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Defense Attorneys Say They Had ‘No Choice’ But To Put Alex Murdaugh On Stand As They Plan To Appeal Murder Conviction
“Once they got that character information that he was a thief and a liar ... this jury had to think he was a despicable human being and not to be believed. ... As a result, our options were limited,” Attorney Dick Harpootlian said of the decision to let Alex Murdaugh take the stand.
“He had been made out to be a monster who stole from children ... who had just done horrible, despicable things and he had to try to push back on things,” Attorney Dick Harpootlian said Friday at a press conference streamed by WHNS after Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife and son. “If he let that lay without taking the stand, he was toast.”
Harpootlian made the comments while announcing the defense team’s intent to appeal the murder convictions within the next 10 days.
Defense attorneys believe their biggest grounds for appeal lie with the judge’s decision to allow evidence into the trial about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, which prosecutors used to construct their theory of motive in the case.
“We strongly objected,” attorney Jim Griffin said. “We respect the judge’s decision, but we believe that it was an erroneous decision.”
Griffin called the prosecutor’s theory that Murdaugh killed his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, on the night of June 7, 2021 after being confronted earlier in the day by the chief accountant at his law firm about missing money “illogical and ludicrous.”
“There really was no evidence linking one (event) to the other and we did not think it should come in,” Griffin said.
Prosecutors not only told the jurors about the missing legal fees in question, but were also allowed to delve into other aspects of the financial allegations against him, including allegations that he stole settlement money from the family of his long-time housekeeper and legal clients.
According to Griffin, the testimony served to “cast Alex as a despicable human being,” rather than speak to motive.
“We think the appellate courts will take a strong look at that,” he said. “We feel like that is a very solid ground for an appeal and we’re going to pursue that.”
Griffin believes there also was a violation to the Fifth Amendment after prosecutors asked Murdaugh why he never shared with investigators that he had been down at the dog kennels, where the murders took place, the night of the killings.
‘U.S. Supreme Court cases are clear that post arrest silence cannot be used against you and I mean, that is a classic violation of the Fifth Amendment and we feel strongly that if we lose at the state courts, we’ll have success at the federal courts,” Griffin said, vowing to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary.”
The challenges to his character were also what prompted the defense to put Murdaugh on the stand to testify on his own behalf.
“Once they got that character information that he was a thief and a liar ... this jury had to think he was a despicable human being and not to be believed, so it was about character, it wasn’t about motive. So as a result, our options were limited,” Harpootlian said.
Harpootlian added that he wouldn’t change anything about the defense team’s decisions during the trial and didn’t believe it had been a mistake to put Murdaugh on the stand.
“They won this case the day the judge bought into letting them put in every piece you know stealing from kids who lost their mother, somebody with pancreatic cancer, somebody that is a paraplegic all of that,” he said. “By the time they got done with it, it didn’t matter about final argument, it didn’t matter about what we put out, they would never ever, ever acquit him after that.”
Despite his conviction, Griffin said Murdaugh’s family — who were seen in court every day — continue to support him.
“I can tell you this, there’s a lot of effort by the state to convince the family that Alex is the murderer. The family came to trial every day for six weeks expecting to hear prove positive that he killed Maggie and Paul, something they had not heard before,” he said. “After six weeks of trial, they came away more convinced that he did not do this and they are steadfastly in his camp and support him and that’s where they stand.”
As for the decision not to ask his surviving son Buster to speak on his behalf during the sentencing hearing Friday morning, Murdaugh’s attorneys said they didn’t believe it would have made a difference.
“We could have had Mother Teresa up there speaking on behalf on Alex on sentencing. I mean he was getting a double life sentence, that was expected,” Griffin said, referring to Judge Clifton Newman’s reputation for delivering harsh sentences.
“That was never in dispute and so, for Buster to get up and speak on his dad’s behalf would not have made a difference and why do you want to put that kid through more trauma than anybody we can imagine has ever been through,” he continued.
When asked whether the defense was putting effort into finding the “real killer,” Harpootlian dismissed the remarks saying it was “not our job” and pointed out what he felt were flaws by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators.
“It was a comedy of errors in terms of forensics on this, so do I have faith they would find the real killer? No,” he said.
It took the jury less than three hours Thursday to convict Murdaugh after six weeks of testimony.
“Today’s verdict proves your position and power in life do not matter: no one is above the law, and that includes Alex Murdaugh. It’s been a long six weeks, but Maggie and Paul Murdaugh deserved justice, and they certainly did not deserve to brutally die at the hands of someone who was supposed to love and protect them,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said, according to WYFF. “Alex Murdaugh’s house of cards, built on the foundation of lies, manipulation, and theft, came crashing down. Let this be a warning: no matter who you are, if you break the law, the truth will come out and you will be brought to justice.”