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Alex Murdaugh denies murders, but admits to lying to police

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In South Carolina, disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh took the witness stand Thursday. He admitted to lying to police when he said he was nowhere near the crime scene the night his wife and son were murdered in the summer of 2021. South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen was inside the courtroom and has more on this story that we warn contains graphic details of gun violence.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Defense attorney Jim Griffin got right to it, pointing to a family-owned weapon like the ones the state says were used to kill Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM GRIFFIN: Mr. Murdaugh, did you take this gun or any gun like it and blow your son's brains out on June 7 or any day or any time?

ALEX MURDAUGH: No, I did not.

HANSEN: The towering 6-foot-4 Murdaugh sat calmly, facing jurors, turning briefly to answer his attorney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURDAUGH: Mr. Griffin, I didn't shoot my wife or my son any time ever.

HANSEN: But a video police just extracted last fall from the cellphone of Murdaugh's murdered son may have prompted him to make a stunning admission regarding his whereabouts the night his loved ones were killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRIFFIN: Were you, in fact, at the kennels at 8:44 p.m. on the night Maggie and Paul were murdered?

MURDAUGH: I was.

HANSEN: The video reveals Murdaugh's voice, along with his wife and son's, at the family's dog kennels just minutes before the prosecution says they were shot to death. Murdaugh testified he wasn't truthful initially because he was paranoid from an opioid addiction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURDAUGH: I don't think I was capable of reason, and I lied about being down there. And I'm so sorry that I did.

HANSEN: After apologizing, the 54-year-old's demeanor quickly changed, and he became chatty as he shared the rest of his alibi. He says he went back to the family's home, lied down on the couch with the television on, then went to check on his mom, who has Alzheimer's disease.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURDAUGH: I went in, and I sat down on my mom's hospital bed, and I just talked to her for a minute. My mom was awake.

HANSEN: But the caregiver for Murdaugh's mom has testified the ailing woman was asleep. What's more, Shelly Smith told jurors Murdaugh walked into his mother's home days later carrying what looked like a blue, vinyl tarp, bundled up with something inside. Murdaugh denied doing so. Investigators have testified they later found a blue raincoat with gunshot residue. But it was the lies regarding Murdaugh's whereabouts the night of the murders prosecutor Creighton Waters focused on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CREIGHTON WATERS: The first time that law enforcement officers that you've talked to and the prosecution and here in open court ever heard you say that you lied about being in the kennels was today in this court.

MURDAUGH: Yes, I'm aware of that.

HANSEN: Waters has spent much of his case trying to prove Murdaugh has repeatedly lied to keep a secret lie from being exposed - a life of allegedly embezzling millions from friends, clients and colleagues at the family law firm. He argues Murdaugh murdered his loved ones because his crimes were about to be exposed. He needed a distraction and wanted sympathy. Murdaugh admitted Thursday to swindling millions from people who were vulnerable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATERS: These were real people, aren't they?

MURDAUGH: No, they're very real people. And, you know, one of the saddest parts of this whole thing is, is, you know, they're people that I still care about, and I did them this way.

HANSEN: But Murdaugh insists he's no killer, emphasizing that's what he's on trial for - the murders of his wife and son.

For NPR News, I'm Victoria Hansen in Walterboro, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CIVIL WARS AND T BONE BURNETT'S "WITNESSES TO HUNGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.