Jurors determining whether disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh murdered his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, will learn about his alleged suicide-for-hire plot, the latest in a string of losses for the defense team.
Early in the proceedings on Wednesday morning, Judge Clifton Newman ruled that the details around Murdaugh’s alleged attempt to hire someone to kill him would not be heard, Buzzfeed News reported. A few hours later, however, Newman reversed that decision following defense questioning of a witness.
Newman said during his initial ruling that he was only barring the evidence for the time being, saying that previous defense questioning had opened the door for evidence about Murdaugh’s other alleged crimes. When defense attorney Jim Griffin questioned David Owen, an agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), he asked whether the agent had learned that Murdaugh had been paying a man named Curtis “Eddie” Smith $50,000 a week for drugs. Griffin then asked Owen if investigators had conducted cell phone evidence on the “drug gang members” to whom Smith, through Murdaugh, owed money.
“Did you ever conduct a cellphone analysis of these drug gang members to see where they were on the night of June 7?” Griffin asked the agent.
Owen replied that he didn’t have the gang members’ phone numbers, but that the only phones near the crime scene were first responders.
Griffin then asked if Owen had taken any DNA evidence from the gang members to check it against the evidence found under Maggie Murdaugh’s fingernails. Owen said investigators hadn’t taken DNA from the gang members.
It was then that Newman changed his ruling to allow evidence about Murdaugh allegedly hiring Smith to kill him to give a more detailed account of Murdaugh and Smith’s relationship.
Murdaugh is alleged to have orchestrated his own murder by hiring a friend to kill him so that his surviving son, Buster, could receive a $10 million life insurance payout. Murdaugh allegedly lied to police about the incident, claiming a stranger shot him on the side of the road. That stranger was actually Smith.
When prosecutors questioned SLED agent Owen, he testified that it was Murdaugh’s alleged inconsistencies the night of the murders that led him to being the top suspect in the death of his family.
Earlier this month, Newman ruled that he would allow prosecutors to bring up Murdaugh’s other alleged crimes during the trial to decide if he killed his wife and son. Newman said the defense “opened the door” to allow that evidence in when they questioned Murdaugh’s friends about his character.