Prosecutors use SUV data to add to timeline in Murdaugh trial
Bomb threat evacuates courthouse for nearly three hours
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The murder trial of former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh was delayed for nearly three hours Wednesday after a bomb threat forced an evacuation of the courtroom.
Judge Clifton Newman sent the jury away just before 12:30 p.m. before telling the courtroom that an evacuation had been ordered.
Court officials say a male voice made an anonymous call to the Colleton Co. Courthouse, saying there was a bomb in the Judge’s chambers. He quickly hung up after.
The bomb threat was confirmed by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office who searched the building before allowing everyone back into the courtroom.
Murdaugh has been on trial for the June 7, 2021, killings of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie; and their 22-year-old son, Paul.
Jurors heard testimony about Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban on Wednesday. The vehicle’s “infotainment” module and the OnStar module were both removed from the vehicle.
FBI Automotive Forensics Specialist Dwight Falkofske testified that records from the vehicle’s “infotainment” system were encrypted and said he had never encountered that before.
Falkofske said it took one year to develop a way to break the encryption and analyze the data.
Data processed from the vehicle showed the car moving into and out of park several times between 9:06 p.m. and 10:13 p.m. on June 7 with the longest gap between the vehicle moving out of park and back into park being around 15 minutes.
Falkofske testified that there was no way to know if the vehicle moved or who was in the vehicle just that the vehicle had been placed in and out of park.
Call logs from the system’s Bluetooth showed two calls made around 10:06 p.m. The first call was placed to 9111 and two seconds later another call was made to 911.
Jurors also heard more testimony about Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds from his former paralegal and Forge Consulting’s Michael Gunn.
Griswold testified that she had been instructed to designate checks to “Forge” and was corrected when she wrote “Forge Consulting” on the checks.
Murdaugh assured her Forge was a subsidiary of Forge Consulting, Griswold said.
Griswold told jurors Murdaugh said he would hand deliver those checks to Gunn.
Gunn said his company would never accept hand-delivered checks and that he had never opened an account for any of Murdaugh’s clients.
Griswold said the 2019 boat crash caused a change in Murdaugh’s demeanor.
“He was just not his normal self or what his normal self used to be. It was just very tense,” Griswold said. “You could tell the boat crash was weighing heavy on him and it was consuming his life almost.”
A break in Griswold’s testimony as Prosecutor Creighton Waters tried to introduce a text message sent from Murdaugh while in rehab was met with objection from the defense.
Murdaugh attorney Jim Griffin seized the moment to try and convince Newman to toss out all testimony on Murdaugh’s financial crimes.
Griffin argued the drug use mentioned during some of the testimony was prejudicial.
The message was allowed to stay and was read to the jury saying:
“I’ve been worried about y’all and I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell y’all myself. I know the two of you have been hurt badly by me. I know it sounds hollow and I’m truly sorry, the better I get the more guilt I have. I have an awful lot to try to make right when I get out of here. The worst part is knowing I did the most damage to those I love the most. I’m not real sure how I let myself get where I did. I’m committed to getting better and hope to mend as many relationships as I can. You both are special people and important to me. Please know how sorry I am to have made you part of my misdeeds.”
During cross examination, Griswold described Murdaugh as a family man and said his family would go on trips with him.
After the murders of Paul and Maggie, Griswold said she was worried about Alex, his son Buster Murdaugh and brother Randy Murdaugh and went into “momma bear” mode.
Griswold testified she hoped to be wrong about the stolen money and she was scared to turn Murdaugh in about the missing $792,000 from the Ferris case because she feared losing her job if she was wrong.
“A check kind of floated like a feather to the ground and when I bent it over to pick it up, I saw the check and what it said, had on it and I instantly became very upset. Because it happened to be one of the checks from the Ferris case that ‘didn’t exist.’”
Griswold said she found one of the fee checks in September 2021 while searching for another file in Murdaugh’s office.
“When I found the check, I knew that he had lied to me and that he’d stolen that money,” Griswold said.
Gunn also testified that Murdaugh was a family man.
Gunn attended the funerals of Maggie and Paul and described Murdaugh as a “broken man.”
In a release after Gunn’s testimony, Forge Consulting said they were preparing to take legal action against Murdaugh and Bank of America because of the harm caused to the business’s reputation and credibility.
The defense opened the day with a cross examination of Megan Fletcher.
Fletcher testified Tuesday that 38 particles of gunshot residue were found on the inside of a raincoat recovered from Murdaugh’s parents’ home.
Fletcher called the particles a “significant amount” on Tuesday.
Griffin questioned the significance of a single particle if 38 were significant.
Fletcher testified the 38 particles were more than expected on the inside of the raincoat and that one particle wasn’t insignificant because it was still a piece of evidence.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge in the case to prevent further testimony about the raincoat after the caretaker for Murdaugh’s ailing mother testified that she saw him bring a “blue something, looked like a tarp” into his mother’s home nine days after the killings. They say nothing links Murdaugh to the jacket.
The trial was initially expected to last three weeks, but Judge Clifton Newman’s decision Monday to allow prosecutors to discuss the financial crimes could double the length of the trial.
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