Carolina

Butcher or innocent man: Jury hears arguments in South Carolina murder trial

Jan 25 (Reuters) – The lead prosecutor in the case against Richard “Alex” Murdaugh said the expelled South Carolina attorney lied about his whereabouts and attacked his credibility the night his wife and son were murdered, as the high-profile trial began Wednesday.

In his opening statement, Murdaugh’s attorney painted a completely different account of his client, arguing that he had no reason to murder his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, who were shot dead at the family property in June 2021.

“He didn’t do it. He didn’t kill – butcher – his son and his wife,” said Dick Harpootlian in defense of Murdaugh, the 54-year-old scion of a powerful South Carolina family of lawyers. “Not believable.”

A jury of eight women and four men, selected earlier Wednesday, will soon begin weighing evidence in the grisly and complex case that has attracted international attention.

Murdaugh was indicted by a grand jury in July on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of weapons in connection with the shooting at dog kennels on the family estate. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters said cell phone evidence would show Murdaugh was in the kennels just before his wife and son were fatally shot at point blank range, contradicting what he had told others after the incident.

“He was there just minutes earlier — with Maggie and Paul — just minutes before their phones went dead forever,” Waters said in his opening statement. “Credibility, ladies and gentlemen, credibility.”

The trial takes place at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, a sleepy, rural town 50 miles west of Charleston in a low-lying region of South Carolina over which the Murdaugh family has wielded immense legal and political power.

From 1920 to 2006, members of the family served as chief prosecutors for a five-county district, including Colleton. Prior to his recent troubles, Murdaugh was a well-known personal injury attorney in the state.

Murdaugh also faces dozens of financial and drug related charges, including an alleged plot to have himself killed so his older son Buster can collect a $10 million insurance payout.

Prosecutors have said Murdaugh killed his wife and child to arouse sympathy and distract from his financial crimes, including alleging he stole $9 million from clients and other attorneys. Murdaugh’s attorneys have argued that the theory doesn’t make sense.

Reporting by Nathan Layne; Edited by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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