- Associated Press - Friday, February 24, 2023

Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh testified at his double murder trial Friday that he knew he was doing wrong by stealing settlement money from his clients, but he thought he deserved the extra cash.

Murdaugh, 54, is on trial in the fatal shootings of his wife and son near kennels at their home in June 2021. He returned to the stand in his own defense for a second day, but prosecutor Creighton Waters’ cross-examination didn’t immediately mention those killings, instead focusing as he did Thursday on financial crimes.

“When you’re doing the things wrong I was doing, you find all sorts of ways of justifying it,” Murdaugh said,

Prosecutors have said Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy to buy time because his financial misdeeds were about to be discovered. Murdaugh stanchly denied killing them in questioning Thursday from his attorneys.

But over and over again, he admitted he stole money and lied, including telling police he was not at the Colleton County kennels the night his wife and son were killed. A video found more than a year after the deaths when state agents hacked his son’s iPhone proved otherwise, and Murdaugh admitted he lied to police and his family from the beginning, blaming paranoia on his painkiller addiction.

Waters also asked Murdaugh about that addiction and the defendant avoided specifics like exactly how many pills he was taking just before the killings or the agitation he felt when he started to have withdrawals.

“Opioids gave me energy,” Murdaugh said. “Whatever I was doing, it made it more interesting,”

Murdaugh avoided yes or no answers in cross-examination, instead repeating questions and then setting off on meandering answers tangential to the prosecutor’s questions.

Exasperated, Waters again asked Murdaugh if he looked his clients in the eye before he stole from them.

“They are real people. They are good people. They are all people that I care about. And a lot of them are people I loved. And I did wrong by them,” Murdaugh said, repeating a version of one of his frequent answers.

“You hurt the people you love, I know,” Waters replied dismissively.

Murdaugh is charged with murder in the deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, shot multiple times with a rifle, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, shot twice with a shotgun. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

On the stand Thursday, tears ran down Murdaugh‘s cheeks when his lawyer asked if he blew his son’s brains out or shot his wife several times.

“I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh is charged with about 100 other crimes, ranging from stealing from clients to tax evasion. He is being held without bail on those charges, so even if he is found not guilty of the killings, he will not walk out of court a free man. If convicted of most or all of those financial crimes, Murdaugh would likely spend decades in prison.

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