UPDATE (9/16): Murdaugh has surrendered to authorities on charges of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. He is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
A tale of untimely deaths in the family a South Carolina lawyer has taken its most bizarre turn yet, when police announced Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, whose wife and son were murdered earlier this year, had confessed to hiring a former client to kill him in an insurance fraud scheme gone awry.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on Tuesday arrested Curtis Edward Smith, who Murdaugh reportedly represented in a 2015 lawsuit and in a 2013 case over a speeding ticket, and charged the 61-year-old with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in the shooting of Murdaugh. Smith was also charged with distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana. A lawyer for Murdaugh characterized the shooting as a suicide attempt driven by Murdaugh’s opioid addiction and the recent loss of his wife and son.
According to an affidavit, on September 4th, Smith used a gun provided by Murdaugh to shoot Murdaugh on the side of a road where they’d agreed the crime would be carried out. But the bullet only grazed Murdaugh’s head, and he called the police, saying he’d been the victim of a drive-by shooting while changing a tire. Now, police say Murdaugh has admitted he intended for his surviving 25-year-old son to claim a $10 million life insurance payout.
The near suicide-by-hitman is only the latest violence to impact the Murdaugh family this year. On June 7th, Murdaugh told police he found his wife Maggie and his 22-year-old son, Paul, shot to death on their property in Islandton, South Carolina. Their murder remains unsolved and has drawn renewed attention to a previous incident during which Paul, in 2019, was arrested for allegedly boating under the influence after an accident that killed a 19-year-old woman. After the boat crash, the family has said, they began receiving threats online. The family’s prominent status within the law enforcement community caused concerns that the case against Paul Murdaugh had been mishandled.
Murdaugh is the surviving patriarch of a legal dynasty in the state’s southern Lowcountry region. For three generations over 87 years, Murdaugh men served as elected prosecutors in the area. His father, Randolph Murdaugh III, was the last Murdaugh to hold nearby Hampton County’s top prosecutor job until 2005. Alex Murdaugh prosecuted cases part-time in that office, and he worked at the family’s prominent legal firm until being pushed out earlier this month amid accusations that he had misappropriated funds the day before he was shot. The state suspended Murdaugh’s law license, and he announced he was entering rehab for opioid addiction.
An attorney for Murdaugh, Dick Harpootlian, told Today that Murdaugh had turned to opioids in the wake of his wife and son’s double murder as well as his father’s recent death due to cancer. “He got through it with the use of opioids,” Harpootlian said, adding that he’d allegedly taken money from his law firm to buy more drugs. On the day of the shooting, Harpootlian said, Murdaugh was trying to stop using. “On that Saturday morning, he was trying to get off the opioids,” he said. “He was not taking any of them, was in a massive depression, realized that things were going to get very, very, very bad and he decided to end his life.” Believing wrongly that suicide would prevent his son from collecting life insurance, he called someone to come and shoot him in the head on the side of the road. Harpootlian described Murdaugh as “totally distraught” about the death of his wife and son and said, “He did not murder them.” He also said he expected Murdaugh to be charged in the near future.