Day 4: Jurors hear full day of testimony, see graphic footage in Murdaugh trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Six witnesses took the stand Thursday in the first day of testimony in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
Murdaugh, a former Lowcountry attorney, is charged with gunning down his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul at the family’s hunting property on Moselle Road in rural Colleton County back on June 7, 2021.
The witnesses included some of the first responders from the crime scene and Murdaugh, who has maintained his innocence in the deaths, became visibly emotional as bodycam footage from those first responders played in the courtroom. During portions of the video, his attorneys held a file folder box top in front of a monitor on the defense table to prevent Murdaugh from seeing some of the most graphic footage recorded.
The first witness on the scene was Colleton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Greene, the first deputy to arrive at the property in response to Murdaugh’s 911 call.
Greene said as he approached Alex Murdaugh, he could see both victims on the ground.
“I can see Mr. Murdaugh at the end of the driveway. As I approached towards him, I could see the male victim laying on the ground to my left,” Greene said. “As well as the female victim on the ground my right. There was a large deal of blood that had pooled under his body, same thing for the female victim.”
Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked Green if Murdaugh gave any possible explanation for why anyone would have shot his family.
“His immediate reaction was to start telling me about an incident that had happened with his son, a boating accident,” Green said. The boat that crashed was being driven by Paul Murdaugh and 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed in the incident when the boat struck Archer’s Creek Bridge near Parris Island. Paul Murdaugh was charged in Beach’s death, but those charges were dropped after his death.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Greene said Murdaugh had a camo shotgun with him when Greene arrived. Murdaugh told investigators he retrieved the shotgun shortly after discovering the bodies fearing for his own safety. Greene said he secured the gun in his patrol vehicle after deciding based on the way Murdaugh was acting that it was in everyone’s best interest to do so.
The shotgun Murdaugh held when first responders arrived was shown in court.
During cross examination, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian suggested that law enforcement on the scene may have contaminated evidence. Greene testified no one was wearing protective shoe coverings but said everything deputies were shown doing in bodycam video was proper procedure.
The state then called Colleton County Sheriff’s Cpl. Chad McDowell, who told the court that as a first responder, his job is to secure a scene and make sure there is no active threat for other arriving first responders and then preserve the scene to the best of their ability until they turn the scene over to arriving detectives.
He can be heard telling other responders to try not to disturb evidence because agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division were on their way.
McDowell said he recognized shell casings around Maggie Murdaugh’s body as .300 Blackout cases based on personal experience from owning one himself. On the bodycam footage, he asks for crime scene tape to mark casings.
McDowell told Waters he was careful not to disturb any evidence and said a cell phone was located on top of Paul Murdaugh’s back pocket.
Under cross examination, McDowell told Harpootlian his role was to move the sheet covering Paul Murdaugh’s body as detectives searched for a possible weapon under his body.
Harpootlian asks what Murdaugh was wearing on the night of the killings. McDowell described Murdaugh in a white shirt and shorts. McDowell testified he did not note any blood on Murdaugh and would have reported it if he had seen any.
After the lunch break, the state called Tinish Bryson-Smith, a 17-year employee of Hampton County 911, who said the dispatch center received the call from Murdaugh on the night of the killings. They transferred it to Colleton County when they realized it was out of their area.
The 911 call was entered into evidence. Alex Murdaugh tells the dispatcher his wife and son have been shot and when a dispatcher asks if the wounds could be self-inflicted, Murdaugh says, “No, hell no.”
Angela Stallings, the administrative services captain over 911 operations in Colleton County, confirms the call came in at 10:07 p.m. and was transferred from Hampton County.
The portion of the call transferred to Colleton County then was played in court. A dispatcher asks if Murdaugh heard anything to which he responds that he was not there. He said it had been about two hours since he talked to his wife. He said he is going back to his house to grab a gun. He tells the dispatcher nothing looks out of place but mentions his son had been threatened for months.
The dispatcher tells Murdaugh to turn on the hazard lights on his car so he can be found and is told not to touch the bodies. He tells the operator he had already touched them to check for a pulse.
The fifth witness was Colleton County Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy who provided more details about the scene. When asked about Murdaugh’s demeanor, McRoy said Murdaugh “seemed to be very upset.”
McRoy told Harpootlian that he remembered pointing out tire tracks, which he said were “20 or 30 feet” from the bodies. He said he showed the tracks to a deputy, but they were not preserved or marked off.
Capt. Jason Chapman, a 26-year law enforcement veteran who oversees special operations with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office was the final witness to testify Thursday.
Chapman said concerns about an approaching storm prompted them to preserve evidence and limit people inside the crime scene.
Chapman says the only evidence collected by his investigators was a gunshot residue test that was ordered by SLED.
“But again, what we were attempting to do and what we did do was the identification of any potential evidence we mark that potential evidence. If time allowed, it would have been photographed, and then from that point simply protected, absolutely zero collection if anything was done by any of my staff, with the exception of one GSR that was instructed by SLED,” Chapman said.
Chapman says they searched for a weapon around Paul’s body but found no weapons. He said casings pointed towards a rifle and evidence suggested a shotgun could have also been used.
Chapman described Murdaugh as visibly upset. He noted that Murdaugh’s clothes appeared clean with no blood or dirt. He also said he went back and listened to 911 calls.
“Over the years we’ve had several cases where had we not gone back and looked at that initial 911 call we would have missed some very important information,” Chapman said.
Chapman testified Murdaugh had said he had touched the bodies, but Chapman said he did not think it would be possible to check Paul Murdaugh’s body without getting blood on him.
Chapman is asked to describe how Murdaugh was acting on the scene.
“I didn’t see him cry. Not everyone cries,” Chapman said. “I don’t have an issue with that.”
He said Murdaugh would sometimes change when asked a question.
“There are times that when we got to certain places or ask certain questions that you could see a slight demeanor change or body language shift,” Chapman said. “He remained in the scene. He wasn’t forced to stay. He was cooperative, but there were times that you can see reactions to different things.”
The jury also saw drone footage of the property and Chapman pointed out the locations of the bodies.
He said the victims would have gotten to the kennels where they were shot in Paul Murdaugh’s white F-250 truck, which was not there. A “be on the lookout” advisory was issued on the vehicle, which he said was found just inside Hampton County.
Harpootlian asked Chapman about a statement from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office stating there was no threat to the community. Chapman said that statement should not have been issued because the sheriff’s office was not the primary investigating agency, as the crime scene had already been turned over to SLED.
Testimony is expected to continue Friday morning.
The prosecution has listed a total of 222 potential witnesses, but it is not clear whether the state plans to call every person to the stand.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.