Alex Murdaugh was spending a staggering $50,000 a week on drugs he bought from the man accused of being his co-conspirator in a botched killer plot, jurors heard in dramatic testimony in court on Wednesday.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin brought up Mr Murdaugh’s expensive opioid habit during cross-examination by SLED Special Agent David Owen – the lead investigator in the brutal murders of Mr Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul.
Mr Griffin alleged that the disgraced attorney bought $50,000 worth of drugs every week from Curtis Edward Smith, known as “Cousin Eddie”.
Mr. Smith — Mr. Murdaugh’s suspected drug dealer, distant cousin, former law firm client and accused co-conspirator in a bizarre botched killer plot in September 2021 — in turn owed money to a local “cowboy gang,” Mr. Griffin said.
Defense attorneys questioned Agent Owen about why the members of this unidentified gang were never treated as suspects in the June 7, 2021 murders and why their DNA was not tested using crime scene evidence.
The special agent previously testified that until August 2021, Mr Murdaugh was the sole suspect in the brutal killings.
As the victims’ husband and father and the only person at the scene that night, Agent Owen testified that Mr. Murdaugh was on the investigative circuit from the start.
Meanwhile, he confirmed that the gang members were not in the investigative circle and no information was collected from them.
Mr Murdaugh also never gave Mr Smith’s name when asked if he knew anyone who could have hurt Paul and Maggie, the agent said. The drug abuse of the disgraced lawyer was also not part of the investigation.
Mr Murdaugh has previously confessed to being addicted to opioids for the past 20 years and he entered rehab three months after the murders of Maggie and Paul.
The jury has already heard some evidence of that – including his time in rehab and his son’s apparent attempts to keep track of his habit.
Friends and colleagues at his former law firm, PMPED, have testified that they learned about his opioid addiction months after the murders.
Annette Griswold, who worked as a paralegal at PMPED, testified about a text message she received from Mr Murdaugh when he was in rehab.
In it, he apologized for stealing money from his law firm and spoke about his recovery.
“Hey, this is Alex. I’m finally feeling a little bit better every day.”
“I’m over the worst, but I still feel like I have the flu. really weak. I was worried about you all and I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you myself. I know that I hurt you both badly. I know it sounds hollow, but I’m really sorry.
“The better I get, the more guilt I feel. I’ve got a lot to do to get it right when I get out of here. The worst part is knowing that I’ve done the most harm to those I love the most. I’m not sure how I got to where I got to. I am striving to get better and hope to mend as many relationships as possible.
“You two are special people and important to me. Please know how sorry I am for making you a part of my misdeeds. I hope you are doing as well as possible. I love you very much.”
Maggie’s sister Marian Proctor also testified earlier this week that the family were aware of Mr Murdaugh’s opioid use.
Maggie even dubbed Paul the “little detective” as he kept tabs on his father’s behavior and opioid use, she said.
Agent Owen’s cross-examination has now also provided an important clue to the defense’s strategy in the high-profile murder case, as prosecutors are expected to drop their case this week.
During the three-week trial, Mr Murdaugh’s lawyers inserted other references to his drug abuse and local gangs, in what appears to be an attempt to introduce other potential suspects to the case.
Cross-examination backfired somewhat, however, as it has now paved the way for jurors to hear testimony about the botched killer conspiracy – and possibly from Mr Smith himself.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Clifton Newman heard arguments from both prosecutors and the defense about whether evidence of the roadside shooting is admissible in court.
On Sept. 4, 2021 — three months after the murders — the disgraced attorney was ambushed in what he originally claimed was a car shootout along a Hampton County road.
The next day, he entered rehab and announced that he had been struggling with a 20-year opioid addiction and had resigned from his law firm, PMPED.
But Mr. Murdaugh’s story about the roadside shooting soon unraveled, and he confessed to law enforcement that he orchestrated the saga by paying Mr. Smith to shoot and kill him in a suicide-assistance scheme so that his surviving son Buster was able to get a $10 million life insurance deal.
Both Mr Smith and Mr Murdaugh were subsequently arrested and charged with the incident.
Judge Newman ruled in favor of the defense Wednesday morning, ruling that the jury could not hear testimony about the conspiracy.
But then, at the end of the day, Judge Newman reversed course and said the defense had opened the door to testimony about the conspiracy because he presented the relationship between Mr. Murdaugh and Mr. Smith in Mr. Griffin’s questioning of Agent Owen – and also suggested that Mr Smith could be a suspect in the murders.
“The defense opened the door to roadside testimony by questioning the witness about the relationship between Mr Murdaugh and Eddie Smith, payment of money to buy drugs and debt,” he said.
The question now remains whether the prosecution will subpoena Mr. Smith to testify.
He’s listed as a state witness, but it’s unclear if they will put him on the witness stand – something the defense has indicated they will ask prosecutors to do.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Creighton Waters said while he was on the witness list, “I didn’t say we were going to call him.”
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian laughed and said: “Mr Smith’s cross-examination is something I look forward to”.
In addition to the roadside shooting, Mr Smith is now on trial for helping Mr Murdaugh with a drug and money laundering ring. Authorities allege he received stolen checks for $2.4 million from Mr Murdaugh – some of which were used to buy Mr Murdaugh’s opiates.
In October 2022, Mr Murdaugh’s lawyers claimed he failed a lie detector test when asked about that day and appeared to suggest Mr Smith could be linked to the murders of Maggie and Paul.
The roadside incident marks one of the most bizarre twists in the sweeping scandal that has engulfed the disgraced heir to a prominent South Carolina legal dynasty for the past 20 months.
Prosecutors allege Mr Murdaugh shot and killed Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7, 2021 at around 8.50pm in the doghouse on the family’s sprawling 1,700-acre estate.
Mr Murdaugh claims he was sleeping in the house and woke up and went to visit his mother. When he returned, he said he found the bodies of his wife and son.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from his string of alleged financial crimes – at a time when his multimillion-dollar fraud scheme was about to be exposed.
Meanwhile, the defense is trying to frame him as a family man who could not have committed the brutal murders because he loved his wife and son.
The brutal double murders brought to light a series of scandals surrounding Mr Murdaugh, including unsolved deaths, the multi-million dollar fraud scheme and the botched killer conspiracy.
Bodycam shows Alex Murdaugh as officers first arrive at the scene of the murders of his wife and son
At the time of the murders, Paul was awaiting trial in the death of Mallory Beach – a 19-year-old woman who died in a crash on the Murdaugh family boat in 2019.
Paul was allegedly drunk driving the boat at the time and crashed it, throwing Beach overboard. Her body washed ashore a week later. Paul was charged with multiple felonies over the boatwreck and was facing 25 years in prison at the time of his murder.
The Beach family sued Mr Murdaugh and a hearing was scheduled for the week of the murders. It was postponed after the Maggie and Paul murders.
Days after the shootings, an inquest into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of a Hampton County road, was reopened.
The openly gay teenager, 19, suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit and run. But the victim’s family has long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name appearing in multiple police tips and community rumours.
An inquest has also been reopened into another mysterious death linked to the Murdaugh family – that of Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
She died in a mysterious trip and fall accident at the family home in 2018. Mr Murdaugh then allegedly stole around $4 million from her sons in a wrongful death.
Mr Murdaugh, 54, faces a life sentence for the murder of his wife and son. He has pleaded not guilty.