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In the latest twist in a South Carolina mystery, attorney Alex Murdaugh has been accused of orchestrating his own shooting earlier this month in an elaborate plot to leave his surviving son $10 million in life insurance.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced the arrest of Murdaugh’s alleged shooter, Curtis Edward Smith, Tuesday, charging the 61-year-old with assisted suicide, insurance fraud and slew of other charges in connection to the Sept. 4 shooting.
Investigators say Murdaugh, 53, recruited Smith to help him commit suicide by providing Smith with a firearm and instructing him to shoot him in the head as he stood along Old Salkehatchie Road, according to an affidavit released by SLED and obtained by Oxygen.com.
Murdaugh suffered a gunshot wound to the head, but survived the encounter and was later airlifted to an area hospital for treatment.
After the shooting, investigators said Smith fled the area and disposed of the gun, according to the affidavit.
Murdaugh allegedly admitted to the plot to investigators on Monday. He had hoped his death would have allowed his surviving son to collect on a $10 million life insurance policy, authorities said.
Authorities said Smith also admitted on Tuesday to “being present during the shooting” and “disposing of the firearm.”
Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, said in a statement to Oxygen.com that they believed Smith “took advantage” of Murdaugh’s mental illness and addiction to opioids, describing him as one of the people who “took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs.”
“On Sept. 4, it became clear Alex believed that ending his life was his only option,” they said. “Today, he knows that’s not true.”
Harpootlian told NBC’s TODAY on Wednesday that Murdaugh believed his life insurance policy had a suicide clause and had been trying to provide for his surviving son, Buster. His wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, were found shot to death at the family’s Colleton County compound in June.
“It was an attempt on his part to do something to protect his child,” he said. “He didn’t want law enforcement spending time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul.”
His attorneys acknowledged in their statement to Oxygen.com that Murdaugh had been struggling with his opioid addiction “for the last 20 years.”
“One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head,” they said. “Fortunately, Alex was not killed by the gunshot wound.”
According to the attorneys, Murdaugh is now “fully cooperating” with SLED in their investigations into his shooting, his opioid use and the deaths of his wife and son.
“Alex is not without fault but he is just one of may whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction,” they said.
Griffin had initially told The Island Packet that Murdaugh had been shot by an unknown assailant in a blue pickup truck after Murdaugh had stopped to change a tire and insisted the wound had not been “self-inflicted.”
“I don’t think you choose to have a flat tire or stage a flat tire to commit suicide. That makes no sense,” he had said at the time. “There are many things (being reported) that are incongruent.”
SLED has not formally charged Murdaugh in the plot, but said “additional charges in the case are expected.”
Smith has been charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana.
According to The New York Times, Murdaugh had represented Smith several times in the past including during a 2015 lawsuit Smith filed against a forest management company and in 2013 for a speeding ticket.
The announcement comes just one day after SLED announced they were investigating Murdaugh for alleged misappropriation of funds at his prominent South Carolina law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltztoth & Detrick (PMPED).
Murdaugh resigned from the firm and announced he was entering a drug treatment program just days after his shooting.
Harpootlian told TODAY that Murdaugh’s opioid use had caused him to embezzle money from the firm to pay for the drugs.
The Murdaughs have been part of a legal dynasty in South Carolina for decades. Murdaugh’s great-grandfather started PMPED in 1910 and his father and grandfather each ran the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office while maintaining the private firm.
Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court announced that it had suspended Murdaugh’s license to practice law while the allegations against him are being investigated.
Maggie and Paul were found shot to death with “multiple gunshot wounds,” near the dog kennels on the family’s property on the night of June 7. Murdaugh told a 911 dispatcher that he had come home around 10 p.m. that night to find his wife and son dead, according to a statement from authorities.
Harpootlian insisted on Wednesday that the double homicide was not connected to Murdaugh’s shooting.
He said he believed the motive for Maggie and Paul’s shootings had been “personal,” but declined to elaborate any further.
According to Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s legal team is currently investigating “an individual or individuals” they believe may have been involved in the slayings and said they plan to cooperate with law enforcement as the investigation continues.
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