Alex Murdaugh's Stunning Choice To Take The Stand Was A Grave Mistake, Lawyers Say - Exclusive

In late February 2023, former lawyer Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own double murder trial. Accused of shooting both his wife and son in June 2021, on the family property in Islandton, South Carolina, Murdaugh has since faced a gamut of additional charges related to financial crimes — 99, in fact — as well as revelations of his addiction to opiates, per CNN. To compound matters further, Murdaugh cites his drug addiction and resultant "paranoid thinking" as the cause of him lying to law enforcement about being present at home on the night of the murders. "Mr. Murdaugh," defense attorney Jim Griffin began, "is that you on the kennel video at 8:44 p.m. on June 7, the night Maggie and Paul were murdered?" Murdaugh simply replied, "It is."

With such complications added to an already complex case, many were left wondering at the wisdom of Murdaugh taking the stand despite his personal experience as an attorney. The prosecution called over 60 witnesses to testify against him, testimony which not only incriminates him in the murder of his wife and son, but made it clear that he was lying to police about not being home when they were murdered. And now the defense is asking jurors to look favorably on Murdaugh because he admitted that he lied, but this also disregards the dishonesty that led him to manipulate clients into wrongfully taking their money. 

Grunge exclusively spoke with two lawyers to get some insight on whether or not Murdaugh made the right move in testifying himself, and they both agreed that he pretty much did the opposite.

More harm than good

In an exclusive chat with Grunge, Los Angeles criminal defense and appellate attorney Matthew Barhoma, founder of Barhoma Law, spoke about Alex Murdaugh taking the stand in his own trial, saying, "Alex Murdaugh probably thought that he would be his own best defense because he is an attorney. But here's the problem with that thinking: Criminal defendants are all in the same boat, no matter their backgrounds. At the end of the day, an attorney who waives his Fifth Amendment right and takes the stand is in no better position than any other individual. Alex Murdaugh may try to game the criminal justice system, but I believe he won't succeed."

Rather than help sway the jury to his side, Barhoma suggests that Murdaugh will come across as imbalanced. And indeed, Murdaugh broke down crying when he testified, as CNN depicts. Barhoma said, "My sense is that he's going to appear as someone not in full possession of his faculties, which will hurt his case more than help it."

Barhoma finishes by discussing taking the stand in a general sense, saying that it's becoming more commonplace. "In cases where the facts are all over the place," he says, "And the prosecution and defense appear to be talking about two different sets of facts, a defendant might need to testify. In some cases, you can't give a jury the full picture without the defendant taking the stand. Most of the time, however, remaining silent is your best defense."

Weighing criminal peril

Grunge also had an exclusive chat about Alex Murdaugh with criminal defense attorney Rachel Fiset, co-founder and managing partner of Los Angeles-based Zweiback, Fiset & Zalduendo LLP. She echoed Barhoma's sentiments about Murdaugh likely believing he could sway the jury to his side by speaking up at his own trial. She also concurs that this will more likely than not hurt rather than help Murdaugh's case, explaining, "Alex Murdaugh likely believed if the jury heard his story from his own voice, it would give his timeline some credibility, and he believed he would be able to convince a jury that he loved his family so much that he could never have committed the act."

Fiset went on to analyze how Murdaugh's own experience as a lawyer may have factored into his decision, especially when taking Murdaugh's attorneys and their changes of strategies into account. She said, "What's interesting about Murdaugh taking the stand is, he must have weighed all of the criminal peril he could put himself in from his other pending criminal charges, because he knew he would be asked about his other crimes. His attorneys had asked to narrow the scope of his cross-examination, and the judge denied that request. As an experienced attorney himself, he was very aware of the risks of taking the stand in his own defense, and this was a horrible move."

Murdaugh's trial is ongoing. It will be clear soon whether or not he made the correct decision to testify.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).