Alex Murdaugh could face life in prison if he’s convicted for the double murders of his wife and son. He’s seen here being escorted into the the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., on Monday. Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool hide caption
Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool
Alex Murdaugh could face life in prison if he’s convicted for the double murders of his wife and son. He’s seen here being escorted into the the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., on Monday.
Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool
WALTERBORO, S.C. — A series of revelations have emerged in the more than monthlong murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred South Carolina lawyer accused of killing his wife and son. The jury saw brand-new evidence and heard powerful witness testimony — some helping the prosecution, and some bolstering the defense.
The prosecution began its closing arguments Wednesday. The jury is expected to start deliberations sometime Thursday.
Interpretation of details is crucial in this case: Prosecutors are asking jurors to find Murdaugh guilty beyond reasonable doubt, based on circumstantial rather than direct evidence.
“There are no eyewitnesses. There is nothing on camera,” defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said early in the trial. “There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None.”
Murdaugh, 54, faces the possibility of life in prison if he’s found guilty of two counts of murder and other charges related to the shooting deaths of Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and her son Paul, 22. They died on June 7, 2021, at the family’s sprawling Moselle hunting estate in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Murdaugh is being tried at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro.
Here’s a rundown of important details from the trial:
Murdaugh admitted to being at the murder site
Alex Murdaugh repeatedly told police he didn’t go with his wife and son to the dog kennels where they died. His initial alibi purported that he stayed in the house, where he said he took a nap before leaving to see his ailing mother.
But in court, witnesses identified Murdaugh’s voice in a video taken by Paul at the kennel around 8:45 p.m. – minutes before investigators say the shooting started.
Murdaugh then made the extraordinary decision to testify. And while he still insisted he didn’t shoot his wife and son, Murdaugh was forced to acknowledge lying to investigators about his whereabouts.
“I lied about being down there. And I’m so sorry that I did,” he said.
Murdaugh cited paranoia from his opioid addiction, his distrust of state investigators, and his growing suspicions as police swabbed his hands for gunpowder residue and asked about his relationships with his family.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters emphasized that body-cam footage showed Murdaugh lied to Colleton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Greene from the start – when he said he hadn’t seen Paul and Maggie in the 45 minutes before he left to see his mother.
“You still told the same lie, and all those reasons that you just gave this jury about the most important part of your testimony was a lie too,” Waters said.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, left, speaks to Judge Clifton Newman (not seen) as prosecutor Creighton Waters, right, listens during Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C. Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool hide caption
Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, left, speaks to Judge Clifton Newman (not seen) as prosecutor Creighton Waters, right, listens during Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C.
Jeff Blake/The State via AP, Pool
Evidence was repeatedly mishandled, witnesses said
A central contention by Murdaugh’s defense team – that sloppy police and forensics work undermines the evidence against him – found real traction in court.
Numerous vehicles and people were allowed onto the Moselle grounds in the hours after the killings, including Murdaugh’s relatives and friends. And on a night with misting rain and drizzle, Paul and Maggie’s bodies were covered by sheets rather than tarps.
“People just kept piling in, just more and more people kept showing up,” said Mark Ball, Murdaugh’s former law partner. There was nothing to keep cars away, and first responders were walking around inside a taped-off area, he testified, adding that he saw water dripping from the kennel roof onto Paul’s body.
Ball said his large group eventually left the area – but instead of being sent away, they were told to go inside the main house, despite Ball’s own concern that it could be part of the crime scene. Some of them tidied up the house, he said.
The next morning, Murdaugh asked family housekeeper Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson to clean the home the way Maggie would have liked. She testified the house had no crime-scene tape, and she washed a towel and khaki pants she found on the floor. Investigators came inside while she was there, she said, but they didn’t question her.
Despite the large and complex crime scene, state law enforcement released Moselle back to the family on the morning after the murders, according to Murdaugh’s brother, John Marvin. He recounted cleaning up parts of Paul’s remains that were still sitting out in the open.
Alex asked Maggie to come to Moselle, witnesses said
Marian Proctor, Maggie Murdaugh’s sister, testified that Maggie called her in the late afternoon on the day she died.
Maggie was enjoying her home in nearby Edisto Beach and hadn’t planned to see her husband that night, Proctor said. But Alex Murdaugh’s father was dying and his mother was ailing, and Proctor encouraged her sister to support him.
“Go be with him if he needs you,” Proctor said. That was the last time the sisters spoke.
Proctor said she was surprised to hear her sister hadn’t gone with Alex to see his mother: “That’s the whole reason she went home that night.”
On the stand, Murdaugh said his wife “wasn’t planning to go with me” to see his mother, adding, “Maggie didn’t really like to visit my mom.”
Proctor testified that even after the murders, Murdaugh was focused on a different case, over a fatal boating accident in which Paul was criminally charged. It struck her as odd.
“He said his No. 1 goal was clearing Paul’s name,” Proctor said of Murdaugh, her voice cracking. “And, I thought that was so strange because my No. 1 goal was to find out who killed my sister and Paul.”
Missing: a family gun
Prosecutors say a “family weapon” was used to kill Maggie. But they never produced the murder weapons — a .300 Blackout assault-style rifle prosecutors say was used on Maggie and a 12-gauge shotgun used on Paul.
The Blackout rifle has been mentioned repeatedly, as experts concluded that rifle shell casings from the murder scene matched tool markings on weathered casings found near the house, indicating they were cycled through the same gun.
The Murdaughs originally had two custom Blackout rifles, given to Paul and his brother, Buster, as Christmas presents. Paul’s was apparently stolen in 2017, and a replacement was bought; that newer gun has not been found.
Prosecutors also rejected the idea that Murdaugh was too tall to have fired the shots that killed Paul, citing numerous variables such as the likely chaos at the scene and the potential of firing from a kneeling position.
The state’s final rebuttal witness, forensic expert Kenneth Kinsey, told Attorney General Alan Wilson that the defense’s theory the gunman had to be shorter than Murdaugh’s 6-foot-four-inch frame was “preposterous.”
Also missing: Murdaugh’s clothes
Jurors watched a short Snapchat video from Paul, showing his father wearing a blue shirt and long khaki pants about an hour before the murders. Those clothes have never been found.
The outfit matches testimony from Turrubiate-Simpson, the housekeeper, who even recalled fixing Murdaugh’s collar that morning. She also told jurors about a conversation with her employer two months after the murders.
She said Murdaugh paced back and forth as he told her he’d worn a Vineyard Vines shirt the day Paul and Maggie were killed.
“I felt confused at first,” Turrubiate-Simpson testified. “I know what he was wearing the day he left the house.”
It was one of several implications that Murdaugh sought to orchestrate the narrative around the murders.
Car and phone data were used to track Murdaugh
The prosecution sought to tie inconsistencies in Murdaugh’s story to the murders using cellphone and GPS data.
Early in the evening of June 7, his phone seemed to be sitting immobile at the main house. But cellphone data then shows Murdaugh in a burst of activity starting at 9:02 p.m., when he took 283 steps in four minutes. That’s immediately after the time experts say the murders took place.
“What were you so busy doing?” Waters, the prosecutor, asked Murdaugh. The accused man didn’t give details, saying only that he was getting ready to visit his mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
It wasn’t until during the trial that General Motors produced ONSTAR data from Murdaugh’s Chevrolet Suburban.
The vehicle records show Murdaugh speeded down rural roads on that nighttime trip, reaching speeds up to 80 mph on the rural roads – far above posted speed limits. He also drove past the spot on the roadside where Maggie’s phone was later found.
Questions about Murdaugh’s visits to his mother
Alex Murdaugh said his mother was awake when he went to her house. But her caregiver, Shelley Smith, testified the ailing woman was asleep.
Smith said Murdaugh stopped by that night for 20 minutes. But, she added, Murdaugh later tried to convince her the visit was more like 30 to 40 minutes. Smith felt so uncomfortable, she said, that she immediately called her brother, who works in law enforcement.
Smith also said she’d never seen Murdaugh visit his parents’ home at 6:30 in the morning. But, she said, that’s what he did one day shortly after the shootings, carrying what looked like a blue vinyl tarp that was bundled up as if something was inside.
Murdaugh denied doing that. Investigators testified they later found a blue raincoat with gunshot residue at the house, leading to speculation that it had been wrapped around a recently fired weapon.
Murdaugh’s colleagues described his character and crimes
Judge Clifton Newman allowed prosecutors to present allegations that Murdaugh stole huge amounts of money from his law firm, clients and friends. Newman said the defense “opened the door” by asking witnesses about Murdaugh’s character and possible motive.
Murdaugh admitted numerous misdeeds, and several of his former colleagues described him as a duplicitous man who was hard to read.
Paralegal Annette Griswold described Murdaugh as a “Tasmanian devil” who showed up late for work and was all over the place. It was Griswold who first discovered missing settlement fees from early 2021. Griswold said she initially assumed Murdaugh had misplaced them. But she grew suspicious and told the firm’s chief financial officer, Jeanne Seckinger.
Seckinger, who has known Murdaugh since high school, said that when she went to confront him about the missing money on June 7, he shot her a dirty look that she’d never seen before, asking, “What do you need now?”
Maggie and Paul were killed that night, and sympathy and consideration for Murdaugh’s loss outweighed concerns about the missing funds, Seckinger and Griswold said.
Months after the murders, Griswold testified, she was getting a file in her boss’s office when a check “floated like a feather to the ground,” revealing he was siphoning money. It hit her hard, she said: “I was beside myself. … He’d been lying the whole time.”
“I don’t think I ever really knew him,” Seckinger said. “I don’t think anybody knows him.”
On the stand, Murdaugh acknowledged swindling people who were vulnerable, as Waters recited his former clients’ names.
Murdaugh told the court, “One of the saddest parts of this whole thing is, they’re people I still care about and I did them this way.”
But, Murdaugh insisted, he’s no killer.
South Carolina Public Radio’s Victoria Hansen reported from Walterboro, S.C.; Bill Chappell reported from Washington, D.C.
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