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Alex Murdaugh double murder trial — Day 17


Jurors returned to the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday morning as prosecutors appeared likely to rest 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.

On Wednesday, the defense “opened the door” to testimony about the defendant’s admittedly botched Labor Day suicide attempt in 2021. It is unclear, however, the extent to which the state will seize the opportunity to tell jurors about the insurance fraud scheme gone awry.

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 former client Curtis Edward “Cousin Eddie” Smith to shoot and kill him to secure a $10 million life insurance payout for his oldest son, Buster Murdaugh.

During a cross-examination of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division lead investigator David Owen, Griffin brought up Smith, who he also identified as his client’s drug dealer. The attorney cast a picture of a complicated and costly relationship between the two men and a drug dealing local gang called the Cowboys. The upshot of all that detail was to raise the notion that Maggie and Paul Murdaugh may have been killed over an outstanding drug debt in a “hit.”

As a result, Judge Clifton Newman, late on Wednesday reversed an earlier ruling – from the same day – about the admissibility of the roadside shooting. In response to a request from the state, he determined the defense “opened the door” to additional questions about the incident.

Curtis Edward Smith appears in a mugshot

Curtis Edward “Cousin Eddie” Smith appears in a mugshot via the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday, jurors got a late start as the defense and prosecution were engaged in an evidentiary hearing to determine exactly how much of the 41-minute-long hospital bed interview the defendant gave to investigators immediately after the botched attempt would be aired in open court.

During that hearing, the defense sought to undo some of Wednesday’s surprise ruling.

Griffin did not make much headway with those efforts.

“The defense went right there as though they could dance through fire without getting burned,” Judge Newman said.

Still, it’s unclear exactly how far the state will take the roadside shooting evidence. As previously reported, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters did not seem particularly interested in calling Smith to the stand earlier this week. Meanwhile, Harpootlian has repeatedly – in motions and in hearings – expressed a strong desire to cross-examine Alex Murdaugh’s distant cousin.

On Thursday, jurors heard the 911 call from the roadside shooting where Alex Murdaugh suffered what law enforcement ultimately termed a “superficial” injury to his head.

And then they heard the admission.

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