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Alex Murdaugh double murder trial Day 16 ends with defense opening the door to infamous roadside shooting


Jurors returned to the Colleton County Courthouse on Wednesday morning as prosecutors continued their case against attorney Alex Murdaugh over the double murder of his wife and son at the family’s storied and massive 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.

Action in the case on Tuesday afternoon continued after jurors left, as the prosecution signaled their lack of interest in calling the defendant’s former client, often referred to as Curtis Edward “Cousin Eddie” Smith, to the stand. That former client is also Alex Murdaugh’s co-defendant in a related insurance fraud case.

In September 2021, Alex Murdaugh was shot in the head on the side of the road. At the time, defense attorney Jim Griffin said his client had stopped to assess car trouble when a truck passed him, doubled back, and then an assailant got out and fired a single shot. The wound was superficial, authorities would later say. Days later, law enforcement says, Alex Murdaugh confessed to hiring Smith to shoot and kill him to secure a $10 million life insurance payout for his oldest son, Buster Murdaugh.

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian later said his client, under the influence of opioids, mistakenly believed that the policy had a suicide clause that would have limited or prevented payments if he died by his own hands.

The defense has signaled the opposite in pre-trial motions: they would love to have Smith on the stand and cross-examine him. Described as Alex Murdaugh’s alleged drug dealer and check casher, the defense claims Smith failed a lie detector test when asked about the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

“The cross-examination of Mr. Smith is something I’m looking forward to,” Harpootlian said Tuesday evening.

But it may not come to pass.

On Wednesday, after rounds of COVID testing due to multiple jurors previously calling in sick, and clean bills of health all around, the state presented extensive testimony from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division lead investigator David Owen.

A substantial portion of Owen’s testimony focused on Alex Murdaugh’s original custodial interview.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Jim Griffin elicited testimony from Owen that up until August 11, 2021, Alex Murdaugh gave him and other SLED investigators “carte blanche.”

That date is when it became clear to the defendant that he was a suspect in the murder of his wife and son.

“Did you kill Maggie?” Owen asked Murdaugh directly in the video played for the jury. “Did you kill Paul, do you know who did?”

After jurors returned from a quick break late in the afternoon, the court made an about-face on testimony regarding the defendant’s admittedly botched Labor Day suicide attempt in 2021.

Griffin brought up Smith in relation to that bizarre incident – in the context of his client’s expensive, and occasionally well-financed drug addiction. According to the defense attorney, Smith supplied Murdaugh with thousands of dollars of drugs per week, but eventually the funds got scarce and Smith became indebted to a gang of criminal drug dealers known as the Cowboys.

The implication raised by all of those lurid allegations was clear: the defense was suggesting that, perhaps, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh had been killed as the result of a “drug hit” over the debt owed.

Prosecutor John Meadors, during a second hearing on the admissibility of the roadside shooting insurance scheme in which Smith was the alleged gunman, argued that the defense’s questions “opened the door” to additional questions about the incident. In an earlier hearing, Judge Clifton Newman sought to limit testimony about that shooting.

In the second hearing, the court agreed with the state.

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