Murdaugh trial to begin 5th week Tuesday; Here’s what jurors have heard so far
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - As prosecutors rested their case in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial they hoped to convince 12 jurors that Murdaugh is guilty of murdering his wife and their youngest son without the jury seeing a smoking gun, both figuratively and literally.
Instead, prosecutors used more than 50 witnesses to establish that Murdaugh was lying about his alibi and his actions on the night of June 7, 2021.
Prosecutors have not shown the jury a real “gotcha” moment during the trial, deciding to focus on inconsistencies in three interviews given to investigators, cell phone data and videos recovered from Paul Murdaugh’s phone that were taken on the night of the murders.
Murdaugh has long insisted he was never at the kennels where the bodies of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found, saying he took a nap after dinner and went to visit his mother.
Prosecutors have argued that a video taken by Paul Murdaugh at the kennels contains three distinct voices: Paul, Maggie and Alex Murdaugh. Close friends and family members have taken the stand in the days after the video was first played to confirm those are the three voices heard in the video.
The defense, so far, has not argued the validity of the video or the voices heard instead choosing to focus on evidence collection and crime scene preservation that they’ve deemed shoddy.
When the lead investigator from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division took the stand prosecutors had him walk through the timeline of evidence collection at the scene and in the days following to show that the agency did their job correctly and followed proper leads and evidence.
However, questions from the defense about when certain areas were searched and the evidence collected in an attempt to shed doubt on the process.
Prosecutors fought to get evidence of other crimes admitted into this trial as motive for the murders. They pointed to a “perfect storm” swirling around Murdaugh in the days and months leading up to the murders as he was confronted about money stolen from his law firm, facing pressure from a civil lawsuit that threatened to uncover his fake bank account used to defraud clients and later evidence showing his opioid addiction was under fire from Paul and Maggie Murdaugh as evidenced in recovered text messages and search records.
Still, with no murder weapons, prosecutors used cell phone data from all three phones to build out a timeline for the hours leading up to the murders showing what time the phones of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were unlocked for the final time.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
During opening statements, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters described all three Murdaughs as “prolific cellphone users” and several witnesses from family friends to forensic analysts have all attested to the family’s cellphone use. On, the night of June 7, 2021, investigators showed Maggie Murdaugh using her phone until 8:49 p.m. when it locked and was only unlocked again after investigators found it on the side of the road the next day. Paul Murdaugh’s phone stops any activity that would indicate use after 8:48 p.m. on June 7.
Then there are the inconsistencies from Murdaugh’s own mouth heard in the three interviews conducted by SLED.
Lead investigator David Owen testified that after the third interview, conducted on Aug. 11, 2021, Murdaugh was the only known suspect in the case.
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.
That video was sent from Paul Murdaugh to his friends just before 8 p.m. on June 7. When police arrived at Moselle, Murdaugh was no longer wearing that outfit and had changed into a pair of shorts and a white t-shirt.
The t-shirt and shorts would be the outfit that was collected from Murdaugh on the night of the murders along with a pair of sneakers. The items tested negative for human blood.
SLED would test several items for blood and DNA evidence including more than 10 swabs taken from Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban. Only one of those swabs tested positive for blood.
Even without blood evidence, the Suburban could ultimately be the biggest piece of evidence prosecutors have to link Murdaugh to the killings.
Prosecutors received data from General Motors during week three of the trial that included data from Murdaugh’s Suburban’s OnStar data tracking the movements of the vehicle.
The data shows speeds reached in Murdaugh’s Suburban during trips throughout the day and night of June 7. Jurors saw how Murdaugh’s average speed on his drive to work that afternoon was 37.24 mph with a maximum speed of 65.8 mph compared to an average speed of 51.94 mph and a max speed of 74.4 mph during his trip to his mother’s home at Almeda. The records show Murdaugh driving slowly near the area where Maggie Murdaugh’s cell phone was found the next day before accelerating quickly in the direction of Almeda. Perhaps the most striking evidence revealed is the comparison between when the Suburban is located at the kennels and when Murdaugh makes the 911 call, a timeframe of around 20 seconds despite telling the 911 operator that he had gone to check both bodies before calling.
That wouldn’t be the only inconsistency pointed out by the state as noted by Owen that Murdaugh had given a different length of time for his visit to his mother’s home at Almeda in each interview.
Libby Murdaugh’s caretaker and Maggie Murdaugh’s sister would speak to Alex Murdaugh’s unusual behavior following the murders.
Shelley Smith told jurors about Murdaugh coming to Almeda in the early morning hours a few days after the murders holding something balled up and blue. She said it looked like it might be a tarp. Investigators would eventually search Almeda and locate a blue raincoat that tested positive for substantial gunshot residue on the inside of the jacket. Forensic analysts were unable to get a DNA profile from the jacket to identify its owner.
Smith also testified that Murdaugh had approached her after his father’s funeral and told her he had been at Almeda between 30 and 40 minutes on June 7. She said Murdaugh later told her that he could help her with her upcoming wedding. Smith said the two had never discussed the upcoming wedding.
That wasn’t the only instance prosecutors say Murdaugh seemingly tried to coordinate stories with those who saw him on the day of the murders.
Blanca Simpson, Murdaugh’s housekeeper, said she and Murdaugh had a conversation after the murders where Murdaugh tried to convince her he was wearing a specific shirt when he left for the office on June 7. Simpson said she remembered the shirt he wore that day because she had fixed the collar on it as he was leaving. Notably, the shirt she says Murdaugh was wearing when he left the house that day was different from the shirt he was wearing later that day in the Snapchat video.
“It felt more like he was trying to convince me of the shirt that he was wearing,” Simpson said.
Simpson said she never saw that outfit again.
Simpson also testified she had a conversation she had with Maggie Murdaugh about the boat crash lawsuit. Maggie Murdaugh told her she thought they we seeking around $30 million and told her she didn’t think Alex Murdaugh was completely open about their financial situation, Simpson said.
Maggie Murdaugh called Simpson and asked her to make dinner for the family on June 7 and told her that Alex Murdaugh wanted her to come to Moselle instead of the Edisto Beach house and had also asked Paul Murdaugh to come home, Simpson said.
Murdaugh told investigators that he was unaware Maggie Murdaugh was coming to Moselle that night and thought she was going to be at the Edisto Beach house.
Simpson wasn’t the only person to testify that Murdaugh had asked Maggie Murdaugh to come home that night.
Maggie Murdaugh’s sister Marian Proctor testified having a similar conversation with her sister that day. She said Maggie Murdaugh told her she was asked to come home and go with Murdaugh to visit his father. Proctor said she encouraged her sister to go that night.
Proctor also testified that Murdaugh’s priorities seemed questionable following the murders saying that while the rest of the family was worried about his and Buster Murdaugh’s safety, his priority appeared to be clearing Paul Murdaugh’s name in regard to the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.
Murdaugh was named in a civil lawsuit in connection to the crash and a motions hearing was scheduled for June 10, 2021, just three days after the murders. Prosecutors argue that had that motion hearing moved forward and the motion to compel been granted it would have exposed Murdaugh’s financial fraud by revealing all the bank accounts attached to his name. By June 7, however, details of Murdaugh’s alleged theft from his former law firm and clients were already coming to light.
Murdaugh had been a part of two cases that would see him collect $792,000 in fees. Murdaugh allegedly lied to his best friend and co-counsel on the case, Chris Wilson, by instructing him to pay the fees directly to him instead of the law firm. Wilson said he took Murdaugh at his word because he had no reason not to trust him.
Parker Law Group, (formerly Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick), Chief Financial Officer Jeanne Seckinger first began looking into those fee checks in May of 2021 after the firm received two expense checks from Wilson’s law firm but no fees checks. Wilson’s paralegal informed Murdaugh’s firm that he had already been paid his fees. Murdaugh had been asked about the fees and would tell Seckinger on June 3, 2021, that the fees were in Wilson’s trust account, she said. That same day, prosecutors say Murdaugh contacted Russell Laffitte at Palmetto State Bank about extending his farm credit line by $600,000.
Murdaugh was confronted again by Seckinger on the morning of June 7 about the fees.
Nothing much was said about the missing fees until July when Wilson testified Murdaugh sent $600,000 of the $792,000 and asked Wilson to email Murdaugh’s firm and confirm the fee money was in his trust. Wilson said he fronted the other $192,000 with his own money and it was never recovered.
On July 15, 2021, prosecutors said a wire transfer of $350,000 was made to Wilson’s account from a Palmetto State Bank internal account called “loans not in system.” Palmetto State Bank CEO Jan Malinowski testified that paperwork for the loan didn’t materialize until August after the bank’s executive committee was asked to look into the bank’s relationship with Murdaugh. At the time of the Aug. 9 inquiry, the state said one of Murdaugh’s accounts had been overdrawn by nearly $350,000 and a deposit of $400,000 had been made to the account that day by Laffitte. Malinowski said the bank had been footing the bill for Murdaugh’s expenses since June 7.
Prosecutors have argued the murders were meant as a distraction from the financial misdeeds.
READ MORE: Jury convicts ex-banker Russell Laffitte on 6 financial crime charges
With mostly circumstantial evidence at the heart of the case, prosecutors have tried to convince the jury that missing family guns were the murder weapons through comparisons of shotgun shells and bullet casings found around the bodies and similar casings found on the Moselle property. Machining marks from the bullet casings indicate they were cycled through the same rifle, though analysts have stopped short of saying they were actually fired through the same rifle.
Still, prosecutors insist that the walls were closing in on Murdaugh and argue that the evidence shows Murdaugh had the motive to kill his wife and son, and the evidence shown places him at the scene of the crime minutes before the cell phones of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh lock forever.
“Three minutes after a video shows he’s at the scene with the victims and told everybody he was never there,” Waters said.
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