Patrick O’Keefe Quoted in NY Times, Alex Murdaugh Trial Article

Lawyers say Alex Murdaugh taking the witness stand is a risky but calculated move.

Feb. 24, 2023

Jesus Jiménez

In most cases, legal experts believe it is risky for a criminal defendant to take the witness stand. But lawyers said that as evidence and testimony mounted against Alex Murdaugh, he likely felt that taking the witness stand was a better option than saying nothing at all.

Rachel Fiset, a criminal defense lawyer based in Los Angeles, said Friday that generally it was “a terrible idea” for defendants to take the stand, in part because a defendant can run a “huge risk of perjury.”

In Mr. Murdaugh’s case, Ms. Fiset said that “he runs a huge risk of incriminating himself in all of the other crimes for which he is charged.” Despite the risk, Ms. Fiset said that she believed Mr. Murdaugh decided to testify because it would give him a chance to “personalize his story.”

“He is a skilled lawyer who thought he could tell this story best in his own words,” Ms. Fiset surmised, adding that he probably wanted to speak to jurors in a manner that would resonate with them.

When Mr. Murdaugh admitted on Thursday that he had lied when he told the police that he was not at the dog kennels with his wife and son on the night of the murders, Ms. Fiset said, he probably felt that “he had no other option than to admit he was there, given all of the testimony placing him there that night.”

“Maybe he had nowhere else to go but up, and that was what influenced his decision.”

Patrick O’Keefe, a criminal defense lawyer in Michigan, said that courts are “pretty exhaustive” in instructing jurors that a defendant’s silence and refusal to take the stand cannot be used against them.

“But sometimes, there’s no silence more deafening than a defendant invoking his right to remain silent,” Mr. O’Keefe said, adding that the decision for a defendant to testify is never clear cut. A defendant testifying at his own trial, he said, was like “walking between raindrops without getting wet.”

Miller Shealy, a professor at the Charleston School of Law, said that while putting a criminal defendant on the stand is “usually not a wise thing,” Mr. Murdaugh most likely felt that he could not avoid testifying.

“I have felt all along that he just had to take the stand,” Mr. Shealy said.

While Mr. Murdaugh’s admission of lies in the past could harm his credibility, Mr. Shealy said, he probably made an assessment that those admissions would not be enough to prove he was guilty of murder.

“He’s not on trial for his lies,” Mr. Shealy said. “There are a lot of people who swindled countless innocent people and who know that the government is on their tail, and they’re about to go down hard. They don’t shoot their family members.”

Mr. Shealy said that while he did not see a connection between Mr. Murdaugh’s lies and a motive for murder, a juror “may not be thinking about this in that way.”

Tyler D. Bailey, a lawyer based in South Carolina, said that Mr. Murdaugh “took a risky but calculated bet” in deciding to take the witness stand.

“Alex needed to get on the stand to tell his story to the jury in an attempt to redeem his credibility and tell the jury himself that just because he’s stolen from countless people, doesn’t mean he killed his son and wife,” Mr. Bailey said, referring to Mr. Murdaugh’s admissions that he stole millions from clients and others.

Mr. Bailey said that Mr. Murdaugh’s attempts to explain his untruths, however, could also hamper any chance he had in defending himself against the separate charges alleging financial crimes.

“The jury will have to make their own decision as to Alex’s credibility,” Mr. Bailey said. “They’re going to have to make a unanimous decision as to whether Alex is just a cunning individual who lied and stole from his clients and people closest to him, or if he’s a cunning and lying thief that would kill his own son and wife to distract investigators from looking into his financial crimes and draw sympathy from others.”

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Attorney Patrick William O’Keefe Achieves Recertification In Criminal Trial Law


LANSING, MI -The National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) is pleased to announce that Patrick William O’Keefe of the law firm O’Keefe Law, PLLC, has successfully achieved recertification as a criminal trial advocate.  The NBTA was formed out of a strong conviction that both the law profession and its clients would benefit from an organization designed specifically to create an objective set of standards illustrating an attorney's experience and expertise in the practice of trial law.

Patrick William O’Keefe is part of a growing number of trial attorneys that have illustrated their commitment to bettering the legal profession by successfully completing a rigorous application process and providing the consumer of legal services with an objective measure by which to choose qualified and experienced legal counsel.

The elaborate screening of credentials that all NBTA board certified attorneys must successfully complete includes: demonstration of substantial trial experience, submission of judicial and peer references to attest to their competency, attendance of continuing legal education courses and proof of good standing.

Board Certification is the highest, most stringent, and most reliable honor an attorney can achieve.  Board certifications are the only distinctions awarded by non-profit organizations.  The NBTA as well as all board certifying organizations are committed to safeguarding the public’s ability to choose a good attorney.

Patrick William O’Keefe earned his undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Notre Dame.  He is a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law. Mr. O’Keefe is licensed to practice in Michigan.  He has been involved in well over 250 jury trials in the past 16 years, including several high-profile state and federal cases. He is a member of the Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham County Bar associations, National College for DUI Defense (NCDD), and the Michigan Mental Health Diversion Council.  He has published commentary on criminal jury instructions through the Institute for Continuing Legal Education and written op-eds for the Ingham County Legal News.  He is currently working on his non-fiction book, Anatomy of a Persecution, which is set to be published by December of 2020.

Approximately three percent of American lawyers are board certified, and Mr. O’Keefe is a member of a very select group who has taken the time to prove competence in their specialty area and earn board certification.