Did Alex Murdaugh confess to killing his wife and son? A SC veteran lawyer weighs in

awhitaker@postandcourier.com/Andrew J. Whitaker

In murder trials, sometimes the small moments knit a case together, especially in a case like that against Alex Murdaugh.

There is no direct evidence. No fingerprints. No obvious blood on his clothes.

Then came a seemingly small moment.

Slipped into the testimony of Jeff Croft, the State Law Enforcement Officer working as second in command of the investigation, was a recording of Alex Murdaugh sobbing during a SLED interview. It’s hard to distinguish exactly what he said of the deaths of his wife, Maggie and son Paul..

Croft testified Murdaugh referred to his son saying, “I did him so bad.”

The defense countered: “They did him so bad.”

Croft stuck to his testimony, even when the defense slowed the tape to one-third speed.

“I’m 100% confident in what I heard,” Croft replied.

Veteran defense attorney Jack Swerling, who The State asked to provide analysis as the trial proceeds, said he was surprised.

Why didn’t the prosecution make more of what amounts to a confession, if true, in opening arguments, he said.

The defense would have had a copy of the video before the trial started but they would not necessarily have known what the witness would say on the stand, Swerling said.

Swerling said one of the most powerful closing arguments he’s ever heard in 50 years as a lawyer was the closing argument of a defense attorney who said look at the leaves when a fierce storm swirls around a tree. The trunk doesn’t move, but those leaves — the small moments — can be stitched together to reveal the true picture. Reasonable doubt can be found in those moments or can convince a jury to render a guilty verdict.

In the end, as the defense pointed out and got Croft to admit, it doesn’t matter what anyone heard, except the jury, Swerling said. “I” or “they?” Jurors are the finders of the facts.

“It could be a significant part of the trial,” he said.

The trial is in its second week and is expected to last three. Swerling said all the pieces of testimony will be pulled together during closing arguments.

The Murdaugh family includes three generations of solicitors in Hampton County. Alex Murdaugh was a lawyer until he was accused of stealing money from clients and the family law firm. Those cases are pending.

Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, were killed on the evening of June 7, 2021 at their Colleton County hunting estate. The scene was one of slaughter, Maggie shot numerous times with an AR-style weapon, Paul with a close-up shotgun blast that blew the back of his head off.

The coroner has said they were killed as early as 8:30 p.m. Cell phone evidence introduced Tuesday showed Maggie’s phone shut off around 8:50 p.m.

Murdaugh, in statements to SLED, said the murders occurred when he was checking in on his mother, who has Alzheimers, in Varnville about 10 miles away. He returned to find the bodies, he said.