‘They deserve a voice’: Prosecutors argue motive in Murdaugh trial closing arguments
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Prosecutors in the Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial on Wednesday said the shame of his decades-long financial crime schemes being found out led to him killing his wife and son.
Murdaugh is on trial for the June 7, 2021, murders of his wife, Maggie, and their son, Paul, at their Colleton County hunting property.
“Shame is an extraordinary provocation,” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said. “His ego couldn’t stand that and he became a family annihilator.”
Murdaugh’s lies and financial fraud were put back in the jurors’ minds Wednesday as Waters walked them through Murdaugh’s history of stealing from clients and his former law firm. Waters said Murduagh was trying to keep up his successful image and family legacy and how the pressures of the cases surrounding the 2019 Beaufort County boat crash threatened that legacy.
“We talked about the family legacy. You heard how important that was to him and how important that was to this family and how it was in danger because of the boat case,” Waters said. “The criminal charges as well as the civil charges, that legacy was in danger. And it was threatening also to expose him for who he really was, which will totally destroy his part of that legacy.”
Taking most of the day for closing arguments, Waters told jurors that Murdaugh had the motive, means and opportunity to commit the crimes and referenced lies he told to law enforcement as early as the night of the murders showing the jury clips from the first interview conducted by investigator David Owen.
“This is June 8 at 1:20 in the morning,” Waters said. “He’s admitted to you that he’s lying right there. Look how easily he did it.”
Waters then pointed out that Murdaugh had lied to the jurors’ faces during his testimony last week when he referenced the factors like his distrust of the South Carolina LAw Enforcement Division that he said led him to lie to Owen during that interview. Waters played the body camera footage during Murdaugh’s cross-examination last week from Daniel Greene, who was on the scene before SLED arrived, where he told a similar story to him.
“He was lying to you just like he’s lied to everyone close to him,” Waters said. “He’s good at it. He’s good at it.”
Murdaugh’s body language during the interviews and during his testimony was pointed out by Waters.
“When he answers those questions, did you see him do this? Did you see him do that on those videos, too, when asked questions where now we know he was lying? Is that the most classic tell ever? I’ll leave that to you to decide,” Waters said. “One thing I will agree with him that he said up there: ‘oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.’ How appropriate coming from that man.”
Waters laid out the pieces for jurors describing Murdaugh’s “exhausting hamster wheel” of trying to stay one step ahead by stealing money to maintain his lifestyle.
“And that leads to and can lead to those pressures being overwhelming and actions like this happen,” Waters said. “Husbands have been killing wives unfortunately for years and husbands killing sons since as back as far as King Herod.”
Waters argued that no one really knew who Murdaugh was and he would do anything “in a heartbeat” to avoid accountability. That meant lying to law enforcement about being at the kennels the night of the murders and even lying on the stand about the extent of his pill usage to gain sympathy from the jury.
Waters pointed out the autopsy reports that neither Paul nor Maggie Murdaugh had defensive wounds even pointing to Murdaugh’s own testimony that the dogs at the kennels didn’t seem alerted to someone else being there.
“The dogs never heard them around them,” Waters said. “Somebody put the dogs up but put the dogs up in the wrong kennels. Somebody rolled up the hose.”
Things like Murdaugh saying he didn’t take his phone to the kennels with him and the flurry of activity and phone calls after 9:02 p.m. were all a part of Murdaugh attempting to manufacture an alibi, Waters said.
“This was a man who made his trade on lies,” Waters said. “He lied about the most important facts of the case and he sat there effortlessly and easily pivoted to a new lie when confronted with something he wasn’t prepared for.”
Waters told the jury to use common sense during their deliberations.
“We didn’t bring you any eyewitnesses because they were murdered,” Waters said. “But common sense and human nature can speak on behalf of Maggie and Paul. When you look at this in its totality, common sense and human nature can speak for them. They deserve a voice.”
Before wrapping his closing arguments, Waters again asked the jury to consider how Murdaugh had lied to everyone around him for years.
The defendant on the other hand has fooled everyone, everyone,” Waters said. “Everyone who thought they were close to him, everyone who thought they knew who he was. He’s fooled them and he fooled Maggie and Paul too. They paid for it with their lives. Don’t let him fool you too.”
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
As the state’s closing arguments went most of the day Wednesday the defense will get their opportunity at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Defense attorney Jim Griffin told the court that he believes the defense’s closing argument will last about two hours. The state will get another chance to prove its case to jurors before they are charged and it’s put into their hands.
Judge Clifton Newman said earlier Wednesday that jurors may deliberate over the weekend if they are not able to agree on a verdict by the end of Friday, assuming that closing arguments and jury instructions are complete by then.
Jury views Moselle property
The 12 jurors and two alternate jurors met at the Colleton County Courthouse at 9 a.m. and boarded three transport vans with windows blocked up to keep anyone from looking in. Those buses left the courthouse bound for the Moselle Road property at about 9:10 a.m.
Attorneys representing Murdaugh, who is standing trial for the killings, requested earlier this week that the jury be allowed to see the scene of the crimes in person. Newman and attorneys representing both the defense and prosecution went to the property, but jurors were instructed that they could only speak to Newman and attorneys were not allowed to speak to the jurors during the trip.
The clerk of court and court reporter also followed jurors to the scene, along with three pool journalists, a photojournalist for CourtTV, a photographer with the Post and Courier, and a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who were also accompanying the group.
The jurors had 30 minutes to view the property and were expected to spend the bulk of their time at the kennels and shed where Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were fatally shot on the night of June 7, 2021, Wall Street Journal reporter Valerie Bauerlein said.
“Toward the end of the visit, the jury will be taken to the main house for a view of the exterior. They will not go inside,” she said.
The pool journalists were staged on Moselle Road outside the property while the jury toured the scene. After the jury left the area, the pool journalists were given 30 minutes to document the scene and the exterior of the main house.
“The feed room feels like a haunted place,” Bauerlein said. “It is roughly 10 feet deep and 6 feet wide, according to measurements taken by Special Agent Melinda Worley. Crime scene expert Kenneth Kinsey described Paul as standing about 5 feet into the feed room when he was hit by the first shotgun blast to the chest. The doorway is off-center and on the right; there is a shelf on the left at waist high. Standing in the center of the small room, which is roughly 6 feet wide, [Bauerlein] could not see to the left outside of the doorway, where Mr. Kinsey said the shooter would have been.”
Bauerlein said it took her and the pool videographer 12 steps to move from the concrete pad where Paul Murdaugh’s body fell to Maggie Murdaugh’s body near the corner of the shed.
“There was no visible sign that two people had died in a violent manner in such close proximity, no blood stain or anything similar to it, either in the feed room, on the concrete pad or at the corner of the shed,” Bauerlein said. “The interior of the feed room appeared to be redone with newer plywood and parts had been painted. The back window remains and the bullet holes are large and cracked around the edges.”
Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.