Alex Murdaugh, the prominent South Carolina lawyer whose wife and son were shot and killed in June, asked a former client to kill him this month so his other son could collect a $10 million insurance payment but survived being shot in the head, the police said on Tuesday night.
It was the latest startling twist in a series of mysteries that have brought intense scrutiny to the Murdaugh family and the rural slice of South Carolina where their family has held sway for more than a century, though the central question of who killed Mr. Murdaugh’s wife and son remains unsolved.
The former client, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, of Walterboro, S.C., was arrested and charged with assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery, and insurance fraud in connection with the shooting on Sept. 4, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said.
The state police agency said that Mr. Murdaugh, 53, had admitted to the scheme on Monday and that Mr. Smith had admitted to being at the scene and getting rid of the gun. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer did not respond to inquiries about the arrest, and it was not clear if Mr. Smith, who was booked in the Colleton County jail, had a lawyer.
Mr. Murdaugh has not been charged, but one of his lawyers, Dick Harpootlian, said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show that he expected Mr. Murdaugh to be charged with a crime. He said Mr. Murdaugh had nothing to do with the killing of his wife and son.
Mr. Harpootlian said Mr. Murdaugh had concocted the plan for Mr. Smith to shoot him after trying to stop abusing oxycodone and suffering from “massive depression.” Mr. Murdaugh had wrongly believed that his older son, Buster, would not be able to receive any life insurance payout if he died of suicide, Mr. Harpootlian said. Another lawyer for Mr. Murdaugh, Jim Griffin, said in an interview that Mr. Murdaugh had told the police that Mr. Smith was whom he primarily bought oxycodone from.
Mr. Murdaugh is referred to as a “co-defendant” in the charging documents for Mr. Smith; a police spokesman, Tommy Crosby, said without elaborating that the police expected to bring more charges in the case.
Before Wednesday, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers and spokeswoman had insisted that the shooting on a rural road in Hampton County, S.C., was not self-inflicted. They had said that Mr. Murdaugh had stopped to inspect a flat tire when someone in a truck pulled up and shot him, a story they now admit was false. They said Mr. Murdaugh suffered a skull fracture; he was released from a hospital after two days.
A day before the shooting, Mr. Murdaugh had been pushed out of his family law firm, P.M.P.E.D., which said it discovered that he had misused millions of dollars. The state police said on Monday that they had opened a criminal inquiry into the claims. Mr. Harpootlian said his client had used a large portion of the money, which was taken from clients and the firm, to pay for painkillers.
Mr. Murdaugh issued a statement after the shooting in which he apologized to his family and his colleagues, and he entered a drug rehab program in another state.
Last week, the chief justice of South Carolina’s Supreme Court issued an order suspending Mr. Murdaugh’s law license under a provision of the court’s rules that allows interim suspensions when there is evidence that a lawyer “poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to the administration of justice.”
It all was a stunning unraveling for Mr. Murdaugh, who is part of a legal dynasty that has amassed powerful ties in the South Carolina Lowcountry over the past century. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father sequentially served as the top prosecutor across a five-county region from 1910 until 2006.
Mr. Murdaugh represented Mr. Smith as recently as 2015 in a lawsuit that Mr. Smith had filed against a forest management company based in Charlotte, N.C. He also represented Mr. Smith in 2013 when Mr. Smith was given a ticket for driving up to 10 m.p.h. over the speed limit.
The shooting of Mr. Murdaugh came nearly three months after he returned to his family’s large, rural property in Islandton, S.C., and discovered that his wife, Maggie, and son Paul, a 22-year-old college student, had been shot to death.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges that he had drunkenly crashed a boat in 2019, killing Mallory Beach, a passenger, and wounding others.
The killings also led the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to open an investigation into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old man whose body was found in a road 10 miles from the Murdaugh home and whose death was ruled a shooting and then a probable hit-and-run. No one has been charged in his death.