[Breaking news update at 9:53 a.m. ET]
Alex Murdaugh told the judge in his double murder trial Thursday that he will testify in his own defense, as he and his defense attorneys work to convince a jury he is innocent in the June 2021 killings of his wife Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and 22-year-old son Paul Murdaugh.
[Previous story, published at 9:15 a.m. ET]
Alex Murdaugh plans to take the stand in his own defense in his double murder trial Thursday, a source with direct knowledge of the defense’s legal strategy told CNN.
Things could still change at the last minute, the source said, noting Murdaugh could change his mind. His testimony could also be delayed and nothing is final until Murdaugh actually takes the stand, the source said.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the June 2021 killings of his wife Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and 22-year-old son Paul Murdaugh at the family’s estate in Islandton, South Carolina.
Prosecutors accuse Murdaugh of killing his wife and son to distract from an array of financial misconduct allegations against him, while his defense attorneys argue he is a caring father who has been wrongly accused after a mishandled investigation.
The now-disbarred lawyer is separately facing 99 charges stemming from those alleged financial schemes, including money laundering, insurance fraud and forgery.
In court Wednesday, the defense asked Judge Clifton Newman to issue a ruling that would limit prosecutors’ ability to cross-examine Murdaugh about his alleged financial crimes if he testifies.
Newman said he would be willing to review Murdaugh’s privilege against self-incrimination, but denied the request, saying, “For the court to issue some blanket order limiting the scope of cross-examination – that is unheard of to me.”
The judge previously ruled to allow prosecutors to present evidence related to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, which the defense has argued are irrelevant to the murder case.
The state, however, contends the purported misconduct was about to be revealed at the time of the killings and provided Murdaugh with a motive to fatally shoot his wife and son by the family’s dog kennels that night.
Prosecutors rested their case last week after calling more than 60 witnesses to the stand. In the absence of direct DNA or eyewitness evidence connecting Murdaugh to the killings, they have attempted to show Murdaugh lied to investigators and was at the scene just minutes before the fatal shootings.
Murdaugh has repeatedly denied being at the scene for the fatal shootings. He told investigators he had gone to visit his mother that evening and found the bodies by the kennels when he returned home later that night.
So far, the defense has called witnesses including the county coroner, one of Murdaugh’s former law partners, forensics experts and his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, in their effort to reveal flaws in the investigation and paint Murdaugh as shocked and devastated on the night of the fatal shootings.
Buster Murdaugh testified that his father was “destroyed” by the killings of Paul and Maggie.
“He was heartbroken. I walked in the door and saw him, gave him a hug,” he said of seeing his father in the hours after learning of the deaths of his brother and mother. Alex Murdaugh was “just broken down,” Buster said, adding his father was crying and couldn’t really speak.
Buster’s testimony was intended to undermine statements made by a state witness who previously testified he believed Alex Murdaugh had made an inadvertent confession to investigators.
The witness, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Jeff Croft, said he believed Murdaugh said “I did him so bad” in reference to Paul’s body during an emotional interview with investigators on June 10, 2021.
The defense has argued Murdaugh actually said, “They did him so bad” – a claim Buster supported. The son said he heard his father use the phrase more than once on the night of the killings.
Murdaugh’s former law partner, Mark Ball, also supported that interpretation in his testimony. He said Alex Murdaugh was “devastated” the night of the killings and told Ball, “Look at what they did. Look at what they did to them.”
Ball also testified that Murdaugh repeatedly said he had not been at the kennels before finding the bodies that night. But he said he now thinks that is not true after hearing Murdaugh’s voice in the background of a video that was filmed on Paul’s phone minutes before the state says the killings occurred.
In the video, which appears to have been taken at the kennels, three voices can be heard in the background, which family friends have testified belong to Alex, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
Ball said he has “no doubt” it is Alex Murdaugh’s voice that is heard in the footage. At least nine witnesses have identified Murdaugh’s voice on the video, recorded at the scene at 8:44 p.m., around the time of the shootings.
The defense also used Ball’s testimony to support their argument that the investigation and crime scene were mishandled.
When Ball arrived at the Murdaugh’s home the night of the killings, he testified, there were no barricades or police tape to prevent people from entering the property and walking around the scene.
He said the coroner, citing instructions from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators, asked people to gather inside the family’s house, where people began cleaning up. This concerned Ball, who worried whether it was safe and whether the house was part of the crime scene, wondering if their presence there might impede the investigation.
“Where does the crime scene start and stop?” Ball wondered, adding it did not appear investigators had searched the house.
Ball also recalled watching the rain that was falling that evening drip onto Paul’s body, which was covered by a sheet, and pool around it. Maggie’s body was covered and under a tent, he said.
“It’s a crime scene. You don’t want water dripping all over the place,” Ball said. “But more importantly, I thought it was pretty disrespectful. Paul was a good young man and, quite frankly, it just pissed me off.”
When he returned to the property the next day – after he’d been told investigators had released the scene, he said – he looked into the feed room where Paul was shot and saw “a piece of Paul’s skull about the size of a baseball laying there,” he said. “It just infuriated me that this young man had been murdered and there was still his remains there.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Alex Murdaugh’s last name.