Alex Murdaugh, the prominent South Carolina lawyer whose wife and son were gunned down at their home, has admitted trying to orchestrate his own death to secure a $10 million insurance payout for his surviving son, law enforcement officers say.
The sensational twist is the latest in a series of scarcely believable developments that have gripped the state’s southern counties where three generations of the Murdaugh family reigned as solicitors for 87 years.
Mr Murdaugh, 53, allegedly paid former client Curtis Edward Smith, 61, to shoot him on September 4, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced late on Tuesday.
Mr Murdaugh survived the shooting on a rural road near his property, suffering a superficial wound to his head, and told 911 he had been targeted while changing a flat tire.
Mr Murdaugh’s attorney Richard Harpootlian told NBC News that the botched suicide attempt was unrelated to the June 7 murders of his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, and his client remains in the dark about who carried them out.
Mr Harpootlian said his client had become addicted to opioids after the double murder, and concocted the scheme to help his surviving son Buster.
In a statement, Mr Harpootlian said Mr Murdaugh “believed that ending his life was his only option.”
“Today, he knows that’s not true,” the statement said.
“For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids. During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs,” the statement said.
“One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head.”
Mr Smith, 61, of Walterboro, South Carolina, was arrested and charged with assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery, and insurance fraud in connection with the shooting on September 4.
Mr Murdaugh has not yet been charged with a crime, but state law enforcement agents said more charges were likely.
According to a sworn statement from an agent, Mr Murdaugh provided the weapon used in the shooting and told Mr Smith to follow him along Old Salkehatchie Rd, in Hampton County, on September 4.
Mr Smith allegedly fired one shot at the lawyer as he stood in the road before driving off and disposing of the gun, authorities said.
After surviving the shooting, Mr Murdaugh said through a family spokesman that he pulled over after his Mercedes SUV’s low tire pressure light came on. He said a man passing by in a pickup truck asked if he was having car trouble and then shot at him.
Agents said Mr Smith, 61, confessed Tuesday and was charged with crimes relating to the shooting, as well as distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana.
Mr Murdaugh announced two days after the shooting he was going into rehab for an opioid addiction. He apologised to his family and said he was leaving his law firm.
“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret," Mr Murdaugh said at the time.
A few hours later, the PMPED law firm where he had been a partner revealed Mr Murdaugh had taken money from the business and had been fired from the firm. The amount of money has not been announced.
Before his death in June, Paul Murdaugh was charged over the death of a young woman in a boating crash in 2019.
Paul was allegedly boating under the influence, causing the death of 19-year-old woman Mallory Beach.
State Law Enforcement Division later began an investigation into whether anyone had obstructed the investigation.
Investigators also reopened an investigation into the 2015 hit-and-run death of Stephen Smith, believing the case may be tied to the Murdaugh family.
Alex Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all held the office of solicitor in the five counties comprising the Lowcountry area of South Carolina, and other family members were prominent civil attorneys in the region.
Alex Murdaugh’s profile has been removed from the PMPED law firm’s website, where his father Randolph Murdaugh III worked for decades and grandfather co-founded.
Two other members of the Murdaugh family still work for PMPED.