In a stunning turn of events, a South Carolina man was charged later Tuesday with shooting troubled attorney Alex Murdaugh in the head in an assisted-suicide plot to secure $10 million in insurance money—just three months after Murdaugh’s wife and son were murdered.
The alleged conspiracy was laid out in court documents released after Curtis Edward Smith, 61, was collared for the botched Sept. 4 shooting, which Murdaugh, 53, survived. Smith was charged with a slew of crimes, including insurance fraud and assault.
“Mr. Murdaugh supplied Mr. Smith with a firearm and directed Mr. Smith to shoot him in the head,” the affidavit said, adding that Murdaugh hoped an insurance payout would go to his sole surviving son.
Murdaugh’s lawyers, however, released a statement Wednesday claiming their client’s opioid addiction and the influence of others were the main culprits for the Sept. 4 shooting, stating that at the time, he believed “ending his life was his only option.
“For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids. During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs. One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head,” Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, lawyers for Murdaugh, said.
“Fortunately, Alex was not killed by the gunshot wound. Alex is fully cooperating with SLED in their investigations into his shooting, opioid use, and the search to find the person or people responsible for the murder of his wife and son. Alex is not without fault, but he is just one of many whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction.”
The affidavit also indicates that Murdaugh confessed to the scheme Monday and named Smith as the shooter. Smith then admitted to being there and getting rid of the gun, the document says.
“He didn’t want law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul,” attorney Dick Harpootlian said Wednesday on the Today show, referring to his client’s wife and son, who were found fatally shot at this home in June.
Smith was also charged with the distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced.
A law-enforcement official with direct knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast that Smith and Murdaugh knew each other and that Smith allegedly supplied the lawyer with drugs. Murdaugh’s lawyers also said Wednesday that Smith sold their client drugs and that he took advantage of his depressive state.
Court records show Murdaugh had represented Smith in a personal-injury lawsuit a decade ago.
Murdaugh’s attorneys on Wednesday noted that while their client was not charged with Smith on Tuesday night, they expected him to face some criminal liability in the shooting.
Griffin also told the Post and Courier that his client did not pay Smith for the alleged scheme. “Alex did not report to SLED that he paid Mr. Smith to shoot him,” Griffin claimed. “Mr. Smith willingly shot him without pay.”
It was not immediately clear if Smith had retained a lawyer.
Smith’s arrest and the charges are the most astounding development yet in a saga with more twists than a Lowcountry backroad that already included a double murder, drug addiction, and allegations of embezzlement.
Murdaugh is the scion of a powerful legal dynasty and was a partner in the firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick, which was founded by his great-grandfather.
In 2019, the clan—which controlled the local prosecutor’s office for decades—was thrust into the headlines when Murdaugh’s son Paul was charged with a drunken boating accident that killed a young woman.
Then in June, Alex Murdaugh discovered Paul, 22, and his mother Maggie, 52, shot to death near the dog kennels of the family’s sprawling hunting estate.
“Clearly he is distraught about their deaths. He did not murder them,” Harpootlian said on Wednesday.
As the double homicide remained unsolved, Alex Murdaugh’s life appeared to spiral wildly out of control.
Two weeks ago, he called 911 from a country road to report that he had been shot in the head, reportedly while changing a tire. The circumstances were shrouded in confusion—and then things got even murkier.
Murdaugh suddenly announced that he was entering rehab for drug addiction and resigning from his law firm, saying that he had made “a lot of decisions that I truly regret.”
Murdaugh’s spokesperson, Amanda Loveday, told The Daily Beast the lawyer was still in rehab as of Wednesday morning.
Initial word of the rehab stint was followed by the firm’s announcement that Murdaugh was under investigation for allegedly misappropriating funds—a matter that state police are also now probing.
On Today, Harpootlian appeared to admit for the first time that Murdaugh, in fact, misappropriated money from his former law firm—and used it to write checks for his opioid addiction.
“It was uncovered that he had perhaps—not perhaps, he had converted some client and law firm money to his use and again spent most of that on opioids,” Harpootlian said.
When NBC's Craig Melvin pressed Murdaugh's lawyer about his client’s possible embezzlement, Harpootlian said the “vast majority” of the money his client took was used on drugs.
“Dick, that’s a lot of Oxy….” Melvin added.
Questions about the shooting were still swirling—with Murdaugh’s lawyer forced to deny the superficial head wound was self-inflicted—when Smith’s arrest was announced.
“On September 13, 2021, Mr. Murdaugh provided a statement to SLED admitting to the scheme of having Mr. Smith murder him for the purpose of his son collecting a life insurance policy valued at approximately ten million dollars,” the affidavit states.
In addition to the assisted suicide and insurance fraud counts, Smith was also charged with assault and battery and pointing a firearm. Police said more charges were expected, and the affidavit described Murdaugh as a “co-defendant.”
—Blake Montgomery contributed reporting
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741