Alex Murdaugh's lawyer details day of roadside shooting in alleged botched suicide scheme

Jim Griffin said Murdaugh's insurance policy would have paid out on suicide

A defense attorney for Alex Murdaugh, scion of a South Carolina law dynasty now the center of multiple state law enforcement investigations following the still unsolved June murders of his wife and son, detailed his client’s frame of mind hours before an alleged botched shooting Labor Day weekend.  

Murdaugh allegedly admitted to South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that he hired a hit man to shoot him along a rural Hampton County road on Sept. 4, so that his surviving son, 26-year-old Buster Murdaugh, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. But attorney Jim Griffin explained he did not need to, since the suicide exemption was no longer effective.

"I don’t think it was an elaborate money scheme. It was a guy who had lost his will to live. And if he was going to kill himself, he wanted his son to be taken care of," Griffin, who is representing Murdaugh alongside fellow South Carolina Democratic heavyweight attorney Dick Harpootlian, said in his first on-camera interview that aired on FOX Carolina Tuesday.

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"The irony of ironies in this, he had a significant life insurance policy," Griffin added. "He had a suicide exclusion, but that suicide exclusion was no longer valid because under South Carolina law, they’re only effective for two years. That policy was taken out more than two years ago. Alex was unaware of that. Had he known that, he did not need to involve anyone else."  

"He could have just killed himself without involving another person. He wasn’t meant to die that day," the attorney said. 

Murdaugh was airlifted to a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, his lawyers say, but there’s been widespread speculation about the extent of his wounds after Murdaugh appeared in a Hampton County courtroom just 12 days later with no bandages or visible injuries to his head. During Sept. 16 court hearings, Hampton County Magistrate Judge Tonja Alexander set bond for the alleged hitman, Curtis "Fast Eddie" Smith, at $55,000. Murdaugh’s was set at $20,000, and he was released on his own recognizance, allowed to return to an out-of-state rehabilitation facility without GPS monitoring. 

"I was in court with Alex. I didn’t see a bullet wound," Griffin said. 

Alex Murdaugh sits during his bond hearing Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in Varnville, S.C. Murdaugh surrendered Thursday to face insurance fraud and other charges after state police said he arranged to have himself shot in the head so that his son would get a $10 million life insurance payout. 

Alex Murdaugh sits during his bond hearing Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in Varnville, S.C. Murdaugh surrendered Thursday to face insurance fraud and other charges after state police said he arranged to have himself shot in the head so that his son would get a $10 million life insurance payout.  (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

The defense lawyer says he obtained records from the medical evacuation to the hospital, which note that Murdaugh was bleeding heavily from his head, but additional records from the hospital itself have not yet been released to his firm. 

"We have requested all of the medical records. We have not received them yet. The records that I do have are from the air ambulance, transport," Griffin said. "They clearly document ‘massive head bleed.’ There’s blood through the bandage. There’s blood around the neck brace. There’s blood on the stomach. They open up the head wrap to try to evaluate the extent of the trauma and they can’t see it because there’s so much blood matted in his hair."

Those transport records are protected by HIPAA, Griffin said, but once he speaks with Alex and receives permission, his law firm plans on releasing them to the media. There are no pictures in the records he currently has, Griffin added, but he hasn’t received all of the records yet. 

"We’re frustrated that we haven’t got those records," Griffin said. "We had a HIPA request signed by Alex when he was in Atlanta going through detox authorizing the hospital to give those records to my firm. We had sent that in. It was rejected because the signature didn’t match. We then sent affidavits in saying it’s his signature. We will hopefully get those records any day now, but we will need to get Alex’s permission before we can release those because they are protected under law."

Griffin said he was vacationing with his family at the shore not far from where the Murdaughs own their own beach house – when he received a request to meet with Alex the morning of Saturday, Sept. 4 – hours before the alleged shooting took place in Hampton County. 

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The day before, Murdaugh was confronted for allegedly misappropriating funds from PMPED, a law firm in Hampton, South Carolina, and resigned from the practice founded by his great-grandfather. His older brother, Randolph Murdaugh IV, remains a partner at the firm known for handling personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, particularly those involving railroads and tire manufacturers, since its establishment in 1910. Until recently, Alex Murdaugh also served as a volunteer prosecutor for the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which his family had maintained chief control of from 1920 to 2006. 

"I met with him probably at 9 o’clock in the morning, and during this meeting he explained to me what had happened," Griffin said. "He explained to me that he had an addiction. He explained to me how serious his addiction was. He explained to me that he had already made arrangements to go to rehab. He then explained to me what he planned to do that day – he was going to tell other people who he was real close with what had happened and what he was going to do." 

This photo provided by the Colleton County sheriff's office shows Curtis Edward Smith. State police say a prominent South Carolina lawyer tried to arrange his own death this month so his son would get $10 million in life insurance. But authorities say the planned fatal shot only grazed Alex Murdaugh's head on Sept. 4. The State Law Enforcement Division says it charged the shooter, Smith, with assisted suicide, insurance fraud and several other counts. 

This photo provided by the Colleton County sheriff's office shows Curtis Edward Smith. State police say a prominent South Carolina lawyer tried to arrange his own death this month so his son would get $10 million in life insurance. But authorities say the planned fatal shot only grazed Alex Murdaugh's head on Sept. 4. The State Law Enforcement Division says it charged the shooter, Smith, with assisted suicide, insurance fraud and several other counts.  (Colleton County Sheriffs Office via AP)

At least that morning, Alex Murdaugh did not appear suicidal, according to his defense attorney, but the disgraced lawyer’s frame of mind changed during the course of events later that day. 

"In that conversation with him – and I have had clients at the end of their rope before, I’ve been doing this over 30 years – I talked with him, and I was concerned, ‘was this something that would cause him to try to kill himself?’ And I had that conversation with him, and I felt reasonably confident after I left him that he was not in that frame of mind," Griffin said. "And I don’t think he was in that frame of mind at that point in time. But then he went and he met with a close friend. And then he had another friend that he was going to meet with who refused to meet with him. And I’m not going to name, names. After that, he did not feel like he could go forward and continue down that path. And he felt like ending his life." 

Murdaugh initially said he had gotten a flat tire and someone fired at him from a moving truck. But he later recounted that story, telling police he paid his former legal client and alleged drug dealer, Curtis Smith, to shoot him. But Smith supposedly missed, only grazing him in the head. 

Smith, a handyman, former logger and also Murdaugh’s distant cousin, has maintained he had no prior knowledge of the insurance scheme before meeting with Murdaugh on Sept. 4. He claims Murdaugh had called to ask him to bring over his truck without discussing the reason why. 

Once on the roadside, Smith claims he refused Alex’s request to shoot him, and when Alex instead motioned to shoot himself, Smith wrestled for the gun, which went off by mistake. Alex dropped to the ground and Smith fled in a hurry. 

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Griffin slightly deviated from Smith’s account. Murdaugh’s defense lawyer said Smith might not have known about the insurance scheme beforehand – but did oblige when Alex asked him to shoot him. 

"My understanding is this guy was unaware of why Alex had called him out there. And then Alex made the request, and then he obliged," Griffin said.