Disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh admitted to a bizarre botched suicide plot in a recorded interview with police about three months after his wife and son were gunned down at the family’s hunting estate.
Murdaugh’s attorneys arranged the phone interview Sept. 13, 2021, while he was in a drug rehab facility for an opioid addiction.
He came clean to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent (SLED) Ryan Kelly, admitting he’d asked his former client and his alleged drug dealer, Curtis “Cousin Eddie” Smith, to shoot him in the head nine days earlier.
The suicide was meant to look like a murder so his living son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect a $10 million life insurance payout, Murdaugh told Kelly in the recording played for jurors Thursday.
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But Smith only grazed Murdaugh’s head.
“I knew I was about to lose everything and I figured [Buster’s] better off that way than dealing with me,” Murdaugh said in a trembling voice, as his lawyers Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian occasionally chimed in on the call.
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“I apologize to you for lying,” Murdaugh told Kelly. “I was in a very bad place.”
Murdaugh hadn’t yet been arrested for the double slaying of his 22-year-old son, Paul Murdaugh, and his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, in June 2021, for which he is currently on trial in Walterboro, South Carolina.
Jurors weren’t supposed to hear about the bungled attempted murder – but Judge Clifton Newman reversed his earlier ruling barring the testimony after Griffin repeatedly brought up Smith Wednesday during cross-examination.
Griffin suggested that Smith could behind the murders of Maggie and Paul.
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The defense chose “to just go right there as if they could dance through fire without getting burned,” said Newman, who blamed Griffin for opening the door to Kelly’s testimony.
In the confession, Murdaugh admitted to paying Smith up to $50,000 a week for pills and embezzling millions from his law firm to fuel his addiction.
The day before the failed Sept. 4, 2021, suicide, Murdaugh was fired for stealing from his law firm, then known as Peters Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.
He approached Smith with the half-baked plan. “I told him things were getting ready to get really bad, and I’d be better off not here, and I asked him to shoot me,” Murdaugh said in the interview, insisting that Smith agreed to kill him as a favor. “At first he was a little surprised, but then he said OK.”
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Murdaugh only confessed after his far-fetched tale of a dapper stranger opening fire when he stopped to change a flat tire quickly unraveled.
He even provided a detailed description of the “nice looking” assailant to a sketch artist.
Agents recovered a knife from the scene on the side of Old Salkehachie Road — a short drive from the family’s hunting estate, known as Moselle, where Paul and Maggie were murdered.
Murdaugh was driving Maggie’s black Mercedes and used the knife to puncture the tire.
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But the Mercedes had run flat tires, which keep a car operable even with a puncture. Both Murdaugh and Smith’s DNA were recovered from the knife, Kelly testified.
Video surveillance from a nearby church showed a blue Chevrolet pickup with a gold quarter panel, which belonged to Smith, following behind Murdaugh in the Mercedes.
Minutes later, the pickup could be seen driving the opposite direction after the shooting.
Harpootlian informed Kelly on the call that Murdaugh’s life insurance policy didn’t actually have a suicide clause that would prevent Buster from collecting the payout— but that his client didn’t realize this at the time.
After lead prosecutor Creighton Waters played the phone interview, he peppered Kelly with a few final questions.
“Did [Alex Murdaugh] ever say Curtis Eddie Smith had anything to do with the murders at Moselle?” asked Waters.
“He denied it when we asked,” Kelly replied. Murdaugh also said he had no outstanding debts for drugs, and that Buster was not in danger.
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Smith and Murdaugh were indicted in June 2022 on criminal conspiracy and narcotics charges for an alleged drug trafficking conspiracy.
The defense’s cross-examination of Kelly is expected to begin Friday at 9:30 a.m.