COLUMBIA, S.C. — Alex Murdaugh's attorney state Sen. Dick Harpootlian told the Today Show Wednesday that Murdaugh is likely to be charged with a crime after state investigators arrested a man they say helped Murdaugh plan an assisted suicide for a $10 million life insurance payout for his sole surviving son.
Harpootlian did not specify what kind of crime Murdaugh might face for helping arrange his own suicide.
The suicide, which took place Sept. 4 on a rural Hampton County road, failed.
Murdaugh suffered a head wound and — purportedly suffering from heavy use of oxycodone, a highly addictive drug — entered an out-of-state drug treatment facility Sept. 6.
Harpootlian told Today Show host Craig Melvin that he and partner attorney Jim Griffin visited Murdaugh at his out-of-state detox facility Monday. There, Murdaugh told them everything about the botched suicide attempt.
The goal of the suicide attempt was to allow Murdaugh's sole surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, to collect an approximately $10 million life insurance policy on the older Murdaugh's life, the attorneys were told.
"It was an attempt on his part to protect his child," Harpootlian said, referring to Murdaugh's son, Buster.
"He didn't want law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime (of suicide)."
After learning Monday from Murdaugh after the fake suicide attempt, the two attorneys called the S.C. Law Enforcement Division from a undisclosed rehabilitation center where Murdaugh is undergoing detox treatments. The attorneys put Murdaugh on the phone to tell SLED what really happened on the road. (If attorneys learn of a crime, they — as officers of the court — cannot ethically be part of a cover-up.)
"We called SLED — they didn't call us," Harpootlian said.
Murdaugh's statements to SLED led directly to the Tuesday arrest by SLED of a Walterboro man, Curtis Edward Smith, for his role in the Sept. 4 would-be suicide. Smith was arrested in Colleton County.
Smith, 61, was charged with multiple crimes Tuesday. He faces one count each of assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. He also is charged with distribution of methamphedamine.
The main charge is that Smith is accused of conspiring with Murdaugh to assist Murdaugh's suicide, arrest warrants say.
NBC host Melvin appeared stunned when questioning Harpootlian about the story's shocking twists. Only months ago, Murdaugh was one of South Carolina's leading lawyers from a well-known legal family and a partner in a longtime law firm with a statewide reputation. He is a former president of the S.C. Association for Justice, a prestigious post of the state's leading trial lawyers' organization.
"Dick, you have prosecuted serial killers, university presidents over the years — you have to admit this is a pretty unbelievable story," Melvin told Harpootlian. "Your client claiming he paid someone to shoot to collect $10 million and the guy missed. Is that the story?"
Harpootlian said his client is very distraught over the gruesome deaths last June 7 of his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22, whose bodies were found on the grounds of the Murdaughs' family estate in Colleton County. They had been shot repeatedly.
"He clearly knew what he had done was wrong and he explained a couple of things. One, the murder of his son and wife, 90 days ago, took a tremendous toll on him," Harpootlian said. "His father died of cancer that same week. Most people couldn't have gotten through it. He got through it with the use of opioids."
Harpootlian continued, "Then last week it was uncovered that he had ... converted some client and law firm money to his own use and spent most of that on opioids."
Harpootlian's statement to Melvin about Murdaugh taking both client and law firm funds was the first public indication about the law firm accounts that Murdaugh had been taking money from. So far, although the Murdaugh's Hampton County law firm Peters Murdaugh Parker Elztroth Detrick has not specified where the money it claims Murdaugh "misappropriated" came from. A source close to the matter puts the amount at $5 million missing. The firm has contacted law enforcement and the S.C. Bar about the money.
"On that Saturday morning, he was trying to get off the opioids, he was in a massive depression, and he realized things were going to get very, very bad, and he decided to end his life. He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion. Suicide exclusions are only good for two years and he didn't realize that. So he arranged to have this guy shoot him.
Harpootlian said that Alex's statement to SLED indicated "that he called this guy who met him on the side of the road, agreed to shoot him in the head" while Alex was staging a fake car breakdown on a rural road.
"Thirty minutes later, this guy is shooting him in the head. Didn't try to persuade him not to do it. Didn't hesitate at all. There was an entrance and exit wound. And Alex indicated he collapsed, he was blind for a while before he was taken to the hospital. It was an attempt on his part to do something to protect his child."
Murdaugh "didn't want law enforcement to spend more time on this fake crime (the purported suicide and would-be hit man) instead of focusing on the murders of Maggie and Paul."
Melvin asked Harpootlian now that people know Murdaugh lied about his fake suicide, wouldn't it be natural for people to wonder if he also lied about the killings of his wife and son?
Harpootlian said he had spent the last year and half with Maggie, Paul and Alex representing Paul in a 2019 boat crash case, meeting with them many times and they were always "very affectionate" with each other. Often, Alex and Maggie would hold hands, Harpootlian said.
"Clearly, he is distraught about their deaths," Harpootlian said.
Melvin said, "If he didn't murder them, does he perhaps know who did, and why?"
Harpootlian: :"I don't think he does. Jim Griffin and I are working on individuals whom we believe may — may — have some culpability or know who did it.... We are not law enforcement. We don't have their tools. But we think we will know this week whether the one suspect we are looking at bears further scrutiny. We will make that information available to law enforcement."
Melvin: "What would the motive be, Dick?"
Harpootlian: "Well, that would reveal who that person is.... The motive would be personal."
Melvin asked Harpootlian what did Murdaugh do with the money he took from the law firm.
"As I understand, the vast majority was used to buy drugs," Harpootlian said.
Melvin: "That's a lot of oxy."
Harpootlian said, "It is."
Harpootlian said that Murdaugh wrote checks to buy many of the drugs but didn't say to whom. In his Monday interview, Murdaugh told SLED how to find out how much he spent, what the bank accounts he drew money from, where the bank accounts are, what came out — checks written to drug dealers."
Melvin: "Do you fully expect your client is going to be arrested in the near future?"
Harpootlian: "Yes, I think he will be charged."
Melvin: "Just to be clear, is there any connection between the shooting by the side of the road being faked and the (June 7) killings of his wife and son?"
Harpootlian: "None whatsoever. Except he was in a dark, dark, dark place and wanted to help the remainging son (Buster), and he thought this was the only way he could leave him with anything."
This is a developing story. It will be updated.
This story was originally published September 15, 2021 8:52 AM.
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