By Theresa Waldrop and Dakin Andone, CNN
The first law enforcement official to respond to the scene where Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son were found killed testified Thursday that one of the first things Murdaugh mentioned after the sergeant from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office arrived was a boating accident involving his son years ago.
Murdaugh, a now disbarred attorney and member of a prominent legal family, is on trial in Walterboro, South Carolina, for the murders of his wife Margaret (known as Maggie) and his son Paul, who was 22 at the time of the June 7, 2021, crime.
“This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck months back, he’s been getting threats, most of them benign stuff we didn’t take serious,” Murdaugh can be heard saying on body camera footage played in court. “I know that’s what it is.”
Murdaugh’s son Paul was allegedly the driver of the boat that wrecked in February 2019, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach. At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges of boating under the influence, causing great bodily harm and causing death. He pleaded not guilty, and court records show the charges were dropped after his death.
Sgt. Daniel Greene of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office testified that Murdaugh offered this information right away, and he had not asked Murdaugh about it.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.
Murdaugh was at the scene when Greene arrived, and although Murdaugh appeared to be upset, “I didn’t see any visible tears,” Greene testified.
Murdaugh was visibily upset in court, though, when footage from Greene’s body camera was shown to the jury, at one point wiping his eyes.
The jury also heard the 911 call Murdaugh placed to report that he had found his wife and son shot and on the ground near his kennel on the family’s property.
“I can tell he’s shot in the head, and he’s shot really bad,” Murdaugh, speaking of his son, can be heard saying on the recording.
Asked if they had shot themselves, he replied: “Oh no, Hell no!”
In his cross examination of Greene, Murdaugh’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian sought to cast doubt on the procedures taken by the first law enforcement responders to preserve the integrity of the evidence on scene.
Vehicle tracks weren’t secured “in any way,” Harpootlian said, adding that any tracks that were there were driven over by “multiple vehicles, law enforcement vehicles.”
Harpootlian asked Greene about where he and members of his agency were standing and walking, a spot he suggested was “on top of an area where shots have been fired.”
Prosecutors accuse Murdaugh of committing the murders to distract attention from a series of alleged illicit schemes he was running to stave off “personal legal and financial ruin,” according to court filings. Evidence will show, the state claims, that Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes were “about to come to light” when his wife and son were killed.
Murdaugh faces 99 charges stemming from 19 grand jury indictments for various crimes, according to the state attorney general’s office, including allegedly defrauding his clients and former law firm of nearly $9 million. Just last month, the AG’s office announced Murdaugh had been indicted for tax evasion for failing to report almost $7 million of income earned through illegal acts, for which he allegedly owes the state almost $500,000.
“You’re gonna hear some of what was going on in Alex Murdaugh’s life, leading up to that day — stuff that happened that very day, stuff that was leading up to a perfect storm that was gathering,” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said in his opening statement Wednesday, after two days of jury selection ended with 12 trial jurors and six alternatives being seated.
The prosecution’s opening statements were just “theories” and conjecture, Harpootlian said.
Not a single witness will tell the jury that Murdaugh and Maggie’s relationship was anything but loving, Harpootlian said. Paul, he said, was the “apple of his (father’s) eye,” as exhibited by a Snapchat video the jury will see from the night of the killings, showing the father and son laughing and bonding over trees they planted.
“To find Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his son, you’re going to have to accept that within an hour” of bonding, “that he executes him in a brutal fashion,” Harpootlian said. “Not believable.”
The prominence of the Murdaugh family name overshadows the trial: Three generations of Murdaughs have served over 87 years as solicitor for the 14th Circuit, which oversaw prosecutions throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry. Podcasts and documentaries have been made about the family and the murders.
The office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is prosecuting the case due to the family’s close ties to the local solicitor’s office.
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CNN’s Alta Spells contributed to this report.