Murdaugh Trial: I sat down with Murdaugh defense attorneys


Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin handed me a loaded gun and told me the case of the murdered cats.

It’s been a fascinating week at Colleton County Courthouse where the trial of South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh is finally underway. Murdaugh, 53, is charged with the double homicide of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. Prosecutors argue he killed them to try in a vain attempt to stave off growing attention on his finances, and, subsequently, his alleged financial crimes (it’s alleged he has stolen around $8 million). The defense argues that they were likely killed by a third party who was seeking revenge on Paul, who was facing criminal charges at the time for having drunk-driven his boat into a piling one dark night, resulting in the death of a beautiful 19-year-old, Mallory Beach.

This week, the court heard how Murdaugh greeted officers at the scene with no trace of blood on him. Yet he told them he’d checked the pulses of each of the bodies. As they arrived, we heard that he also launched, involuntarily, into an explanation as to why they’d been killed. Paul had been getting threats.

Local lawyers have told me they expect a hung jury at the end of this, given the lack of hard evidence and the clout of Murdaugh’s defense team. I guess we shall see.

But I have met Murdaugh’s defense lawyers. Dick Harpootlian, the colorful state senator, and his quieter, more earnest colleague, Jim Griffin. I first met the duo in Harpootlian’s offices in Columbia, South Carolina, in the Fall of 2021. Alex Murdaugh had been involved in a second incident, soon after the murders of his wife and son: he’d been shot, roadside, while changing his tire. At first, he said he did it himself. Later he changed the story and said that Curtis Eddie Smith, a relative, had shot him at his request (allegedly for the insurance money) – and missed.

So, as I sat with Harpootlian and Griffin nearly 18 months ago, I expressed my astonishment that Smith had fired and missed. Whereupon Harpootlian, who was sitting across the desk from me, opened a drawer, took out a small handgun, passed it to me, and said something like: “OK, if it’s so easy, you try.”

That sort of thing doesn’t typically happen when I interview people. I handed the gun back to Harpootlian, without accepting his offer. Was he for real?

I’d soon discover that both lawyers are, in fact, considered heavyweights. Harpootlian has been on both sides of many murder trials. Griffin: Just one. Which was on Court TV. And which caught the attention of soft-hearted women everywhere, who started to mail in cash for Griffin to hand on to his client, Thomas Grover Rye. It was a fascinating idiosyncratic case, that I struggle to imagine could have taken place anywhere other than in South Carolina.

Read what happened at “Vicky Ward Investigates”