Already under a microscope after the brutal June murder of his wife and son, South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh made national headlines over Labor Day weekend after making an emergency call to authorities to claim an unknown truck driver shot him in the head while he was fixing his car on a remote backcountry road.
For days after the incident that sent Murdaugh to the hospital—and swiftly thereafter to an out-of-state rehab facility—the Lowcountry scion’s legal team repeated the narrative he was the victim of a random shooting and was only saved by a Good Samaritan who happened to drive by. But just nine days later, Murdaugh confessed to authorities he orchestrated the incident in an attempt to secure a $10 million payout for his only surviving son, Buster.
According to Murdaugh, his alleged drug dealer, Curtis Edward Smith, shot him in the head at his behest. But ever since the pair was charged with a slew of crimes, including assisted suicide and insurance fraud, Smith has repeatedly rejected the once-powerful attorney’s version of the events—and claims that he was “set up” to take the fall.
Now, new hospital records obtained by The Daily Beast provide more details about what happened on Sept. 4—and call into question both Murdaugh’s and Curtis’ stories.
The Memorial Health hospital records show that Murdaugh suffered from “two superficial appearing bullet wounds to the posterior scalp,” a skull fracture, and brain bleeding. When he arrived at the hospital, the lawyer also complained about an “excruciating headache” and temporary loss of vision.
At the time, Murdaugh had barbiturates and opiates in his system, the records state. He was discharged after two days in the hospital.
“He was put in ICU because his life was in danger as a result of being shot in the head,” Murdaugh defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said on Good Morning America on Friday, claiming he wanted to push back on “hysterical theories” that have emerged about the incident.
“They don’t put people in intensive-care units these days, or any time, unless they need intensive care. He suffered a bullet wound to the head,” the lawyer added.
The injuries are consistent with what Murdaugh’s attorneys have previously told The Daily Beast, including the denial that their client’s injuries were self-inflicted. The release of Murduagh’s hospital records on Friday also provides new clarity into the severity of the injuries—but does not answer who actually pulled the trigger of the .38 revolver that day.
To make matters more confusing, Smith has been touting a different version of events than what Murdaugh’s lawyers, the hospital records, and state authorities have argued. Appearing on CBS and NBC morning shows this week, Smith has claimed that not only did he not refuse Murdaugh’s request to be shot in the head—but that he does not believe the legal scion was shot at all.
“I didn't shoot him,” Smith said during a Thursday interview on Today. “I’m innocent. If I’d have shot him, he’d be dead. He’s alive.”
During the interview alongside his lawyer, Jonny McCoy, Smith said he was surprised when he saw Murdaugh holding a gun when he met up with him on a Hampton County road on Sept. 4. Smith said that after he denied Murdaugh’s request to be shot, he grabbed the lawyer’s arm and shoved the gun “up behind him, between me and him. And it went off.”
Smith, however, added Thursday that he was “1,000 percent” sure that the bullet did not hit either of them. Smith and McCoy did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
For its part, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has been consistently vague about what happened that day. In an arrest affidavit, authorities say “Murdaugh supplied Mr. Smith with a firearm and directed Mr. Smith shot him in the head,” but do not go into detail as to whether the latter complied with Murdaugh's request or about the injuries that were sustained in the incident.
The affidavit also indicates that Murdaugh confessed to the scheme and named Smith as the shooter—prompting the latter to admit to getting rid of the gun. Smith, who has denied he was Murdaugh’s drug dealer, was also charged with the distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana last month.
“According to Alex, he met with Smith—Smith was his longtime drug dealer. He met with Smith on the side of the road, gave him the gun, and said, ‘I’m going to look like I broke down, drive by and shoot me’ which is exactly what Smith did,” Harpootlian said Friday. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, Smith’s bullet did not penetrate his skull.”
Hospital records state that Murdaugh was found “sitting semi-upright” and alert when he arrived at the Savannah facility and his bleeding was “controlled via the already placed gauze wrapping” on his head. He was admitted around 1:30 p.m. Sept. 4 and was deemed to be in critical-life threatening condition at the time.
Since the shooting—and the shocking admission the incident was a botched attempt to secure $10 million in insurance money—Murdaugh has only continued to sink deeper into legal hot water. The lawyer has since been accused of embezzling millions from his former law firm and clients, been identified as a person of interest in his wife and son’s June murder, and put in a rehab facility for his opioid addiction.
On Thursday, Murdaugh was dragged from his Orlando rehab to be hit with new felony charges alleging he stole millions from a wrongful-death settlement meant for the sons of his former housekeeper. Murdaugh is now awaiting extradition back to South Carolina.
“Obviously, the financial issue is something he regrets. He is going to try to right every wrong, financial wrong… he is reconciled to the fact he is going to prison,” Harpootlian said. “He understands that. He is a lawyer—he gets it.”