Here’s what happened during week 4 of the Murdaugh murder trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Prosecutors rested their case 20 days after the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial began in Colleton County.
Over the course of 17 days, jurors heard from crime scene investigators, forensic analysts, former co-workers, employees and family as the state worked to prove Alex Murdaugh’s guilt.
The fourth week of the trial saw two jurors released because of COVID-19, Maggie Murdaugh’s sister taking the stand and a timeline that combined weeks worth of data.
Jurors hear forensics, autopsy testimony in Murdaugh murder trial
Using posterboards with male and female diagrams, Dr. Ellen Riemer, a forensic pathologist from the Medical University of South Carolina, detailed to jurors the wounds on Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. She performed the autopsies on both bodies.
Riemer testified that Paul could have survived the first shotgun blast to the chest had he received medical treatment. The second shot to Paul was a severe fatal injury to the head.
Paul Murdaugh would have had his arms by his side when the first shot was fired and showed no defensive wounds, Riemer said. Pauls’s face had scratches consistent with a forward fall where he was unable to brace himself. The jury was shown autopsy photos of Paul Murdaugh.
Riemer explained Maggie Murdaugh’s injuries in just as much detail, telling jurors that she had five gunshot wounds from at least four gunshots.
Stippling around Maggie Murdaugh’s wounds indicated the first two shots had been fired from within three feet, Riemer said.
Riemer testified at a shot fired into Maggie Murdaugh’s abdomen while she was standing likely would have caused her to bend over or fall to her hands and knees setting up the first of two fatal shots to the head.
Jurors also heard from two forensics experts from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division about swabs and cuttings taken from the crime scene, Murdaugh’s clothing, his Chevy Suburban and the controversial blue raincoat.
SLED Agent Rachel Nguyen tested several items for potential blood. She said she tested the casings and shells recovered from the crime scene for touch DNA. She also tested the swabs taken from a camouflage shotgun and Murdaugh’s SUV for the possibility of blood.
Nguyen said all the swabs from Murdaugh’s SUV tested negative for blood except the swab taken from the steering wheel.
Nguyen tested the shirt and shorts recovered from Murdaugh and the blue raincoat located at Murdaugh’s parents’ house.
The raincoat tested negative for blood before being processed for DNA in an effort to identify the jacket’s owner.
The defense has argued that the raincoat has no connection to Murdaugh since it was found at his parents’ home and not Moselle. Prosecutors have argued the raincoat may have contained at least one of the murder weapons after Murdaugh showed up at his parents’ home carrying a blue tarp or the raincoat based on earlier testimony.
SLED Forensic Scientist Sara Zapata testified Monday that she was unable to create a DNA profile from the raincoat.
Zapata also testified testing on the shirt came back negative for human blood. DNA analysis from the shirt found profiles that were likely from Alex Murdaugh and Maggie Murdaugh.
Analysis of the steering wheel was also found to likely be a mixture of DNA from Alex and Maggie Murdaugh.
The defense questioned the analysis of Maggie Murdaugh’s fingernails after Zapata testified that DNA from an unknown male was found under her fingernails. She had gotten her nails done earlier in the day.
Maggie Murdaugh’s sister takes stand, questions Alex Murdaugh’s priorities after murders
Alex Murdaugh’s sister-in-law testified she felt his priorities were in the wrong place after the shooting deaths of her sister and nephew.
Marian Proctor told jurors that while the rest of the family was concerned for Alex and Buster Murdaugh’s safety, he seemed more focused on clearing the name of Paul Murdaugh.
Proctor testified that her sister called Paul Murdaugh “little detective” because he would try to keep his dad out of trouble and prevent him from abusing prescription pain medication.
Murdaugh told her Maggie and Paul Murdaugh didn’t suffer when they died, Proctor said. When she asked if he had any idea who could have been responsible for the deaths she said he told her he didn’t.
“But he felt like whoever did it had thought about it for a really long time,” Proctor said.
Proctor said she encouraged Maggie Murdaugh to go back to Moselle so she could go visit Murdaugh’s father Randolph. She said she thought it was weird that Maggie Murdaugh didn’t go that night since that was the reason she went back to Moselle.
Jurors also heard from the man who took care of the family’s dog kennels at Moselle.
Roger Dale Davis testified that he had a certain way he would hang the water hose up after cleaning the dog kennels.
Prosecutors showed Davis photos of the kennels taken the night of the murders.
Davis pointed out the hose hanging at the kennels that he had used daily for the past four years, twice a day, and said it wasn’t rolled the way he would have rolled it before he left.
Davis testified he was at the kennels around 4 p.m. on June 7, 2021, just hours before the murders. He said no one else was at Moselle while he was there and he was finished around 4:30 p.m.
Through crime scene photos, Davis pointed out places along the kennel run where water would pool. When asked, he said water wouldn’t pool around the feed room and the kennels directly across from it because the sun would hit and dry it out quickly. Davis was shown a photo of that area and said there was too much water in the photos based on when he left.
Carson Burney, a forensic account with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, testified that the money known as the Ferris fees was gone just months after it hit Murdaugh’s accounts.
Burney testified the first deposit from the fees came on March 10, 2021, and the last of the $792,000 was out of the account by May 25, 2021.
Around $500,000 of that money went to Curtis Eddie Smith, Burney said. Smith is accused of attempting to shoot Murdaugh in a failed insurance fraud attempt on Labor Day of 2021.
After testifying to the severity of the gunshot wounds to Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on Monday, Dr. Ellen Riemer was cross examined by the defense.
Dick Harpootlian questioned Riemer over her examination of the wounds Paul Murdaugh sustained asking if the wound to the back of his head could have been an entrance wound instead of an exit wound as she testified.
Riemer said if that were the case then she would have found soot on the top of Paul Murdaugh’s head and the blast would have done considerably more damage to his head and brain.
Riemer also explained that the entrance wound to Paul’s shoulder was larger than the wound at his head because of the angle of the shot. If the wounds were reversed then the concentration of pellets in Paul’s shoulder would not have been there, she said.
Riemer testified that the shot fired into Paul Murdaugh’s chest was fired from between three feet and six inches based on the wound having stippling but not soot.
Judge reverses decision to exclude evidence, jury hears 3rd Murdaugh interview
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 Smith.
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.
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.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
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.
Jury hears suicide-for-hire confession during Murdaugh murder trial
Alex Murdaugh told state agents that the man he asked to shoot him on the side of a Hampton County road in September 2021 was not involved in the murders of Murdaugh’s wife and youngest son.
In a phone interview with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Agent Ryan Kelly from Sept. 13, 2021, Murdaugh admitted to lying about the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 4, 2021, shooting on Salkahatchie Road when he told investigators his SUV had a flat on the side of the road and an unknown man stopped and shot him in the head. Murdaugh went as far as to have a composite sketch of the man he claimed shot him.
In the phone interview, Murdaugh admits to having an 18-20 year addiction to prescription painkillers and said he thought it would be easier on his family if he was dead.
Kelly testified agents had already searched Smith’s home before the phone call and located several deposit receipts for several hundred thousand dollars from Murdaugh. They also found a truck that had been identified by security footage from a church near the shooting and a spiral notebook that contained the names of pills and dollar amounts like a crude ledger book.
In the interview, Murdaugh tells Kelly that he didn’t pay Smith to shoot him and only ever paid him for drugs, at times spending $40,000 or more. Murdaugh was pressed on if he owed any drug dealers money and told Kelly that he did not.
Kelly asks if Smith had any connection to the Moselle murders and Murdaugh tells him no. Kelly testified that no evidence indicated Smith was involved in the shootings.
The state called Kenneth Kinsey to the stand Thursday morning.
Kinsey was asked by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to recreate the crime scene from the night of June 7.
The defense had filed a motion to block Kinsey’s testimony before the trial began on the basis of blood spatter evidence in Kinsey’s report.
Prosecutors never mentioned the blood spatter during their questioning of Kinsey.
Kinsey testified to the locations of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh on the night of the murders as well as the potential location of the shooter.
Kinsey said Paul Murdaugh was standing about five feet inside the feed room when he was shot the first time in the chest. Paul would have then turned and walked toward the door of the feed room when he was shot fatally a second time, Kinsey said.
The breach of the shooter’s shotgun would have been inside the door for the first shot and the shooter would have been located outside and to the right of the feed room door during the second shot, Kinsey said.
The defense would question the angle and distance of the second shot to Paul Murdaugh, arguing that a shot fired at an angle of approximately 135 degrees would require the shooter to be really low to the ground or bent over. They questioned earlier testimony that it was fired from three feet away.
Kinsey testified that he had no way of knowing the exact distance or placement because he did not have the actual shotgun used and instead used blood spatter and damage to the door to draw his conclusions before adding he thought the distance was closer to two feet.
Prosecutors rest case in Murdaugh trial with timeline of events
When the dust settled on the state’s case 20 days into the trial, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Agent Peter Rudofski had presented 43 pages of GPS points, phone calls, text messages and orientation data detailing the movements of Alex, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021.
Rudofski’s testimony created a minute-by-minute timeline that shows inconsistencies with Murdaugh’s recollection of events from that night.
Data showing deleted phone calls and text messages on Murdaugh’s phone and a lack of steps taken between 8:09 and 9:02 p.m.
Prosecutors gained data from Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban OnStar system Friday and investigators were able to establish that only 20 seconds had elapsed between Murdaugh’s arrival at the kennels and his 911 call.
Prosecutors argued that wouldn’t be enough time to check the bodies as Murdaugh claimed in the 911 call.
Data recovered also shows the Suburban driving at a high rate of speed on his way to and from his mother’s house reaching a maximum speed of 80 mph.
Defense attorney Phillip Barber worked to poke holes in Rudofski’s interpretation of the data suggesting that Murdaugh could have hit that speed by passing a car on the two-lane road.
Rudofski didn’t take the bait and said he was just looking at the data.
The state ended the day by showing the jury a voicemail from Paul Murdaugh about Maggie Murdaugh finding pills in Alex Murdaugh’s bag and a search history showing Maggie Murdaugh had tried to identify the pills.
Defense begins calling witnesses
The defense wasted no time calling witnesses once the state rested.
Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey testified he arrived to the scene just after 11 p.m. and checked both bodies. He estimated their time of death to be around 9 p.m.
The defense also questioned Colleton County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Shalane Tindal about a release that said there was no threat to the public the morning after the murders.
Tindal said the release was a joint release between the sheriff’s office and SLED. Tindal said a revised release was sent out a few hours later that removed the language but said they never said there was a threat to the public.
The defense also motioned for a directed verdict after prosecutors rested, but that motion was denied.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.