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Alex Murdaugh takes the stand exactly 4 years after fatal boating crash involving his son

New details emerge in Murdaugh murder mystery
"48 Hours": Family of Murdaugh victim shares details of mysterious boat crash death 03:39

Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense Thursday and Friday. The disgraced former South Carolina lawyer is accused of killing his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul Murdaugh, in June 2021. His first day of testimony happened to come on the four-year mark of a fatal boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh.

On Feb. 23, 2019, Paul Murdaugh, then 19, was allegedly driving a boat with five others on board when it crashed near Parris Island, South Carolina, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Paul Murdaugh's girlfriend, Morgan Doughty, along with Miley Altman, her boyfriend Connor Cook, and his cousin Anthony Cook — who was dating Beach — were also on board. Four of the five survivors suffered injuries requiring hospitalization. 

Following the crash, Paul Murdaugh's blood alcohol level was measured at .24, three times the legal limit, according to "48 Hours." 

The group of friends had been partying throughout the night and, despite being underage, had been drinking, according to investigators. Surveillance video showed Paul Murdaugh purchasing alcohol at a convenience store at one point, and taking shots later in the evening shortly before the fatal crash. Law enforcement officials also recovered a cooler filled with beer from the boat crash.

Paul Murdaugh's driving before the crash was erratic, according to accounts from some of the survivors. 

"Paul was just driving, doing donuts," Altman told investigators.

At one point, Altman said, Connor Cook tried to take the wheel, but Paul Murdaugh stopped him. 

"He's like, 'No this is my boat, like let me drive,'" Altman said, according to "48 Hours."

Altman also claimed that some of the passengers asked to be let off, but Paul Murdaugh refused. 

The boat crashed into the Archers Creek Bridge sometime around 2:20 a.m., flinging Beach into the water. Connor Cook called 911, telling them "We're in a boat crash on Archer's Creek…There's six of us and one is missing."

After first responders arrived, the other four passengers were taken to a local hospital. Anthony Cook, who appeared visibly distraught in police camera footage, chose to stay at the scene. According to "48 Hours" hospital staff told investigators that they saw Alex Murdaugh going from room to room, attempting to speak with the other survivors. A security guard also reported that he overheard him on the phone saying, "She's gone. Don't worry."  

Beach's body was found more than a week later, on March 3, 2019, roughly five miles downriver from where the boat crashed. 

Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence on April 18, 2019, which would have been Beach's 20th birthday. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges. He was killed before he could stand trial.

Alex Murdaugh referred to the crash in court under cross-examination by prosecutors in the double murder trial. He tied the incident to his son's death, blaming what the prosecutor referred to as "random vigilantes" for the deaths of his son and wife after social media interest in the crash.

"I believe then and I believe today that the wrong person saw and read that because I can tell you for a fact the person or people who did what I saw on June the 7th — they hated Paul Murdaugh and they had anger in their heart," said Alex Murdaugh. "That is the only reason that someone could be mad at Paul-Paul like that, and hate him like that. I did then believe it was the boat wreck, and I do believe now that it was the boat wreck that had something to do with that."

Prosecutors have disputed Murdaugh's theory that the crash was someone's motive for the shootings. They allege Alex Murdaugh planned the killings in a desperate bid for sympathy as he attempted to cover up a slew of alleged financial crimes.

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