HAMPTON, S.C. — The prominent South Carolina attorney who was shot months after his wife and son were killed at their family hunting estate allegedly conspired to have another man kill him in order for his other son to be paid out his $10 million life insurance policy, state police say.
The announcement of charges Monday against another South Carolina man is the latest twist in the saga of Alex Murdaugh, the Hampton lawyer tied to several state investigations and whose family members had served for generations in the office of the local prosecutor.
Murdaugh was listed as a co-defendant as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced charges against Curtis Edward Smith, 61, who faces counts of assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
Dick Harpootlian, an attorney for Murdaugh, told the "Today" show on Wednesday that Murdaugh "arraigned to have this guy shoot him" in efforts to have the insurance payout to his son. He said he expects Murdaugh to be charged in the coming days.
Murdaugh was shot in the head Sept. 4. The news came days before he checked himself into rehab and his law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick (PMPED), accused him of misappropriating funds. State police said Monday it was investigating the missing money.
Harpootlian told the "Today" show Murdaugh had used opioids and was trying to get off the drugs the day he arraigned the shooting. Murdaugh was depressed, "realized that things were going to get very, very, very bad" after taking money from his law firm but believed that if he died by suicide, the life insurance payout would not go to his son, Harpootlian said.
Murdaugh used the majority of the money from the firm to pay for opioids, his lawyer said.
Murdaugh has since admitted to giving Smith a firearm and telling him to kill Murdaugh in order for his life insurance policy to be paid out, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in affidavits released Monday.
Smith followed Murdaugh to a rural country road where he then shot Murdaugh, police said in an affidavit. Smith drove away and got rid of the gun, while Murdaugh survived the shooting, the affidavit says.
Murdaugh called 911 after being shot in the head and was taken to an area hospital with superficial injuries, state and local police previously said. Harpootlian said Murdaugh was temporarily blinded in the shooting.
State police said in the affidavit Murdaugh admitted to the scheme on Monday and that his life insurance policy, valued around $10 million, was to go to his surviving son. On Tuesday, Smith also admitted to being present and disposing of the firearm, according to the affidavit.
Smith was also charged with distribution of methamphetamine and possession of
marijuana. It was not immediately clear whether the Walterboro man had an attorney.
A spokesperson for Murdaugh previously said Murdaugh had pulled over after a tire light turned on in his car and he was shot by a man who had stopped to ask if he was having car problems. Harpootlian on Wednesday described the incident as a "fake car breakdown."
Harpootlian said Murdaugh and his legal team approached state police with his confession. "He didn't want law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul (Murdaugh)," Harpootlian told the "Today" show.
Alex Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, were shot multiple times and found dead June 7 at the family's Colleton County hunting estate. Alex Murdaugh called 911 reporting their deaths, which remain under investigation by state police.
Harpootlian told the "Today" show Murdaugh did not kill his wife and son, and that Harpootlian and another attorney representing Murdaugh were investigating "an individual or individuals we believe may, may, have some culpability or had done it."
Harpootlian did not elaborate further on whom he and his partner were investigating, saying only the motive would be "personal."
Alex Murdaugh and his surviving son, Buster, had offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or arrests and convictions.
At the time, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges tied to a 2019 fatal boat crash. Mallory Beach, 19, of Hampton County, was killed and several others injured in the crash near Parris Island. Paul Murdaugh faced three charges tied to boating under the influence.
The case remains open, and Beach's family has also filed a civil lawsuit and other legal actions against the Murdaugh family. Harpootlian said he had represented Paul Murdaugh in the case.
Paul and Maggie Murdaugh's death also prompted the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to open a homicide investigation into the unsolved death of Stephen Smith, 19. State police said it was opening the investigation "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."
Smith died on a rural road in Hampton County in 2015, in what was ruled a hit-and-run. However, his mother, Sandy, told the the Hampton County Guardian, part of the USA TODAY Network, in 2015 that she believed her son's death was the result of foul play and a possible hate crime because her son was gay.
The cascading string of events have shined a light on the well-known Murdaugh family.
Alex Murdaugh's great grandfather, grandfather and father had served continuously as elected prosecutors in the area for 85 years. Alex Murdaugh also volunteered in the prosecutor's office, assisting his father who remained a paid contract employee, after a new attorney took over.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
DeWitt reported from Hampton, South Carolina. Miller reported from New York.