Here’s what happened during week 5 of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - In week five of the Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial, jurors heard a full week of witnesses the defense called.
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.
Experts, family and even Murdaugh himself testified about the events and evidence from June 7, 2021.
Alex Murdaugh was ‘destroyed’, ‘heartbroken’ after murders, surviving son says
Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son took the stand Tuesday morning in the double murder trial of his mother and brother.
Buster Murdaugh, 26, when asked about his father’s first interview with law enforcement, said it sounded like Alex Murdaugh said, “They did them so bad.”
The clip has caused controversy in the trial with one of the investigators in the car that night testifying he heard, “I did them so bad.”
Buster Murdaugh testified his father said that same statement multiple times that night.
His father called him at 9:10 p.m. on June 7, 2021, and told him he was going to Almeda to check on Libby Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh said.
Buster said the phone call seemed like a normal phone call.
He said it was much different compared to the phone call he received later that night.
“He asked me if I was sitting down, I was like yea, and then he sounded odd, and then he told me my mom and brother had been shot,” Buster Murdaugh said.
Buster Murdaugh described his father as “destroyed” and “heartbroken” when he arrived at Moselle that night. He said neither he nor Alex Murdaugh stayed another night at Moselle.
Buster Murdaugh said he had conversations about his safety with his father, but didn’t take any extra precautions.
The defense also called their own expert who recreated the crime scene at Moselle.
Forensic engineer Mike Sutton says he used reports and photos from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s investigation along with making two trips to Moselle on his own to take measurements and recreate the shootings.
Sutton’s testimony specifically focused on the trajectories of the two shots near Maggie Murdaugh, one that was recovered in the doghouse and one that went through the quail pen.
Sutton testified that, based on his findings, the shooter was 5 feet, 2 inches tall because of the locations of the shell casings and angles of entry in both the doghouse and quail pen. Sutton said the shooter would have likely been firing from the hip to create those angles.
Prosecutors argued that the shooter could have been moving or kneeling, but Sutton stood by his findings saying that his analysis determined that even if Murdaugh was kneeling he would have been too tall for the shots to travel those angles.
Sutton told jurors it wouldn’t have been possible for Murdaugh to hear the gunshots fired at the kennels from inside the home with the television on.
Another juror had to be replaced Tuesday as they became ill. This brings the number of alternates down to just two after two jurors tested positive for COVID-19 last week and another had a medical emergency early in the trial.
Judge Clifton Newman brought up a tweet from defense attorney Jim Griffin that links to an article from The Washington Post calling SLED’s investigation into the murders shoddy.
Griffin posted the tweet Saturday morning, but Newman says he just saw it Tuesday and had received e-mails concerning the tweet. He told Griffin that while it wasn’t against the rules for lawyers to comment on a case they are actively taking part in, it’s not in the spirit of the rule.
Griffin said he wouldn’t tweet or retweet for the remainder of the trial.
Expert points out perceived flaws in Murdaugh investigation
An expert for Alex Murdaugh’s defense team took the stand Wednesday to point out flaws in the investigation of the murders of Murdaugh’s wife and youngest son.
“Much more could’ve been done,” Kenneth Zercie said.
Zercie pointed out deficiencies in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Colleton County Sheriff’s Office investigation and evidence preservation on the night of the murders.
In looking at body camera footage from the night of the murders, Zercie pointed out the lack of shoe coverings by law enforcement walking through the feed room.
Zercie said he would not have covered Paul Murdaugh’s body outside of the feed room but, because they did, investigators should have tested the sheet for trace evidence. He said the reports he read indicated that neither the sheet or Paul Murdaugh’s clothing were collected and tested.
Overall, Zercie said he agreed with the conclusions in the report made by Agent Melinda Worley adding that the photos used to make the report were inadequate for further analysis. He said he had no problems with her examination based on the limitations placed on her.
The defense continued to press their opinion that the investigation was inadequate by calling Micah Sturgis.
Sturgis, the director of digital forensics for Barefoot Professional Investigations, told the jury that Maggie Murdaugh’s phone had GPS data from June 9, 2021, in the extraction records.
Sturgis said that possible data from June 7 could have been overridden because of that.
The defense seemingly tried to use the data from Maggie Murdaugh’s phone and Alex Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban to show that it wasn’t possible for her phone to have been thrown from his vehicle.
Sturgis testified that it took very little motion to activate the backlight on a cell phone.
Data shows that Maggie Murdaugh’s phone did not light up after 9:07 p.m.
According to GPS data from Murdaugh’s Suburban, he passed where the phone was later located at 9:08 p.m.
Earlier Wednesday, jurors heard a partner at Murdaugh’s former law firm testify that multiple people walked through the crime scene on the night of the murders.
Mark Ball told jurors he also saw water dripping onto Paul Murdaugh’s body from the rain and even parts of his skull on the ground.
Ball said it wasn’t until SLED investigators arrived that they were asked to go to the house.
In cross-examination, Ball said Murdaugh told him and others that he never went to the kennels that night. Ball said he had heard the voices on the video taken at the kennels at 8:44 p.m. that night and was sure it was Alex Murdaugh’s voice he heard.
Ball also testified that Murdaugh had used the phrase, “they did them so bad” multiple times that night.
Murdaugh denies killing wife, son during testimony, admits to lying, theft
In the historic South Carolina courtroom where his family once tried cases as solicitors, Alex Murdaugh took the stand on Thursday for his murder trial in his own defense.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Murdaugh flat out if he had murdered his wife and son.
“Mr. Griffin I didn’t shoot my wife or son any time,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh was on the stand for around five hours Thursday admitting that he lied to law enforcement about being at the kennels the night of the murders.
When defense attorney Jim Griffin asked him whether it was his voice heard on a video his son, Paul, took at the family’s Colleton County hunting property just minutes before the double shooting, he acknowledged for the first time that he was there and that he lied to investigators and his family when he said he had not been there before discovering their bodies later that night.
Murdaugh testified his version of that night for jurors saying he got home and rode around the property with Paul Murdaugh and took a shower before Maggie Murdaugh arrived home that night.
He said Maggie had asked him to come to the kennels after dinner and he originally said no before joining her and Paul later. Murdaugh said he went back to the house shortly after the video was taken at the kennels and sat down before leaving for his mother’s house.
Murdaugh said it wasn’t planned for Maggie to go with him on the trip and that she didn’t like visiting his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Maggie’s sister Marian Proctor testified last week that Murdaugh had asked Maggie to come home that night so they could go visit his father who had been hospitalized earlier in the day. Proctor said then that was the whole reason Maggie went back to the house that night.
Murdaugh said he drove down to the kennels after he returned home and no one was in the house.
Murdaugh saw the bodies as he pulled up to the kennels, he said.
“I saw what y’all have seen pictures of,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh said he was checking both bodies as he was on the phone with 911 operators and when he tried to turn Paul over his phone popped out. He said he didn’t know what to do.
“You could see his brain on the sidewalk,” Murdaugh said.
Witnesses who responded to the scene that night have said Murdaugh appeared to be clean when they arrived at the scene that night. Thursday, Murdaugh said he had gotten blood on his fingertips.
“There was so much blood,” Murdaugh said.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Murdaugh and Griffin walked through other aspects of the case and evidence presented attempting to discredit witnesses the state called during the course of their trial including a blue raincoat that the defense originally fought to keep out of evidence in the trial.
“Never seen it before, never touched it, don’t know anything about it,” Murdaugh said.
His mother’s caretaker, Shelley Smith, testified that she had seen Murdaugh carrying a blue raincoat or tarp into the home early one morning after the shootings. The raincoat recovered from his mother’s house tested positive for gunshot residue but DNA could not be lifted off the jacket.
Murdaugh said he asked for updates on the case often, but by the Aug. 11, 2021, interview with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, it was clear he was a suspect in the case.
“There was no question in my mind what was going on,” Murdaugh said.
Still, as Murdaugh questioned the investigation from his own mouth, Prosecutor Creighton Waters would point out his dealings and friendships with law enforcement over the course of his career.
Waters’s cross-examination started by laying the foundation that Murdaugh’s family has been a prominent family in the area for a long time.
Prosecutors batter Murdaugh over lies to law enforcement
After two full days of testimony, week five of the Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial ended when he stepped down from the witness stand.
During direct examination Thursday, Murdaugh admitted for the first time that he was at the dog kennels on the property with his wife and son on the night they were shot to death.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters hammered into that lie and others Murdaugh told to investigators and family in the weeks and months after the murders trying to tighten the timeline that Murdaugh had tried to establish as his alibi and accusing Murdaugh of creating “new facts.”
“You’ve been able to lie quickly and easily and convincingly if you think it’ll save your skin for well over a decade,” Waters said.
“I have lied well over a decade,” Murdaugh said.
“And you want this jury to believe a story manufactured to fit the evidence that you brought forth just yesterday,” Waters said. “After hearing this trial’s worth of testimony”
“No sir, that’s not correct,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh testified he didn’t tell investigators about being at the kennels and continued to lie because his opioid addiction made him paranoid.
Murdaugh listed a myriad of factors for being paranoid including the bag of pills in his pocket during the interview, his distrust of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and how he believed that SLED agent David Owen was someone else at the time.
However, when Waters played back footage from Colleton County Sgt. Daniel Greene, who was the first officer on the scene, Murdaugh can be heard telling him that he wasn’t with Maggie and Paul Murdaugh at the kennels.
“At that point in time, SLED was not there, no one had gotten GSR from you, your law partners or Sheriff Hill were not there, no one had asked you about your relationships, David Owen was not there but you still told the same lie,” Waters said. “And all those reasons that you just gave this jury about the most important part of your testimony was a lie, too. Isn’t that true, Mr. Murdaugh?”
Waters points to four minutes of activity beginning at 9:02 p.m. calling Murdaugh a “busy bee.”
“You’ve been so clear in your new story about everything,” Waters said. “What were you doing in those four minutes?”
“I know what I wasn’t doing, Mr. Waters,” Murdaugh said. “And what I wasn’t doing was doing anything I believe you’ve implied: Cleaning off or Washing off. Washing off guns. Putting guns in a raincoat.”
Murdaugh testified that he believed at the time and still believes that the 2019 boat crash was a motivating factor for whoever committed the murders, but he didn’t think it was anyone on the boat or their families.
Then Waters asked a question that had only been asked by the defense at that point.
“Mr. Murdaugh, are you a family annihilator?” Waters said.
“You mean like did I kill my wife and son? No,” Murdaugh said. “I would never hurt Maggie Murdaugh. I would never hurt Paul Murdaugh. Under any circumstances.”
As court went to recess for the weekend, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said the defense still has four witnesses to call and prosecutors are expected to call one or two rebuttal witnesses next week.
The closing arguments in what was originally scheduled to be a three-week murder trial are set for Tuesday or Wednesday, six weeks after jury selection began.
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