Stories about Alex Murdaugh and his family had been swirling for years. And after prosecutors spent four weeks laying out their case in his South Carolina murder trial, it was his turn to tell his side.
The disgraced attorney, who's being played by Bill Pullman in Lifetime's upcoming Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, had pleaded not guilty to killing his wife Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and son Paul Murdaugh, 22, in 2021, maintaining he had nothing to do with their deaths.
And so Murdaugh took the stand to testify in his own defense starting on Feb. 23.
Ultimately, however, the 55-year-old was convicted of two counts apiece of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He was sentenced March 3 to two consecutive terms of life in prison, effectively putting him away, as South Carolina Circuit Judge Clifton Newman put it, "for the rest of [his] natural life."
Murdaugh's attorneys, who in a December 2022 court filing called the alleged motive for murder "illogical and implausible," filed a notice of appeal days later. According to a motion filed Sept. 5 and reviewed by NBC News, the defense is alleging jury tampering in asking for a new trial.
Murdaugh (pronounced Murdock) is a scion of one of the most influential local dynasties in Colleton County, his great-grandfather having founded the family's Hampton law firm in 1910, while a Murdaugh filled the 14th Circuit solicitor's chair for three generations. And the drama emanating from their corner was making headlines in South Carolina's Lowcountry long before Paul and Maggie were found dead on June 7, 2021.
By the end of 2021, Murdaugh had resigned from the family business amid allegations he stole money from clients (he's since been disbarred); admitted to hiring a man to kill him so his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect his insurance policy (the alleged associate has denied it); briefly checked into rehab for opioid addiction; and was charged with swindling his dead housekeeper's sons out of more than $4.3 million in insurance payments.
Newman refused to grant the defense a blanket order barring prosecutors from questioning Murdaugh about his alleged financial crimes. (From separate indictments, Murdaugh is facing more than 100 charges, including insurance fraud and money laundering. Court records show he's planning to plead guilty Sept. 21 to federal charges of stealing settlement money from his clients, according to the Associated Press.)
"You know, high-profile lawyer," Newman told NBC News' TODAY in June, offering his opinion as to why the trial he presided over captivated the nation. "Death of a wife. Death of a child. Accusations of stealing millions of dollars from clients. Allegations of a lawyer hooked on drugs. It had all the ingredients for something of major public interest."
Buster said on Fox Nation's recent special The Fall of the House of Murdaugh that he believed the outcome of his dad's trial was "predetermined," that the jury came in ready to convict Alex before hearing "any shred of evidence."
He explained, "I think that people get overwhelmed, and I think that they believe everything that they read. And I think they took advantage of a jury pool in a very small town, in a very small county."
Here's what Alex Murdaugh had to say when he took the stand during his murder trial:
What did Alex Murdaugh say when asked if he killed wife Maggie and son Paul?
Defense attorney Jim Griffin, holding a 12-gauge shotgun and .300 Blackout rifle in either hand, asked Murdaugh if he had used one of those guns in evidence—or any gun—to kill his wife and son.
"Mr. Griffin, I didn't shoot my wife or my son any time," Murdaugh said. "Ever."
(Neither gun Griffin held up has been positively identified as the murder weapon.)
"I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them," the defendant added.
Did Alex Murdaugh lie about where he was the night of the murders?
Murdaugh told investigators on multiple occasions that he'd been away visiting his ailing parents (dad Randolph Murdaugh III died several days later) on June 7, 2021, and came home shortly after 10 p.m. to find Paul and Maggie dead out by the dog kennels on the Murdaughs' sprawling hunting property on Moselle Road in Islandton, S.C.
But his voice could be heard in a Snapchat video shot on Paul's phone, timestamped 8:44 p.m.
The defendant testified it was his voice in the video, which was recorded out by the kennels.
Murdaugh said that his longtime opioid abuse had made him "paranoid," and after he found "Mags and Pawpaw" his law partners advised him not to say a word until Danny Henderson—Murdaugh's former fellow partner at the firm, who served as counsel during his first interview with investigators—arrived.
His hands were tested for gun shot residue, Murdaugh continued, and, as he was being questioned by officers from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), "All those things coupled together after finding them, coupled with my distrust for SLED, caused me to have paranoid thoughts. On June 7, I wasn't thinking clearly, I don't think I was capable of reason and I lied about being down [by the kennels], and I'm so sorry that I did."
"Oh what a tangled web we weave," Murdaugh replied as his attorney pressed him further about why he lied multiple times about where he was. "Once I told a lie—I told my family—I had to keep lying."
What does Alex Murdaugh say he was doing when his wife and son were killed?
On the day of June 7, 2021, a Monday, Murdaugh testified that he left for work that morning, while Maggie was going to a doctor's appointment in Charleston, S.C., and said she planned to spend the night at their house in Edisto Beach. Though, Murdaugh noted, he told Maggie that he'd like for her to come back to Islandton to spend the evening with him, as he always preferred.
When he returned that evening, Murdaugh said, he and Paul tooled around the property, just the two of them. (The family had golf carts and ATVs to traverse the 1,800-acre property.)
"You could not be around Pawpaw and not have a good time," Murdaugh said, fighting tears. "I loved doing anything with Pawpaw. He was an absolute delight."
Maggie got back sometime after 8 p.m., he continued, after which he left Paul down by the kennels and went back to the main house, where he talked to his wife for a bit and then took a shower. Afterward, Murdaugh said, he put on the green shorts and white T-shirt that investigators saw him in later that night.
Murdaugh testified that he, Maggie and Paul ate dinner together while watching TV in the den. At some point, he said, Paul left the room and then Maggie said she was going down to the kennels. A few minutes after she left, Murdaugh said, he decided he'd join them, adding that he'd since seen the evidence that indicated Paul and Maggie had driven to the kennels together but he didn't know Paul was down there at the time.
He took a golf cart over, Murdaugh said, and saw "chaos"—their dog Bubba had caught a chicken. He testified that he defused the situation, chatted with Maggie while Paul tended to his friend's dog Cash, and "got out of there."
Murdaugh said he laid down on the couch in the den and might have dosed off for a few minutes, but when he got up he decided he wanted to visit his mother Libby Murdaugh, who has Alzheimer's, in Almeda, about 10 miles away from Islandton.
When he got to his mother's house, he testified, the door was locked so he called Libby's caretaker to let him in. Murdaugh said he sat with his mom for awhile, "just talked to her, made sure she was OK," and when he left he tried calling and texting Maggie twice to let her know he was on his way back.
He said the Moselle cell service was spotty, so he wasn't concerned when he didn't hear back.
What does Alex Murdaugh say he was doing when prosecutors allege he could have been hiding evidence?
Asked by his lawyer Griffin what was happening during a minute that, according to data collected from his Chevy Suburban, he was stopped in his mother's driveway, Murdaugh testified that he had dropped his phone and was merely fishing around for it before he drove off.
According to Murdaugh, he was not busily stashing weapons or disposing of bloody clothes, as the prosecution had suggested.
What did Alex Murdaugh say about finding the bodies of wife Maggie and son Paul?
Murdaugh sobbed on the stand when he described finding Maggie and Paul, who were both shot multiple times.
He got back to Moselle and went straight to the main house, he testified. After a few minutes, he continued, he drove his Suburban to the kennels and found his wife and son. What he saw was "so, so bad," he said through tears.
"I just went back and forth between them" while talking to 9-1-1, Murdaugh said. (According to records, the call was made at 10:06 p.m.)
Parts of the call were replayed in court, including Murdaugh saying at one point, "I should've known." Asked what he meant by that, Murdaugh referenced threats Paul had received since he was involved in a 2019 boat crash that left one of his passengers, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, dead. Paul, accused of being drunk behind the wheel of the boat, had pleaded not guilty to related charges and that case was pending when he died.
At some point, Murdaugh testified, he "just didn't know" who might be on his property so he went back to the main house and grabbed the first gun he saw, a 12-gauge shotgun that he said was lying on the pool table, and a few shells, including one for a different type of firearm.
"That's not a mistake I would've made under any circumstances other than that night," he said of the ammo mix-up.
What does Alex Murdaugh say he did after calling 9-1-1?
On the stand, Murdaugh denied that he was reading through his text messages while waiting for first responders to show up and Googled a restaurant after an officer had arrived, as cell phone records presented by the prosecution suggested.
He testified that he called his brothers Randolph "Randy" Murdaugh IV and John Marvin Murdaugh, as well as a close family friend, Rogan Gibson.
Murdaugh said he got blood on his fingertips from touching the bodies. Asked by his attorney about a forensic report that stated he had "high velocity" blood spatter on his shirt that the prosecution did not introduce while presenting their case after the defense questioned its credibility in pretrial motions, Murdaugh said there was "no way" for spatter to have got on his shirt because he was "nowhere near" Maggie and Paul when they were shot.
Murdaugh and his eldest son, Buster, 26, spent the night in Almeda, the defendant said, and he came back to Moselle first thing the next morning. (For the defense, Buster testified Feb. 21 that his dad was "heartbroken" by the killings.)
What did Alex Murdaugh say about the murder investigation?
When he returned to the scene the morning of June 8, Murdaugh testified, he told SLED investigators to search "anything, anywhere, anytime." He said he mentioned on multiple occasions that they should look at GPS data from his Suburban and his and Maggie's cell phones, because the two phones "never crossed paths" during the time in question.
Murdaugh said that Maggie loved the "Find My Friends" feature on her phone so he knew she'd have location tracking enabled. He further testified that he knew that he'd be considered a suspect at first, because he found the bodies, so he wanted that data used to exonerate him. But by the time investigators looked into that particular bit of phone activity, the data had been overwritten. (Text messages, deleted Google searches and other records were recovered.)
The defendant said that he knew after an Aug. 11, 2021, interview with SLED agent David Owen, during which Owen showed him the video from Paul's phone placing him at the house, that he was the prime suspect in the murders.
Was Alex Murdaugh distressed about financial matters on the day of the murders?
Taking on the prosecution's alleged motive, that Murdaugh killed Maggie and Paul as the evidence of his financial misdeeds was piling up, defense attorney Griffin asked the defendant if he was rattled on June 7 from a discussion he'd had earlier in the day with Jeanne Seckinger, his law firm's chief financial officer. She had asked Murdaugh about $792,000 in fees that were allegedly missing from a client's account.
Murdaugh replied that he was somewhat concerned, and he knew he'd have to answer for the missing money at some point, but he didn't consider it an emergency.
Not only did he not commit murder because, as his lawyer put it, his "financial house of cards" was coming down, Murdaugh testified, but rather his wife's death had made it harder for him to tap into their Moselle and Edisto Beach homes for financing because her name was attached to both properties.
Under cross-examination on Feb. 24, Murdaugh said he believed Seckinger thought he had given her a "dirty look" when she confronted him—as she described it while testifying for the prosecution—but that in his view "it certainly didn't seem like a confrontation" and her manner was "almost apologetic."
Murdaugh testified that he also wasn't particularly worried about a hearing that had been scheduled for June 10, 2021, related to a pending lawsuit filed against him over the 2019 boat crash. He said he was not, as prosecutors alleged, terrified that he'd have to turn over all of his financial records because, as an attorney himself, he knew that such an order from the judge would be highly unlikely.
He added that he had been preparing his net worth statement detailing his assets and liabilities on the day of the murders.
Did Alex Murdaugh steal money from his clients?
Asked if he stole money that was supposed to go to his legal clients, Murdaugh admitted, "Yes, I did."
Referring to his financial quagmire, he said, "You know, I'm not quite sure how I let myself get where I got." But, he continued, he spent a huge amount of money over two decades to fund his opioid addiction. He described becoming increasingly dependent on Oxycontin after multiple surgeries to repair an old college football knee injury.
He'd checked into in-patient rehab three times over the years, Murdaugh said, but the first two rounds of treatment didn't take. He said he'd been sober since his September 2021 trip to rehab in the wake of the killings and his resignation from his law firm on Sept 3.
Later during cross-examination, prosecutor Creighton Waters said that he planned to revisit each instance of client theft with Murdaugh, starting with a 2011 settlement in the amount of $800,000. Murdaugh admitted on the stand that he stole some of it.
"I shouldn't have done it, I hate the fact that I did it," Murdaugh said. "I'm embarrassed by it. I'm embarrassed for my son, I'm embarrassed for my family, and I don't dispute that I did it."
He continued to admit to stealing in general—"Just to try and get through this quicker," Murdaugh said—but didn't provide any details of his cases or conversations he had with clients as Waters ticked through the names.
"There are a lot of conversations I had where I misled my clients and I stole their money," Murdaugh said.
When court resumed on Feb. 24, Waters continued to press him for details of his financial crimes.
"There's all kind of things that do, you know, to be able to look yourself in the mirror," Murdaugh said. "You lie to yourself, I guess self-justification for these bad things." He further admitted on the stand that his actions became more brazen and in 2019 alone he stole roughly $3.7 million from clients.
Under re-direct by defense attorney Griffin later in the day, Murdaugh testified that, of $700,000 he stole in 2021, he paid Smith more than $500,000 of it for pills.
What was Alex Murdaugh's reason for allegedly concocting a suicide-by-shooting scheme?
Murdaugh testified that he contacted his friend Curtis Edward "Eddie" Smith on Sept. 4, 2021, because he'd turned over his stash of painkillers to his brother and wanted Smith to bring him some more pills to temper any withdrawal symptoms.
Instead, Murdaugh continued, by the time he and Smith met up, he had decided to ask the other man to shoot him instead, thinking Buster could collect on his two life insurance policies and avoid the humiliation of his dad having to answer for his financial mess. (Murdaugh called 9-1-1 that day to report that he'd been shot while he was stopped to change a tire; Smith said on TODAY in 2021 that he did not shoot him, that Murdaugh had a gun and it went off when Smith grabbed his arm and tried to pin it behind Murdaugh's back. Smith also said he was "1,000 percent" sure the bullet didn't hit either of them.)
Under cross-examination Feb. 24, Murdough said he initially lied on the 9-1-1 call because, "I had to have a story as to how I got shot."
Murdaugh said he did not have life insurance policies on Maggie or Paul. He tearfully said that his wife was "just as beautiful inside as she was outside," and Paul was a tough but sweet kid who'd grown into a "man's man."
Direct examination ended with Murdaugh reiterating that he did not kill them.
How did Alex Murdaugh respond to questions about his family's sphere of influence?
"I think my family was very well thought of, I think my family was respected," Murdaugh said under cross-examination from prosecutor Waters. "I think my family helped a lot of people."
He also acknowledged the Murdaughs' "very long association" with law enforcement in the area, both social and professional.
Murdaugh testified that his father, Randolph III, gave him a badge after he worked for the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office as a volunteer assistant solicitor, when his dad was the top prosecutor—and sometimes, Murdaugh said, he would keep it close at hand in his vehicle. "For instance, if I get pulled over, I might have it in the cupholder so an officer can see it when he walked up," he explained, also telling Waters that it was "accurate" to say he sometimes used the badge to his advantage.
Asked if he was carrying his solicitor's badge on the night of Paul's boat accident, Murdaugh testified that he didn't remember. Waters presented a screen shot of surveillance footage in which the badge was visible while Murdaugh spoke to a law enforcement officer while he was at the hospital where Paul and several other people in the crash were treated for injuries.
Murdaugh denied telling any of the crash victims not to cooperate with law enforcement.
What was Alex Murdaugh calling his son Paul during his testimony?
With the trial's livestream attracting viewers from all over, debate ensued online over whether Murdaugh was referring to his son as "Paul-Paul" or "Pawpaw/Papaw," which is more commonly used as a term of endearment for a grandfather.
Waters ended up asking if Murdaugh could clarify that he was using a nickname for his son, and questioned whether he'd ever used it before during legal proceedings or on any of his recorded statements played in court. The defendant said "Pawpaw" was what he and Paul's mother and brother called him. He said he couldn't remember if he'd used the moniker with regard to this case—but he said it was not correct to say he'd never called Paul "Pawpaw" before.
Murdaugh told the prosecutor he could call Paul by his regular first name if that was preferable, to which Waters replied, "No, you call him whatever you want, I'm just asking if you ever called him that during the course of that entire investigation."
Did Alex Murdaugh have an opioid addiction?
When court resumed Feb. 24, Waters questioned Murdaugh about his admitted addiction to prescription painkillers, the defendant having previously testified that drug use made him increasingly paranoid, which is why he initially lied to investigators about where he was the night of the murders.
Murdaugh said on the stand that there were times when he took more than 60 pills a day, having built up a tolerance over the years so that, eventually, "opioids gave me energy."
He testified that Maggie found his pills in May 2021 and told Paul, who then confronted his dad. "They had been watching me like a hawk for years," Murdaugh said. "May was one just occurrence where I let them down." Son Buster and his father, Randolph III, were the only other ones who knew about his addiction, Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh told the court that he promised Paul he'd check into rehab after there was an outcome in the criminal case pending against the 22-year-old over the boat crash.
The defendant said he disagreed with Waters' assertion that he was running out of liquid funds in the months preceding the murders, that as of January 2021 he had home equity he could draw from and he had several sources for potential loans, including his father.
How did Alex Murdaugh respond to questioning in regard to lying about his whereabouts when Paul and Maggie were killed?
While Murdaugh was on the stand, Waters pressed him about originally telling investigators he was visiting his mother when the murders occurred.
"So you, like you've done so many times over the course of your life, had to back up and make a new story that kind of fits with the facts that can't be denied. Isn't that true, sir?" the prosecutor asked.
Murdaugh replied, "No, sir, that's not true."
The defendant told the court that his lawyers tried to meet with Waters in 2021 but that the prosecutor refused a meeting. Murdaugh said he wanted to tell him "everything that I had done, to give you all these details to help y'all go through these financial things."
Waters responded by asking Murdaugh why he didn't come clean about his whereabouts in 2021—or at all, until he was on the witness stand.
"You would not respond to my invitations to reach out and tell you about all the things that I'd done wrong," Murdaugh replied.
As Waters asked him to recount his actions on the day of the murders, he repeatedly referred to Murdaugh's account as his "new story."
When he was driving around the estate with Paul earlier in the evening of June 7, Murdaugh testified, he had a .22-caliber pistol with him that he used to shoot wild hogs that strayed onto the property. He did not, Murdaugh said, have the family's .300 Blackout rifle with him, nor did he see a rifle like that down by the kennels. (The prosecution has presented that a Blackout, an AR-style weapon, is the kind of gun that killed Maggie and Paul.)
Regarding Murdaugh's prior testimony that he showered and ate dinner with Paul and Maggie, Waters asked, "All of this, the last time you supposedly saw your wife and child, all of this detail—you as a lawyer and a prosecutor didn't think that was important to offer on your own?"
Murdaugh agreed it was important.
Waters countered, "You told this jury how cooperative you've been, and how much information you wanted to provide, but you left out the most important parts, didn't you?"
Murdaugh agreed, "I left out that, I sure did."
The defendant asserted that he left his wife and son by the kennels immediately after Paul shot his Snapchat video, which ended at 8:45 p.m. Asked if he could have left as late as 8:47 p.m., Murdaugh said it was possible, but he thinks it was sooner and he was back at the house by 8:49 p.m.
(The prosecution has alleged that Maggie and Paul were killed at around 8:49 p.m., after which, investigators say, active use of their phones ceased. A SLED cell phone expert testified Jan. 31 that data suggested someone held Maggie's phone, which was found lying beside the road more than a quarter-mile away from the house, at 8:54 p.m. and again at 9:06 p.m., but didn't unlock it. The phone showed five missed calls from her husband between 9:04 p.m. and 10:03 p.m.)
Murdaugh's Suburban data indicated he left for his mother's house in Armeda at 9:02 p.m. Asked if he heard "anything at all" before he drove away, Murdaugh said he did not.
Waters referred to Murdaugh's previous statement to an investigator that he thought he heard Maggie and Paul driving up to the main house as he was leaving, adding, "You're saying you couldn't hear Blackout shots, supposedly, but you could hear that."
Waters again questioned just how cooperative Murdaugh really was with investigators.
"Other then lying to them about going to the kennel, I was cooperative in every aspect of this investigation," the defendant said.
To which the prosecutor responded, "Very cooperative, except for maybe the most important fact of all, that you were at the murder scene with the victims just minutes before they died."
Waters played a video of Murdaugh being interviewed by investigators on June 8, 2021, during which he said that he had been at the house while his wife was at the kennels. Asked when it was that he decided to lie, Murdaugh said that not mentioning that he, too, was at the kennels with Maggie and Paul was not a conscious lie. He reiterated his previous explanation, that drug abuse had made him paranoid and he didn't trust SLED.
Why is the prosecution zooming in on Alex Murdaugh's cell phone data?
Waters noted that Murdaugh, per cell phone data, made calls and logged 293 steps between 9:02 and 9:06 p.m.
"What I wasn't doing is doing anything that you've implied that I was cleaning off or washing off," Murdaugh told the court. Moreover, he said, "I did not intentionally delete phone calls from my phone."
Waters pressed, "You as a lawyer and prosecutor is up at 9:02 finally having your phone in your hand, moving around and making all these phone calls to manufacture an alibi. Is that not true?"
Murdaugh called that assertion "absolutely incorrect." Rather, he added, "It is an absolute fact that I am not manufacturing an alibi, as you say."
What did Alex Murdaugh say about accusations he tried to influence witness testimony?
Waters returned to the prosecution testimony of Shelley Smith, Murdaugh's mother Libby's caretaker, who told the court that Murdaugh suggested she lie to investigators about how long he was at Libby's house in Almeda on June 7.
Murdaugh said that it wouldn't have made any sense for him to have done that, because his cell phone would show what he was doing at any given time.
How did Alex Murdaugh connect the 2019 boat crash to the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh?
Murdaugh again invoked the "vile" threats he said his son Paul received after the young man was widely blamed for the crash that led to Mallory Beach's death in 2019.
"I believe that when Paul was charged criminally," Murdaugh told the court, "there was so many leaks, half-truths, half reports, half statements, partial information, misrepresentations of Paul that ended up in the media all the time. I believe the wrong person saw and read that. The person or people who did what I saw on June 7—they hated Paul Murdaugh, and they had anger in their heart. And that is the only reason that somebody could be mad at Pawpaw like that and hate him like that."
How did Alex Murdaugh's testimony conclude?
Toward the end of attorney Griffin's re-direct, Murdaugh again denied killing Maggie and Paul, saying if he'd been under the kind of strain the prosecution had alleged, he would have hurt himself before either of them.
(Originally published Feb. 23, 2023, at 10:58 a.m. PT; this story has been updated)