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Opioid addiction caused South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh to hatch roadside shooting plot, attorney says

The attorney for South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh says Murdaugh was under the influence of opioids and suffering depression when he hired a man to kill him so his son could collect on an insurance policy.
/ Source: TODAY

Alex Murdaugh's addiction to opioids and his depression over the shooting deaths of his wife and son led him to concoct a plot to have a man kill him so his son could claim a multi-million dollar insurance policy, his attorney said in a TODAY exclusive on Wednesday.

Attorney Dick Harpootlian said Murdaugh told his legal team on Monday that he "clearly knew what he's done was wrong" and that his opioid abuse led him to embezzle money from his law firm to buy drugs.

Murdaugh, 53, allegedly plotted to have a man shoot and kill him earlier this month so that his son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division said Tuesday.

Murdaugh was shot in the head on Sept. 4 in broad daylight on a deserted road. He told police in a 911 call that it happened while he was fixing a flat tire. The bullet only caused a "superficial" wound, police said.

On the day of the shooting, Murdaugh was trying to withdraw from opioids and was in "a massive depression" and decided to end his life, according to his attorney.

"He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion," Harpootlian said. "Suicide exclusions are only good for two years, and he didn't realize that. So he arranged to have this guy shoot him.

"It was an attempt on his part to do something to protect his child," he continued. "He didn't want law enforcement spending time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul."

The shooting occurred one day after Murdaugh resigned from his law firm amid accusations of financial misconduct that are now being investigated. Murdaugh allegedly stole millions of dollars from the law firm, and the "vast majority" of the money was spent to buy opioids, Harpootlian said.

The roadside shooting plot also happened almost three months after Murdaugh's wife and adult son were found shot to death on June 7 on the family's hunting property in rural Colleton County.

Harpootlian said there was no connection between the deaths of Murdaugh's wife and son and the roadside shooting he concocted with a man who was arrested on Tuesday.

Curtis Edward Smith, 61, was arrested and charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, according to police. Court records show that there was a connection between Murdaugh and Smith, as Murdaugh once represented Smith in 2013 in a traffic-related case.

The South Carolina attorney, whose law license has been indefinitely suspended, allegedly instructed Smith to shoot him in the head and gave him the gun so Murdaugh's son could collect death benefits, according to police documents.

Smith admitted to being present during the shooting and disposing of the gun, and more charges are expected, police said Tuesday. Harpootlian said he expects Murdaugh will also be charged in the shooting plot.

Murdaugh's lawyers blamed the shooting incident on Sept. 4 on "people feeding his addiction to opioids."

"These individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs," the family lawyers said in a statement to NBC News. "One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex's life, by shooting him in the head."

They added that Murdaugh is fully cooperating with law enforcement in their investigations into the shooting, his opioid use and the deaths of his wife and son, which have been classified as homicides by investigators. There have been no arrests related to their deaths.

Harpootlian also said on TODAY Wednesday that Murdaugh's legal team is investigating "an individual or individuals" they believe may have been involved in the murders of Murdaugh's wife and son.

"We think we'll know this week whether the one suspect we're looking at bears further scrutiny, and we'll make that information available to law enforcement," Harpootlian said.

The motive of this person or people to murder Murdaugh's wife and son would be "personal," Harpootlian said, but didn't elaborate further.