The decision by Alex Murdaugh to take the witness stand in his double murder trial was not just risky, but foolish.
I suspect that the defendant may have correctly concluded that he had no choice. The evidence against him is overwhelming. So, this was the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass inside the courtroom. Perhaps he thought he could con at least one juror with more lies. We’ll see.
Murdaugh’s dilemma is that he has zero credibility. Within minutes, he destroyed his own flimsy alibi by admitting that he lied to the authorities about his whereabouts the night his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, were brutally murdered. He told police and everyone who would listen that he was sleeping on the couch at home. He repeated that same lie over and over again for the past 20 months. Having recanted on the stand, he’s asking jurors to believe him now. That generally doesn’t work so well.
When Murdaugh was peddling his prodigious lies he was unaware that his dead son’s cell phone recorded his voice in the background at the kennels literally minutes before the killings. That places the accused at the scene of the murders and at the approximate time of the crimes. His excuse for the lies was to blame it on his drug addiction. It seemed lame to the point of ludicrous. I tend to doubt that anyone in the courtroom was buying it.
On top of that, the jury has heard all about the myriad of other lies that Murdaugh told as he was swindling millions of dollars from friends, clients, partners and his own law firm —nearly $9 million. Prosecutors argue that a guy who is capable of such evil is equally capable of murder. As a result, the defendant faced a withering cross-examination that only underscored his eagerness to deceive. He told so many lies that you’d need a calculator to keep track.
Importantly, jurors will receive a standard jury instruction from the judge that states if a witness is found to be lying about one thing then the panel may reasonably conclude he is lying about everything else. That nicely sums up how Murdaugh’s testimony should be viewed.
The story he told to the jury has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Navigation and cellular data shows he telephoned police 20 seconds after he arrived at the murder scene. Yet, he had time to closely examine and physically touch the bodies while attempting to turn over his son’s blood-soaked corpse? Not likely. Equally implausible is how he managed to have no blood transferred to his hands, clothing, and shoes while supposedly standing in pools of blood and manhandling a body. Is that even possible?
The more logical explanation is that Murdaugh committed the murders at close range, returned to his home afterwards, cleaned himself up, and changed clothes that had high-velocity blood spatter on them. There was plenty of time to do it. It’s easy to dispose of murder weapons and bloody clothing. Just ask O.J.
Other testimony during the trial showed that the defendant lured his alleged victims to the home the day they were gunned down. Two witnesses recounted how he attempted to coax them into altering their testimony in a way that would be beneficial to him. This has been a consistent pattern in Murdaugh’s life —behaving like an arrogant bully.
Here in South Carolina people are fascinated, if not obsessed, with the trial…closely watching gavel-to-gavel proceedings on television. I have yet to meet someone who is not absolutely convinced of Murdaugh’s guilt. Anecdotal, yes. But the incriminating evidence is compelling. And they laugh at his chronic use of the nickname,“PawPaw,” to describe his son, Paul. A transparently fake bid to humanize himself.
The only real question in the case has been motive. Why would he do it? The answer, according to prosecutors, is that Murdaugh had reached the end of his rope on the day of the murders. Just hours before, his law firm confronted him over stealing from the firm and their clients. His wife had earlier discovered bags of pills and unraveled his secret addiction to painkillers, as well as his drug running and money laundering schemes.
In other words, Murdaugh’s world was crumbling around him. Prosecutors theorize that he committed the heinous crimes as a way to gain sympathy and to keep his embezzlement from coming to light. Obviously, it did not work out as planned.
There is still time for Murdaugh to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Closing arguments begin next week. It will be interesting to see how his lawyers may spin their client’s sordid past and prolific lies.
Maybe there is at least one gullible juror.