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Prosecutor describes what it was like questioning Alex Murdaugh on the stand

Looking back, Waters now says that cross-examination was a pivot point in the case and was the result of a lot planning and thinking.

WALTERBORO, S.C. — Alex Murdaugh is sitting in a South Carolina prison right now, serving two life sentences for killing his wife and son. And he's there in no small part due to the work of Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor in Murdaugh's murder trial.

For six weeks, Waters--along with other members of the state's defense team-- presented hundreds of pieces of evidence and questioned or cross-examined dozens of witnesses. One of those witnesses was Alex Murdaugh himself, and Waters took on the job of questioning the defendant in a presentation that extended across two days. 

Looking back, Waters now says that cross-examination was a pivot point in the case and was the result of a lot planning and thinking. There was strategy in the questioning, all designed to get Murdaugh to present to the jury not as a grieving father, but as a manipulative man who could be capable of murder. 

News19's Andrea Mock sat down with Waters for an extended interview, which you can see in the video player above. She talks about how Waters managed the trial, whether he was nervous or anxious facing off against Murdaugh, where the Murdaugh investigations may go next--and even Waters' passion for playing the guitar. 

Andrea Mock: How has life been for the last couple of days?

Creighton Waters: It's really been a crazy experience. There's been so much outpouring from the community and then actually across the nation and across the world. I think the weirdest thing for those of us who've been doing this after being having done it for six weeks, and then all the prep going up to that when you're living under that kind of stress for so long, it's difficult to unplug and I think we've all kind of experienced that that none of us can really relax. It's just maybe finally now that we're a week later that some of us are really able to relax. Because your body's just telling you you got to be doing something it's not used to having nothing to do. So that's probably the weirdest thing there.

Now all the sudden you joined Twitter. And it exploded.

I sent my first tweet out on Saturday. And it's been pretty crazy the amount of response. I actually created that account back in 2012. And I think I log in once or twice and it's just been sitting there dormant and I decided to tweet as I was packing up my hotel room, which was kind of nostalgic. 

You know, we had really lived there for a long time. A lot of friends there. And so I sent out a tweet and it really took off. 

And you're a guitar player?

Yeah, and then I sent out a guitar video and that was kind of fun as well. That's always a good thing. And I've been doing that ever since I was 15 and have some good friends that I play with and other bands I've been in and we have good time doing that. 

One of the many things you have given up for the trial? 

Yeah, I mean, that was probably the least that I have played guitar since I was 15. That was probably the longest period of time. In fact, for the first four weeks I didn't even have one down there and then I felt finally brought one down but I hardly touched it. So you know it's a 12 to 20 hour a day job when you're doing something like that. So that's it's just not much time for that.

Before we dive into the case, I got to speak to you this week and you said you'd lost 10 pounds. You lived in a hotel. You just told me you skipped most meals and ate canned soup, not the glamorous life for someone people now know for somebody that's a household name.

I mean I had so much an atypical routine and this the breakfast that they had there at the hotel We made friends with the ladies that work down there in the kitchen and so I would eat a big breakfast. They really took care of us. 

That was part of the reason why I was sad to see them go they were just a bright spot every morning, always so cheerful. 

[I] eat a big breakfast I tend not to eat lunch during during trial. I'll eat you know a couple of energy bars or something like that. And then you know dinner some of the other team they might get to go out and go out to eat. I think I maybe went out to eat not during the weekends, maybe four times in its entirety. And generally somebody would bring me back some takeout or might be some canned soup or peanut butter and jelly or I just every minute seemed like it had to matter and it was you know, it was difficult to go to a restaurant and sit there in order and wait for the food and normal things that you're used to doing. 

But you know when you're in the middle of that thing, you're watching those minutes tick by and there's just so much work to be done that, you know, typically I would stay in the room and continue to work, but we still had a lot of fun. We had a great time, particularly on the weekends. The whole team just working so hard.  And it really reminded us all of dorm life, cramming late for tests and that sort of thing. And then you know, staying up late and getting up early and you know, occasionally a little fun. So it was great experience.

Let's dive back into the case now. You got to see the evidence before any of us did. We saw it for the first time when it was put on trial and you had a witness come up and testify. But when you were going through all the mountains of evidence, what is the first point that you saw that you thought we got them? The jury is going to understand this?

I think so the way this case developed initially, it was with the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, the local local solicitor and it was not until August 11 that he conflicted the case to the attorney general's office and it was not until a couple of weeks later after the side of the road that that I was brought in. [Waters is referring to the shooting of Alex Murdaugh in September of 2021. Alex admitted on the stand he'd hired a man to shoot him in a failed suicide attempt.]

And of course you know what I normally do was state grand jury. We do complex white collar public corruption, gangs, narcotics, cartel stuff, and you know the side of the road it just happened and something struck me that this is this is extremely unusual these things may relate to one another. So the first thing that we did was start to look at that. 

You know, of course I was aware even prior to that, that the [300 Blackout rifle] that was used to kill Maggie was a family weapon. The [shell] cases that were found around her body matched other cases found in other places of the property so obviously that's a very, very significant significant fact as you look at this. And then there's just an exhaustive investigation going on. 

But I think as I've said all those roads continuing to lead back to Alex, but probably the first thing that stuck out to us was the fact that okay, we've got a family weapon those committing these crimes, and, you know, obviously that's that's concerning. And then all of a sudden, we're discovering that this man, Alex Murdaugh, was not who anyone thought he was. And that's certainly concerning. So you started to explore those factors. 

In so many cases, especially a murder case that you've tried before, it is very rare for a defendant to take the stand in his own defense. Were you excited? Nervous? What were your emotions knowing that you were going to get to speak to Alex Murdaugh and ask him what you wanted to ask him?

I was confident. I felt confident that he was going to take the stand and you know, that's it. Certainly nervous. Everything about this is nervous. But when you do something like this, if you're not a little nervous, no matter how long you've been doing it, you're probably not paying attention and not as focused as you need to be. 

[Cross-examining Alex] was obviously very exciting. I was looking forward to that. I thought that he would not be able to help himself. And then he would take the stand and he did. And then I thought that you know, it was going to take a while but I eventually could get the jury to see him lie in real time to see him make those mental processes to do that. And I thought that that was that was gonna be pretty devastating. 

You know, that cross [examination], I thought it ended up being fairly, fairly pivotal. You know, and of course, I started the cross on one day and I knew that I would be cut off by the end of the day after a couple hours. So to some extent, I had to kind of slow walk it because I knew in many respects, I'd be starting over the next morning. And you really have to do it for a while and do it for a long time to sort of get get that the defendant kind of where you want them. So that was that was a really a moment I had been expecting the entire trial and one that we were prepared for.

Speaking of the cross for those of us that were following the case closely, you asked the same question again and again, trying to get Alex to answer about looking his clients in the eye and being able to lie. I understood the point you were trying to make is that this is somebody who can lie to anybody about anything. You  brought up Pinckney, you brought up the Plyer sisters, you brought up, of course Tony Satterfield ,and what his family had been through, but you couldn't get him to say definitively. I mean, he skirted around every time you asked the question if he could look them in the eye. Why was that so important for you to get the jury to hear?

Well, just because he had just done that to them. He had, you know,...he's a very skilled trial lawyer, and he had just during his direct testimony, you know, leaned forward and made eye contact with those jurors as much as you do and just had tried to convince them as much as I knew that he would because he was so confident in his ability to do so. 

But he had made eye contact with those jurors. And I just wanted them to understand this is the kind of man that can do that can be very convincing and seem very sincere and genuine, but it's not. It's absolutely not. You know, he had that one rote answer. He clearly had practiced on the one point I said, 'well, why don't I just write that down on a piece of paper and you can just hold it up every time we want to get that answer?'  But obviously in cross you can't let him off the hook in that way. And so it was, it was important to do that. 

It was also a lot of that was that first day and again, I needed to not cross over until where I wanted to go too early. Because if I did that at the end of the day, you know, you kind of lose your momentum over overnight and you have to kind of start over so and then it did the next day and start over. 

So also a different cross in that a traditional cross, you know, you try to really control the conversation, but that's not what I wanted to do with this guy. This guy's very, very confident in his ability to be convincing and to talk to people and to talk his way and to be the biggest person in the room. And so I wanted to get him talking. And so I had intentional pauses because he couldn't stand that, you know, he would come up with something new and I'd be like, great. Let's talk about that. And I think the net result of that was that the jury got to see him continue to add to and perfect and construct his lie as as the time went on, and obviously, they can speak for themselves, but I think that was pretty devastating. 

Something else that really struck me in your cross of Alex Murdaugh was hitting home the point that while he remembered some very specific minute details of June 7, he could not remember the last thing he said to Maggie and Paul.

Yeah, he had one. One that struck me was he had this very specific memory of the phone falling down in the console to explain why he was pausing at Almeda [where his elderly mother stayed] in the car for a while because the GPS data showed that. And that would just kind of stuck out to me that he could remember that very specific thing from that night but couldn't remember his last conversation with his wife and son. 

He couldn't remember what he was doing during 9:02 [p.m.] and 9:06 [p.m.]  when he's not only making multiple phone calls, but his phone shows more steps than it than it had shown all day. He's an extremely busy guy there. I think that's when I asked him were you on a treadmill? Were you doing jumping jacks and that sort of thing, which was kind of a light moment, but the point was valid. 

I mean, his phone just fired up and became active. And I think that was very telling to the jury and then clearly show what what we argued to the jury that he left his phone at the house intentionally and was doing so to manufacture an alibi. But when he picked it up, he was a busy, busy guy.

It's just 283 steps I remember that 283 serves four minutes and talking about him getting on the stand. What was your reaction the first time you the prosecution had already put several witnesses on the stand that said that's him at the kennel video. That's him. He was with his family at 8:44 [p.m.] at 8:45 [p.m.] According to other testimony, their time of death was around 8:49 p.m. That's when both of them both Maggie and Paul stopped using their phone.

The first time you heard Alex say that's me, what was your reaction?

Well, I don't know. I didn't know what he was gonna do until they got on the stand. I mean, if people...I think we're starting to wonder why do y'all keep doing that? Why are y'all putting them up one witness after another to say that's him on camera video that similar kind of idea. Well, that was because he had always denied he was there. 

There was a young man before the kennel video came out who had told police that he was on the phone with Paul and thought he heard Alex voice but you know, well, I don't think Alex like that. That's, you know, explainable. Oh, he was mistaken. And that's what he used heard from the interview. That's what he told police. Oh, he must have been mistaken it wasn't me. I'd be surprised if he thought that. 

But when the kennel video came out, that was obviously a little bit different. But the first time that I ever heard him say that the first time his own brothers ever heard him say that oh, okay wait a minute I was at the kennels just a moment before they died was when he got on the stand. And, you know, I think the jury saw through that and, and I think that that was that was pretty, pretty devastating.

You know, when I started this case, and you look at how I was going to put the evidence up this case is different because normally, if Alex wasn't the person who did it, he would be our first witness. He would be the grieving father, you know, with very emotional testimony who came upon this terrible scene. But we couldn't we couldn't do that. But I also needed to get the jury very familiar with his voice which is a very distinctive voice. So I'm gonna have to play the 911 tape, I'm gonna have to play the body cam with Green. Gonna have to play those statements, while the rest there is that you're also sort of playing his exculpatory version of events for the jury. 

So I have to do that in a manner that has them thinking critically about what he's saying, but also getting very familiar with his voice so that by the time I've first played the kennel video, while it was important to have that witness there and say, yes, that's Alex, I know him, the jury's hearing it themselves. And by that point, they're familiar enough with his voice that they can make that same. conclusion.

I want to bring up something you said in your closing argument. And this is something that I think a lot of our viewers might have seen perhaps a glare. During some of your cross of Alex Murdaugh you brought up him glaring at you when he came in and out of the courtroom every day. 

People have testified too and you know that this was a dynasty, this was generations they even Judge Newman said his family had been prosecuting people for a century. Did any of that ever intimidate you?

No, it really didn't. It's the kind of thing that enthuses me and you know, I worked with Mr. Randolph and had nothing but the highest respect. Buster's time was before mine. So it wasn't it wasn't that but you know. 

What we do in state grand juries, we do a lot of public corruption. We do. A lot of you know, like I said, narcotics. cartels. So you know, those sorts of things. the influence, doesn't doesn't intimidate us or concern us. It doesn't make us any more anxious. To go after someone. But if the evidence is there... the intimidate the influence factor is something we're used to. And I think that when we look at this case, as we look at other cases the state grand jury has done we're looking for cases, or like to be involved in cases that have an effect beyond just that particular case that have a larger effect on the community, that have a larger effect on systems and that sort of thing.

You know, Alex is presumed innocent of those white collar offenses and he will get a fair trial on those and and I want to be clear about that. But you know, that's an important part of this particular case, because this is the kind of thing that I think and exposes undue influence in a system and how it can be abused by those in power. And if you can put a stop to that or if you can expose that sort of thing and make the systems better, then, you know, that's the kind of thing that we really liked. 

Fundamentally, this case was about Maggie and Paul, that's the most important thing about it. And I don't mean to minimize that, because that was our fundamental goal was to make sure that justice was done for them. But there are other aspects of this case and other aspects of what Alec was doing. That if we can shine a light on that and put a stop to that and make sure the system is fair for everyone. And that's an extremely important goal too.

You led me into my next question. Being in charge of the state grand jury, working so closely with them. What is next? I know a lot of people would love to see Gloria Satterfield, their former housekeeper's case, reopened. [Satterfield died following an injury at the Murdaugh home in 2018]  Of course [her son] Tony Satterfield, who took the stand, and his testimony to me was some of the most heartbreaking. What case will be next?

Well, that remains to be seen. I mean, first of all, anything that's not indicted, you know, I can't comment on any pending investigations, other than to say that we're taking a very broad look at all aspects of this case sort of writ large

You know, we have indicted 99 white collar offenses to date. And, you know, I can't comment specifically on those and I do also have to point out that he's presumed innocent until, you know, he's had a fair trial on those. But we also plan to aggressively pursue those for the reasons I just talked about.

Eventually we will have a status conference with the judge, and we will get those get those scheduled. There's a lot of white collar alleged victims out there, including the Satterfield boys, including some of the other names that you mentioned, and it's important that there be a voice for their situations as well and we plan to pursue those. There are other defendants out there who also presumed innocent but we've indicted the banker from Palmetto State Russell Lafitte, and we've indicted Corey Fleming who's another lawyer down that that way.

So those defendants will need to be addressed as well. So our work is still cut out for us in this matter, and we we're not done yet. And we're certainly not going to sit back after this verdict too long. 

We'll be getting back to work and dig in on these on these matters and on top of that, we still have drug cartel cases and other corruption cases and other bad guys out there. Fentanyl, as you know, is a huge problem that we're trying to fight. The state grand jury, we're the only state entity that can do state wiretaps, which go under very close judicial supervision. It's not an uncommon thing to do. But it is a powerful tool that we can go to a judge and where appropriate, and you know, have that, so there's a lot that the state grand jury is doing on top of just this case, and we still still got a lot to do in this case as well.

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