South Carolina prosecutors within the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh rested their case Friday after having known as greater than 60 witnesses over 4 weeks — a hodgepodge of testimony and proof that sought to go away little question in jurors’ minds that he fatally shot his spouse and son in 2021.
But, the prosecution provided no onerous proof — reminiscent of a confession, eyewitnesses, video or fingerprints — that Murdaugh, a once-powerful lawyer and part-time prosecutor in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, had pulled the set off.
Though the Murdaugh household owned weapons, a number of of which have been seized from their Colleton County searching property within the investigation, the prosecution has stated investigators did not discover the precise homicide weapons: a shotgun and an AR-style rifle.
Creighton Waters, the chief prosecutor for the state legal professional normal’s workplace, had relied closely on circumstantial proof to posit a motive for why Murdaugh, 54, would have wished his spouse, Margaret, 52, and their son Paul, 22, useless, and provided a timeline based mostly on cellphone and automobile GPS information to point out he had the chance.
On the day of the slayings, June 7, 2021, Murdaugh’s legislation agency questioned him about $792,000 in lacking shopper settlement funds, in accordance with court docket testimony. Prosecutors say Murdaugh killed Margaret and Paul that night close to the searching lodge’s out of doors canine kennels to distract from the widening probe into long-running monetary misdeeds, which included allegations of stealing from his clients. The chief monetary officer of his legislation agency, which Murdaugh’s great-grandfather based greater than 100 years in the past, testified that she halted her investigation after the murders.
Final week, state Circuit Choose Clifton Newman gave the prosecution a pivotal win when he stated the jury may hear witness testimony about Murdaugh’s “dire monetary state of affairs,” ruling that whereas the state does not have to show a motive for the murders, “the state should show malice, and proof of motive could also be used to show it.”
The protection repeatedly disagreed with the ruling in one in all many cases that might type the idea for an attraction if Murdaugh is discovered responsible, authorized observers say.
In one other rating for the prosecution, Newman this week additionally allowed jurors to listen to testimony associated to an incident virtually three months after the murders by which Murdaugh was shot by his drug dealer on the aspect of a highway. Authorities say Murdaugh initially lied about a number of particulars concerning the taking pictures, and he supposedly tried to have himself killed in order that his oldest son, Buster, may accumulate on his multimillion-dollar life insurance coverage coverage.
Prosecutors routinely tried to undermine Murdaugh’s credibility. However protection lawyer Jim Griffin informed Newman that the state’s motive is “all only a concept.”
Jessica Roth, a professor on the Cardozo College of Regulation at Yeshiva College in New York, stated the most important hurdle for the prosecution just isn’t having direct proof that Murdaugh is the killer.
“It boggles the thoughts that, by all accounts, a father who cherished his spouse and grownup son would brutally homicide them,” stated Roth, a former federal prosecutor who is not related with the trial however has been following it.
“By having the ability to current proof of the enormity of the defendant’s money owed, the spiraling downward and crescendo that was occurring in his life, that created a compelling story, a proof,” Roth stated. “But it surely will not be sufficient on the finish of the day.”
Till the ultimate day of its case, the prosecution did not supply the jury a transparent narrative of occasions as they rolled out their witnesses. As a substitute, they bounced round completely different features of the tangled timeline, primarily calling crime scene brokers and forensics specialists with the South Carolina Regulation Enforcement Division and the FBI who may testify about cellphone and digital proof.
Authorized observers have famous that jurors aren’t allowed to take notes through the trial, hindering their capability to maintain observe of the witnesses’ testimony, which at factors has been prolonged and granular.
Jurors have been additionally requested to think about the existence of a blue rain jacket that Murdaugh could have taken into his mom’s dwelling within the days after the murders. His mom’s caretaker, Muschelle Smith, testified that she noticed him holding a “blue one thing,” like a tarp. State investigators did discover a blue rain jacket within the dwelling, which specialists testified had gunshot residue according to it both being worn whereas somebody used a gun or having a firearm wrapped within it, however in any other case the clothes had no helpful DNA.
The merchandise has been mentioned a number of instances all through the trial to name into query Murdaugh’s conduct earlier than and after the murders. The protection downplayed Smith’s testimony as complicated whereas suggesting the rain jacket itself is not related to the case as a result of there’s “no proof connecting Mr. Murdaugh to that rain jacket,” Griffin stated.
In one in all many strange turns of events through the trial, which has drawn nationwide consideration for the sprawling saga surrounding the Murdaugh family, a state’s witness was criticized for having donated $1,000 to a GoFundMe marketing campaign arrange for Smith in response to “her bravery” for testifying in opposition to Murdaugh.
The witness, Mark Tinsley, a lawyer who filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the mother and father of a 19-year-old lady killed in a 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh, gave essential testimony that through the litigation, he had been informed that Murdaugh was broke. Tinsley additionally testified that he thought he was going to need to drop the lawsuit if it turned out the murders have been related to Paul’s involvement within the boat crash.
“If it appeared like this was retaliation, a jury would not return a verdict in opposition to Alex,” Tinsley stated. “I might have dropped the case.”
Once more, the prosecution advised, Murdaugh would have been in a position to escape accountability.
The state’s compelling proof
As a part of one of many state’s strongest items of proof, the prosecution has tried to knock down Murdaugh’s alibi for the evening of the murders and scrutinize his timeline.
On the middle was a video taken on Paul’s cellphone at 8:44 p.m. by which three voices could be heard. The video, which has been proven repeatedly through the trial, is from the property’s canine kennels; it includes a canine wagging its tail and the voices discussing whether or not one other canine has a rooster or a guinea in its mouth.
All through the trial, the prosecution requested witnesses, together with mates and family members of the Murdaughs, whom they heard talking, and each individual recognized the voices as belonging to Paul, Margaret and Alex.
Paul and Margaret have been killed a while from 8:50 p.m. to 9:06 p.m., in accordance with investigators.
As well as, simply earlier than the video of the canine’s tail was recorded, the animal’s proprietor, Rogan Gibson, spoke to Paul on the telephone. Gibson testified that earlier than ending the decision, he may hear Margaret and a male voice that seemed like Murdaugh’s within the background.
In interviews with investigators simply after the killings and about two months later, Murdaugh denied having been on the canine kennels. As a substitute, he stated that the final time he noticed his household was earlier within the night at dinner and that he then took a brief nap and left to go to his ailing mom, who has Alzheimer’s illness.
Smith, his mom’s caretaker, testified that Murdaugh did go to however that it was uncommon for him to see her that late at evening, and that within the days after the murders, he informed her that “if any individual asks you, I have been right here 30 to 40 minutes.” However she recollected that he had been there for under about 20 minutes.
Murdaugh spoke with a 911 operator at 10:07 p.m., saying he had simply returned dwelling and had discovered his spouse and son useless.
State Regulation Enforcement Division agent David Owen, the lead investigator, testified Wednesday that there have been too many inconsistencies in what Murdaugh had informed them over time and that the obvious use of household firearms within the killings — based mostly on shell casings on the scene — and an absence of DNA to level to different suspects helped pinpoint Murdaugh as the one credible lead.
On Friday, the state’s closing witness, State Regulation Enforcement Division particular agent Peter Rudofski, reconstructed the night of the murders utilizing cellphone information extracted from the telephones of Murdaugh, his spouse and son, and GPS information from Murdaugh’s Chevrolet Suburban to counsel his actions turned fast across the time of the killings.
Murdaugh started strolling at a quick tempo at 9:02 p.m., in accordance with the information. Then 5 minutes later, he drove to his mom’s home about 15 miles away, stayed for roughly 20 minutes after which returned dwelling at 10 p.m. Throughout the drive to and from his mom’s home, he reached speeds that far exceeded the 55 mph restrict, Rudofski testified.
Simply earlier than 10:06 p.m., Murdaugh drove to the property’s canine kennels, and inside 20 seconds, he tried to dial 911 from his cellphone, in accordance with the information. After connecting with an operator, he stated he had already checked the pulses of his spouse and son. (Regulation enforcement brokers beforehand testified that Murdaugh had no blood on the garments he was sporting when police arrived.)
Throughout cross-examination, the protection advised that Murdaugh noticed that “one thing is horribly improper” upon arriving on the canine kennels, and it will have been cheap for him to behave shortly.
Earlier within the trial, the household’s housekeeper, Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, testified that within the months after the murders, Murdaugh requested her whether or not she recalled what he was sporting that day and he stated, “‘I received a foul feeling.'” She stated that he requested her whether or not she remembered the shirt he was sporting and that it was the model “Vinny Vines,” referring to the model Winery Vines.
However she stated she remembered solely a blue polo shirt.
“In my thoughts, I used to be saying I do not keep in mind a Vines shirt. It was the polo shirt,” Simpson stated. “I did not say something, however I used to be type of thrown again, as a result of I do not keep in mind him sporting that shirt that day.”
Beneath cross-examination, Simpson testified that when she cleaned them later, she did not see blood on the khaki pants Murdaugh had been seen sporting that day.
Marian Proctor, Margaret Murdaugh’s sister, additionally testified about interactions she had with Alex Murdaugh after the slayings that felt off.
She stated that Murdaugh had informed her he believed “whoever had performed it had thought of it a very very long time” and that he then appeared extra involved about clearing Paul’s identify within the boat crash case.
“I believed that was unusual, as a result of my No. 1 objective was discovering who killed my sister and Paul,” Proctor testified. “I do know he should have wished that, too, however I do not know the way he may have considered anything. We have been afraid. We did not know what was occurring. My household was scared. I used to be scared for Alex and Buster. I believed they wanted safety. I believe everyone was afraid. Alex did not appear to be afraid.”
On cross-examination, Proctor acknowledged that Murdaugh’s need to clear his son’s identify “was his approach of honoring Paul when he was gone.”
“I simply thought his precedence ought to have been discovering out who killed Maggie and Paul,” she added.
Give attention to household ties
The protection has sought to push again in opposition to the prosecution’s portrayal of Murdaugh as misleading and conniving by highlighting him as a household man who had a great relationship with Margaret, his spouse of virtually three many years, and his sons, Paul and Buster.
On cross-examination, Simpson agreed that Murdaugh had made his spouse “his all.”
“He adored her,” she testified. “He cherished her.”
One other state’s witness, Dale Roger Davis, who cared for the household’s canines for 4 years, stated the household relationship appeared sturdy.
“I by no means noticed that man even elevate his voice at his spouse and children,” Davis stated. “Something she wished or the boys wished, he would attempt to get it for them.”
The protection’s case is anticipated to final a few week, with witnesses who could embrace different relations. It is unclear whether or not Murdaugh will take the stand.
Roth, the previous federal prosecutor, stated all of the protection wants is “one juror to determine there’s cheap doubt” about whether or not Murdaugh killed his spouse and son and that might set off a mistrial.
If he’s discovered responsible of double homicide, Murdaugh would face 30 years to life in jail with out parole. A separate cost, two counts of possession of a weapon throughout a violent crime, may carry 5 extra years in jail.