Judge reverses decision to exclude evidence, jury hears 3rd Murdaugh interview
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Despite an earlier ruling otherwise, jurors in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial will be allowed to hear testimony about Murdaugh’s alleged insurance fraud scheme.
Judge Clifton Newman heard arguments from both sides Wednesday morning and initially ruled the evidence was a “bridge too far” and not allowed.
That was before Murdaugh’s defense team brought it up during the cross examination of lead investigator David Owen.
Owen, an agent for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, was made the lead investigator on the shootings after the agency took control of the investigation from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office.
During cross examination Owen was asked by attorney Jim Griffin if he was aware that Murdaugh was paying up to $50,000 per week for drugs from Curtis “Eddie” Smith. Smith is the alleged triggerman for the roadside shooting on Sept. 4, 2021.
Griffin went on to say that Smith was skimming money from Murdaugh that was meant for a drug gang, offering the debt as a motive for someone other than Murdaugh to be behind the killings.
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Owen argued that the gang wasn’t worried about the money because they knew they would get paid. He said neither Smith nor the Cowboys gang was mentioned in any of the three interviews he conducted with Murdaugh.
With Owen on the stand, jurors heard the third interview conducted with Murdaugh by Owen on Aug. 11, 2021. The jury has previously heard the interviews from June 7 and June 10 in court.
The Aug. 11 interview is the first time Murdaugh sees the Snapchat video recovered from Paul Murdaugh’s phone when he is seen in a button-up shirt and khaki pants shaking a tree.
Owen can be heard in the interview asking when Murdaugh changed clothes that night.
Murdaugh asks what time the video was taken before saying, “I guess I changed when I got back to the house.”
In the interview, Owen asks Murdaugh point blank if he killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh or if he knows who did, and is met with a no for each question.
Murdaugh then asks if he is considered a suspect.
“I have to go where the evidence and the facts take me and I don’t have anything that points to anybody else at this time,” Owen said.
After the Aug. 11 interview, Murdaugh was the only known suspect, Owen said.
Owen said the inconsistencies between the interviews were significant to his investigation.
“It wasn’t one inconsistency,” Owen said. “It was several inconsistencies over a period of time repeated.”
The jury has heard about those inconsistencies throughout the trial from witnesses like his mother’s caretaker Shelley Smith who said Murdaugh was only at the home for 15 - 20 minutes and later tried to sync up the stories by telling her he was at the home for 30 or 40 minutes.
Owen pointed out the inconsistency in Murdaugh’s recollection of time spent visiting his mother that night by saying Murdaugh started by saying he was at the home for a little while before changing the story to 25 or 30 minutes in the second interview and finally 45 minutes to an hour in the third interview.
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During cross examination, Griffin worked to discredit SLED’s investigation. The defense has said previously the thought SLED’s investigation never considered anyone other than Murdaugh as a suspect in the case.
Griffin pointed out that investigators didn’t discover blood at Moselle or inside Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban.
The defense also brought in Owen’s testimony in front of the state grand jury, pointing out mistakes made in the testimony.
In the interview with Murdaugh, Owen told him that several shotguns were found on the property loaded with a turkey load and a buckshot shell like the one used to kill Paul Murdaugh.
Owen would make that same assertation to the grand jury despite not actually recovering multiple shotguns loaded that way.
“When you told Alex that there were multiple weapons loaded with that same load buckshot, bird, was that an investigative tool, or were you under the misimpression that was the case,” Griffin said.
Owen said it was an investigative tool when used on Murdaugh.
“I’m allowed to use trickery to elicit a response,” Owen said.
Griffin asks again about the testimony to the grand jury.
“Were you mistaken then or were you trying to trick the state grand jury?” Griffin said.
The transcript from the grand jury showed Owen had said other shotguns were found loaded in a similar fashion.
“And that was not accurate, correct?” Griffin said.
“Yes, sir,” Owen said.
Griffin also pointed to another inconsistency in Owen’s grand jury testimony regarding blood spatter on the shirt collected from Murdaugh.
Owen had testified to the grand jury that the shirt tested positive for blood spatter. A SLED report after the shirt was tested with HemaTrace showed no evidence of human blood on the shirt.
Owen said he didn’t see that report until November 2022 because he never received an email notification that it was available.
The admission of the roadside evidence could allow the state to call Smith to the witness stand before resting their case.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters confirmed to the court Tuesday that Smith was on their witness list, but was no committal to calling him to the stand.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said he was looking forward to cross-examining Smith.
The prosecution is expected to rest its case this week and allow the defense to begin calling witnesses.
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