellphones and prosecutors think they were shot.

Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in the deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, but has steadfastly denied any involvement. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

Waters pushed Murdaugh for more details about what happened during the kennel visit, noting that this was all new to investigators since he only admitted it in court Thursday. The timing, including cellphone and car-tracking data, is a key component. The video ended just before 8.46 pm and both Paul and Maggie Murdaugh stopped using their cellphones about three minutes later.

Murdaugh couldn’t remember how long he was at the kennels, whether he got blood on his hands pulling a dead chicken from a dog’s mouth or the last words he would ever say to his son and his wife. “There would have been some exchange,” Murdaugh said. Waters said it appeared Murdaugh remembered a lot of specifics when the details were critical, but not when they might get him in trouble. “You disagree with my characterization that you have a photographic memory about the details that have to fit now that you know these facts, but you’re fuzzy about the other stuff that complicates that?” Waters said.

Waters also asked Murdaugh if the dogs at the kennels were barking or acting unusually while the three were down there, as they might if a stranger were nearby. “No. There was nobody around the dogs didn’t know,” Murdaugh said.

Defense attorneys have contended that prosecutors incorrectly locked in on Murdaugh’s guilt from the start, without considering other suspects. Murdaugh said Friday that after the brief kennel visit, he returned to the family’s house about 1,150 feet (350 meters) away on a golf cart, lay down for a few minutes and then got up to get ready to visit his ailing mother about 9.02 pm, a time verified by step data on his cellphone, which he didn’t take to the kennels.

Waters asked Murdaugh if a flurry of steps and a series of unanswered phone calls he started making to his wife and son at 9:02 p.m. after no activity was detected on his phone for nearly an hour was a way a lawyer and volunteer prosecutor could begin crafting a story to show he couldn’t be the killer. “I never manufactured any alibi in any way shape or form because I did not and would not hurt my wife and my child.”

Until the kennel questions, much of the cross-examination of Murdaugh concentrated on how he stole money from clients and his law firm and the addiction to opioids that Murdaugh said led to the thefts. Prosecutors have said Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy to buy time because his financial misdeeds were about to be discovered. During his testimony, he has admitted to stealing from clients.

Murdaugh often avoided yes or no answers in cross-examination, instead repeating questions and then setting off on meandering answers tangential to the prosecutor’s questions.

Exasperated, Waters again asked Murdaugh if he looked his clients in the eye before he stole from them. “They are real people. They are good people. They are all people that I care about. And a lot of them are people I loved. And I did wrong by them,” Murdaugh said, repeating a version of one of his frequent answers. “You hurt the people you love, I know,” Waters replied dismissively.

Murdaugh is charged with about 100 other crimes, ranging from stealing from clients to tax evasion. He is being held without bail on those charges, so even if he is found not guilty of the killings, he will not walk out of court a free man. If convicted of most or all of those financial crimes, Murdaugh would likely spend decades in prison.

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