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Day 12: Jurors Begin Hearing Of Murdaugh Financial Crime Accusations

Click pic for link to live streaming coverage of the Murdaugh Trial from the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, SCPhoto: Golden, Kelly

Day 12: Jurors Expected To Begin Hearing Of Murdaugh Financial Crime Accusations

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Jurors in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial will hear from witnesses about alleged financial crimes the disbarred attorney is accused of committing.

Murdaugh is on trial in Colleton County for the murders of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul, on June 7, 2021.

Judge Clifton Newman said Monday the jury is entitled to consider whether Murdaugh’s “apparent desperation” and “dire financial situation” resulted in the killings of his family. Murdaugh faces nearly 100 charges ranging from money laundering, to stealing millions from clients and the family law firm and tax evasion.

Prosecutors have said those witnesses are key to their case in Murdaugh’s double murder trial to show he was worried his alleged crimes were about to be discovered and that Murdaugh killed his family to get sympathy and buy time to cover up the missing money.

Over the past few days, Newman listened to testimony from several witnesses without the jury in the courtroom. That testimony focused on the alleged financial crimes. Those witnesses are expected to be called back to court to testify a second time before the jury.

One focus of Monday’s testimony centered on a blue raincoat. Shelley Smith, who took care of Murdaugh’s mom, testified that she saw Murdaugh at his parents’ home holding what she described as a blue tarp.

Defense attorney Jim Griffin argued against allowing the raincoat into evidence after Smith’s insistence that it was a tarp she saw Murdaugh with. But the state pushed back by bringing up Griffin’s questioning during cross-examination as the defense acknowledged the raincoat’s existence.

When Smith was shown a photo with the jacket balled up in a closet she said that was the item she saw. A blue tarp was also collected from the home. Photos of the tarp show one side of the tarp to be silver, something Smith said she never saw.

Kristin Hall, a former SLED investigator, testified that she had collected gunshot residue tests on the raincoat as well as a white t-shirt, green cargo shorts and a pair of shoes collected from Murdaugh on the night of the killings. She also testified that she had conducted a GSR test on the seatbelt taken from Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban.

Smith said Murdaugh came to the house on the night of the murders and stayed between 15 and 20 minutes. She said he was wearing a T-shirt, shorts and boat shoes and that she couldn’t see any blood on him or left on the bed when he was next to his mother.

After the funeral for Murdaugh’s father Randolph, who died days after the shootings, Smith said Murdaugh came into the room and told her he was at Almeda for 30 or 40 minutes on the night of the murders.

Murdaugh later mentioned helping her with an upcoming wedding and finding her a new position with the school system where she worked, Smith said.

Testimony will continue Tuesday morning.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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Day 11: Second full week of testimony in Murdaugh trial begins Monday

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The judge presiding over the Alex Murdaugh murder trial will likely decide this week whether jurors will hear about the financial crime charges Murdaugh faces.

The disbarred Lowcountry attorney is charged in the June 7, 2021, killings of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul.

The state has called more than 25 witnesses who have provided more than 100 hours of testimony. But the testimony is far from over.

The jury has not been present in the courtroom for additional testimony focusing on the nearly 100 charges relating to financial crimes ranging from money laundering to stealing millions from clients and the family law firm and tax evasion.

Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman has been listening to that testimony to decide whether he will allow the state to call those witnesses again to testify before the jury.

Prosecutors said the evidence is key to their case. They said Murdaugh killed his wife and son because Murdaugh was confronted earlier in the day about $782,000 in fees that should be in his law firm’s account but could not be found.

Murdaugh planned the killings to gain sympathy and buy time so he could find a way to cover up the missing money as he had numerous times before in the past decade or so, prosecutors said.

Murdaugh’s lawyers said prosecutors are trying to smear Murdaugh with bad behavior not related to the killings to bolster their weak case.

Newman is expected to decide sometime this week whether the jury will be allowed to weigh the financial crime charges as a possible motive in the double killing.

The trial was originally expected to last three weeks, which would mean it would end around this Friday. If, however, Newman decides to allow the financial crimes to be heard, it could extend the length of the trial by a few more weeks.

The judge presiding over the Alex Murdaugh murder trial will likely decide this week whether jurors will hear about the financial crime charges Murdaugh faces.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

LIVE: Day 10: Judge hearing more testimony on Murdaugh without jury present

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The judge presiding over the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial listened to testimony without the jury present for the second day in a row.

Murdaugh is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul.

But Judge Clifton Newman is hearing testimony about the nearly 100 financial crimes of which Murdaugh is also accused as he decides whether the jury in the murder trial will be allowed to hear those accusations.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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Day 9: Judge to decide whether jury will hear of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The judge overseeing the murder trial of disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh is expected to rule Thursday whether to allow the state to admit evidence of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.

Murdaugh is charged with two counts of murder in the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Paul. But Murdaugh is also facing about 100 charges related to accusations of money laundering, stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, tax evasion and trying to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. He was being held in jail without bail on those counts before he was charged with murder.

Defense attorney Jim Griffin argues that the testimony during cross-examination was not character.

There are many areas for evidence of other crimes to be admitted.

Newman says they would address it as court goes on.

From the beginning, prosecutors have argued that Murdaugh killed his wife and son as a distraction to avoid coming clean about his financial misdeeds.

They believe that one of the pressures was an upcoming hearing in June in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the 2019 boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Paul Murdaugh was charged in the crash for allegedly operating the boat under the influence when it crashed into a bridge. The hearing for the lawsuit, prosecutors claim, would have exposed Alex Murdaugh’s finances.

One of Paul Murdaugh’s closest friends, Will Loving, was the first witness prosecutors asked about the boat crash, which may open the door for the state to attempt to prove its motive theory.

Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman told the defense he will rule Thursday morning whether he will allow the jury to hear details about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, a state agent meticulously reconstructed activity from his iPhone and the cellphones of his son and wife the night they were killed to try to link the disgraced attorney to the shooting deaths.

The key evidence for prosecutors is a video from the son’s phone of a dog at the kennels near where Murdaugh’s son Paul was killed with a shotgun and wife Maggie was shot several times with a rifle.

The timeline from prosecutors said the video was taken about five minutes before the killings. A friend of Paul Murdaugh testified later Wednesday that he was certain he heard Alex, Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s voices on the video when he saw it nearly 18 months later and told police the day after the killings he was 99% sure he heard all three during a phone call to his friend at nearly the same time.

In interviews with police, Alex Murdaugh said he was never at the kennels that night.

Later Wednesday, Murdaugh’s defense used that same data to suggest that Murdaugh’s phone and his wife’s phone were not together when her iPhone recorded a final change in orientation between portrait and landscape mode, indicating it may have been tossed on the side of the road about a half-mile from the family’s property.

In his opening statement last week, prosecutor Creighton Waters waved his phone at jurors and said cellphone information would be vital to linking Murdaugh to the killings in a case without much direct evidence.

State Law Enforcement Division Lt. Britt Dove returned to the witness stand Wednesday on the fifth day of testimony. He specializes in retrieving and analyzing cellphone data.

Dove went over a trove of information from the cellphones of Alex Murdaugh, his wife and son. There were phone call logs and texts, steps recorded, apps asking for information, GPS locations, changes when the phone went from vertical portrait mode to horizontal landscape mode and back, and — key to the prosecution’s case — when the camera was activated.

The last time the camera on Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone came on was 8:44:49 p.m., when it took a video for under a minute, Dove said.

Someone appears in the video to be trying to get an image of a wagging dog’s tail. Voices are heard trying to get the dog to stay still and figuring out if it had a chicken or a guinea in its mouth.

The video was meant for Rogan Gibson, the dog’s owner and a close friend of Paul Murdaugh. Gibson testified Wednesday he considered the Murdaughs a second family. Gibson said he was with the family several days after the killings and told Maggie Murdaugh’s mother that the last time he heard her voice, Alex Murdaugh was also there in the kennels. Alex Murdaugh was nearby and didn’t contradict him, Gibson said.

Paul Murdaugh read the final text on his phone at 8:48:59 p.m. and 36 seconds later another text came in that he never read. Maggie Murdaugh’s phone showed she last read a text 28 seconds later, Dove testified.

Alex Murdaugh told police the night of the killings and three days later that he was never at the kennels with his family, instead taking a short nap several hundred yards away before leaving to visit his ailing mother. Computer data from the SUV indicated he started the vehicle at about 9:06 p.m. and drove off.

At nearly the same time, Alex Murdaugh’s phone called his wife’s phone, which indicated its display came on and there was an orientation change. Defense attorney Phillip Barber suggested to Dove that the person who killed Maggie Murdaugh had her phone in their hand and was surprised at the call, throwing it out the window.

Dove said he didn’t have enough information, such as how the phone could have been thrown, to agree or disagree.

There were no more significant changes to Maggie Murdaugh’s phone until it was recovered from the side of the road the next day, Dove said.

But about five minutes after she read the final text, Maggie Murdaugh’s data indicated her cellphone camera turned on for one second. Dove told prosecutors that can happen when an iPhone is trying to detect a face to see if it is the owner wanting to unlock the phone.

The defense suggested a different scenario — that in a panic, she tried to use her phone camera to take a photo of someone.

“And if the perpetrator or perpetrators responded by shooting at her, would that explain why it went off in one second and there was a bunch of orientation changes very shorty thereafter?” Barber asked.

“There’s a lot of possibilities could happen not knowing how a person reacts,” Dove said.

Prosecutors also had Dove read where Maggie Murdaugh texted someone that she was worried about her husband’s health, and after a doctor’s appointment that day, she was heading back to the lodge in Colleton County instead of the family’s house on Edisto Island.

“Alex wants me to come home,” she texted.

Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

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Day 8: Court convenes Wednesday for 4th day of testimony

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Testimony in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial is expected to begin Wednesday with a focus on a potential key piece of evidence: a cellphone video recorded by Murdaugh’s son.

Murdaugh, the disbarred Lowcountry attorney, is standing trial for the two killings at the family’s Colleton County hunting property on June 7, 2021.

The video expected to be discussed Wednesday by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Lt. Britt Dove was made by Paul Murdaugh about four minutes before he stopped using his cellphones, roughly the time investigators believe he and his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, were fatally shot.

In that video, investigators say Alex Murdaugh’s voice can be heard, despite the fact that the told police hours after the killings and repeated in an interview with SLED Senior Special Agent Jeff Croft that he wasn’t at the kennels that night.

The live blog will appear in this space when court convenes Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

Agent insists Alex Murdaugh suggested he killed his son

For the second day in a row on Tuesday, a portion of testimony focused on an interview of Murdaugh by investigators and a single pronoun.

In a recording of that conversation, which took place three days after the killings, Murdaugh is emotional when he says of Paul, “It was so bad.” But it is what he says next that became a point of contention over since Monday.

Croft testified he was “100% confident” Murdaugh said “I did him so bad.”

But others in the courtroom heard, “They did him so bad.”

If Murdaugh used the word “I,” some might construe that as a confession; if he used the word “they,” it might be interpreted as referring to people Murdaugh told investigators were threatening his son after the 2019 boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

Defense attorney Jim Griffin replayed the clip multiple times Tuesday, once even at a slower speed.

“Did you hear ‘they’ then?” Griffin asked.

“No sir, I did not,” Croft said.

Prosecutors haven’t explained why they have emphasized the comment.

“What were the things going through your mind when you heard, or misheard, ‘I did him so bad?’” defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Croft during cross-examination. “I wasn’t a good dad? I spoiled him? Or, I killed him?”

“It was definitely something we needed to follow up on,” Croft said.

The agent said he didn’t ask for clarification that day because he thought it was too early in the investigation to confront Murdaugh and lose his cooperation. Griffin asked about an interview three months later and Croft said the agents didn’t get to asking about that but did ask Murdaugh point-blank if he killed his wife and son.

Griffin asked if it would be up to the jury to decide the truth.

“They get to hear the tape and make their own mind up on what he said, yes sir,” Croft responded.

As with much of the first four days of testimony, there were interesting bits and pieces from prosecutors, often provided without further explanation, such as a $1,021.10 receipt from a Gucci store with an item circled.

The defense used their cross-examination of Croft to try to poke holes in how the investigation unfolded. Croft was asked if he knew why state agents didn’t search Murdaugh’s home in the hours after the killings for dirty clothes, possible blood in drains or other evidence. Croft said he didn’t know what other agents did.

Griffin also asked Croft why agents didn’t search Murdaugh’s mother’s home until September — three months after the killings — even though that was the only place Murdaugh said he went before finding the bodies.

“I know I did not go and I’m not sure what any of the other agents in the investigative circle had done,” Croft said.

Prosecutors then called several witnesses to talk about how they collected data from cellphones belonging to Murdaugh, his son and wife.

Dove, the main witness who reviewed the data only got to Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone before court ended for the day on Tuesday. Dove went over a trove of information her cellphone kept, from each text and call received to being unplugged at 8:17:51 p.m. on the night of the killings.

Dove detailed for prosecutors a flurry of activity starting at 8:49 p.m. on Maggie Murdaugh’s phone. The orientation changed from portrait to landscape and back several times. The camera turned on for one second, likely her face ID checking to see if she was logging in. Her health app recorded 59 steps — all until 9:06 p.m. when that activity ended.

Prosecutors didn’t have Dove explain in detail what might have happened.

But investigators have said they think the killings happened at roughly 8:50 p.m. Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone was found the next day, after help from her family, just off the road about a half mile from the family property. Alex Murdaugh left around that time to visit his ailing mother, prosecutors have said.

The trial is expected to continue through next week.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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LIVE BLOG: Day 7: Testimony to resume with questions over Murdaugh statement in interview

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By Patrick Phillips and Steven Ardary

WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - When the Alex Murdaugh murder trial continues Tuesday morning, the defense will cross-examine a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigator.

Murdaugh, a disbarred Lowcountry attorney, is standing trial for the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Paul.

The trial resumedat 9:30 a.m.

During Monday’s testimony, prosecutors spent most of the day examining SLED Special Agent Jeff Croft. Croft testified that during an interview with Murdaugh, video of which was played to the jury, Murdaugh said of Paul, “It was so bad…I did him so bad.”

But some people in the courtroom heard that portion differently, insisting it sounded like Murdaugh said “they did him so bad,” not “I did him so bad.”

Earlier in the day, defense attorneys continued to question the way authorities collected and analyzed evidence in the shooting deaths of Murdaugh’s wife and son, including numerous guns owned by the Murdaugh family now that several are evidence in the case.

Some of those weapons included the same kind that killed the Murdaugh: a .300 Blackout rifle and shotguns, respectively.

The defense began to object as the firearms were introduced, saying prosecutors had not established any relevance to enter them into evidence.

But lead prosecutor Creighton Waters fought back and the court sided with the state.

“It is very important to show the extensiveness of the investigation it was done particularly as it goes to firearms and there were multiple guns that were tested,” he said. “Admitting these guns as evidence and what was tested is very relevant.”

Croft also testified that he found the same brand and type of shell casings around the house that were found around Maggie Murdaugh’s body. In the trash, he said he found an empty box of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition, the same kind used to kill Paul Murdaugh. Croft said he also found a credit card statement, with a circled charge of more than $1,000 at Gucci.

The state has listed more than 200 potential witnesses, but it is not clear how many they intend to call to the stand.

Prosecutors estimated the trial would take about three weeks to complete.

Murdaugh is facing life in prison without parole if convicted of the crimes at hand.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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LIVE: Day 6: Testimony to continue in Alex Murdaugh murder trial Monday

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The trial of former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of killing his wife and their youngest son in 2021, is set to continue Monday morning.

It will be the third full day of testimony in the trial.

Jury selection took about two-and-a-half days, with opening statements occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Testimony began Thursday morning with some of the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the family’s Mozelle Road property in the Islandton community of rural Colleton County on the night of June 7, 2021, Murdaugh told investigators he returned to the property and discovered the bodies of his wife, Maggie, 52; and their son, Paul, 22.

READ RECAP: Here’s what happened during the first week of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial

Murdaugh’s comments to police about his whereabouts around the time his wife and son were fatally shot may not have been accurate, according to video evidence presented by prosecutors Friday.

In cross examining one of the detectives who interviewed Murdaugh, his lawyer underlined that despite the gory scene of two people killed with powerful weapons at close range, Murdaugh didn’t appear to have any blood on him.

The defense also questioned how evidence was collected at the family’s home, including whether drains were checked for blood.

In his 911 call and the interview played in court, Murdaugh said he didn’t see or communicate with his wife for close to an hour before he left the house to check on his ailing mother.

But in their opening statement and court papers filed before the trial, prosecutors said a video shot by Paul Murdaugh about 20 minutes before his father drove away — according to cellphone data — had the voices of all three of them on it.

Prosecutors said the cellphones of both victims stopped being used about four minutes after the son’s video.

In the interview with Colleton County Sheriff’s Detective Laura Rutland and a state agent, Murdaugh said he checked his son’s pulse but quickly realized he was so badly injured he was probably dead.

Prosecutor John Meadors asked Rutland if she saw blood on Murtaugh’s hands, arms, shirt, shorts or shoes. She said no several times.

“Is the individual you describe as clean from head to toe in this courtroom?” Meadors asked.

“Yes he is,” Rutland said, describing what Murdaugh was wearing.

Murdaugh was wearing a white t-shirt when he arrived at the property and that t-shirt has become a point of contention between the state and Murdaugh’s defense team after the latter has said forensic tests failed to show stains on the shirt were from human blood.

In his cross examination, defense attorney Jim Griffin hinted at a key part of Murdaugh’s defense — if Murtaugh brutally killed his wife, how could he have so effectively cleaned himself up in the less than 20 minutes between the time of the shootings and him leaving to visit his mother?

“In your mind’s eye, that night on June 7, did he look like someone who had just blown his son’s head off, spatter going everywhere?” Griffin asked the detective.

“I can’t say that for sure. A lot of things would come into play to say that. Distance is one of them,” Rutland said.

The interview hours after the killings took place inside a state agent’s vehicle and lasted about 30 minutes. Murdaugh’s personal lawyer sat in the vehicle too.

The investigators questioned him gently and Murdaugh cooperated whenever asked, telling them they could look at anything and talk to anyone. When asked, he cautiously shared the names of people he thought might have reason to kill his son.

At the start of the interview, Murdaugh sobbed as he spoke of seeing the bodies of his wife and son.

“I knew it was really bad,” Murdaugh said, then tried to gather himself for the next 15 seconds. “I could see his brain.”

The investigators asked him about his relationship with his wife and son.

“I’m sure we had little things here and there but we had a wonderful marriage. A wonderful relationship,” Murdaugh said, adding that his relationship with his son was “as good as it could be.”

In court, Murdaugh hung his head during graphic testimony and in parts of the recording when he cried.

Much of the rest of Friday’s testimony involved a state crime scene agent methodically detailing the evidence that was collected, including shotgun pellets and DNA swabs from the scene, clothes and fingernail clippings from the autopsies, and the seat belt from Murdaugh’s vehicle.

In total, the witness list includes more than 200 names, though it’s not clear if all witnesses will be called.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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LIVE NOW: Day 5 2nd day of testimony begins in Murdaugh murder trial

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Testimony continued Friday morning in Colleton County as prominent Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh stands trial for the murders of his wife and youngest son.

Colleton County Sheriff’s Detective Laura Rutland is the first witness of the day.

Rutland said she was called on the night of the murders but was turned around to go to the sheriff’s office to secure a search warrant for the Moselle Road property. She told the court she had to wake a judge to get the warrant signed.

Prosecutors have listed more than 200 potential state witnesses, but it is not clear whether they intend to call everyone to testify on the list.

Throughout testimony on Thursday, bodycam footage from law enforcement officers who responded to the property played in monitors in the courtroom. Visitors in the courtroom did not see the images because monitors were turned away from the gallery. Defense attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian periodically held a cardboard box lid in front of the monitor at the defense table, shielding their client from having to see the footage.

Still, at several times during the trial Thursday, Murdaugh became emotional as officers described what they saw that night.

Colleton County Sgt. Daniel Greene, the first person to testify in the trial on Thursday, was the first officer to arrive on the scene where Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie; and youngest son, Paul, had been gunned down. Greene said Murdaugh was upset but had no tears in his eyes.

Some footage showed Greene questioning Murdaugh and protecting the crime scene, since the two victims were obviously dead.

Murdaugh’s lawyer questioned Greene at length on what he did at the scene, suggesting that officers disturbed potential evidence by walking around in the dark without flashlights, failing to look for shoe prints or tire tracks, and standing near the bodies after it was established that they had died.

He testified that when he arrived, he saw Murdaugh talking on the phone, standing near where the bodies were found, with a shotgun resting against his truck that Murdaugh said he grabbed for protection.

“He was upset, but I didn’t see any visible tears,” Greene said.

Later Thursday, Colleton County Sheriff’s Capt. Jason Chapman testified that he noticed that too, but he said Murdaugh did look tormented.

“Not everyone cries. I don’t have an issue with that,” Chapman said,

The deputy testified that Murdaugh seemed to settle down and pay attention to parts of the investigation, such as when deputies tried to follow tire marks.

Prosecutors suggested in their questioning that he might be making sure his alibi was sticking. The defense suggested he wanted the killer or killers of his wife and son found and perked up when he thought there might be clues for investigators to follow.

Much of the defense’s cross examination centered on protecting evidence at the crime scene. Harpootlian asked Greene why he didn’t indicate to state crime scene agents about possible tire tracks and footprints. Greene said it wasn’t his job.

Harpootlian asked why another officer went into a feed room behind Paul Murdaugh’s body. Greene said he didn’t know, but that officers were doing their best to protect the evidence.

“Best? To walk in an area where there is blood, where there is brain matter?” Harpootlian said.

Later testimony from other deputies said the officer only went into the room to help lift the sheet on Paul Murdaugh’s body straight up to check if there was a weapon near or under his body. Chapman said he didn’t want to drag the sheet across the body and possibly dislodge evidence.

Murdaugh rocked back and forth with his head down and wiped his eyes as the condition of the bodies was discussed.

Murdaugh appeared to be distraught several other times during graphic testimony, as officers and first responders talked about how his son’s brain was ripped away by the shotgun blast and was found by his feet, and that his wife had a hole in her head big enough to see her skull cavity.

Prosecutors also had the 911 call played in court, during which a deeply upset and agitated Murdaugh told the operator several times that neither his son or wife was breathing and asked for an ambulance to hurry.

Murdaugh also faces about 100 charges related to other crimes, including money laundering, stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, tax evasion and trying to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. He was being held in jail without bail on those counts before he was charged with murder.

A Lowcountry murder mystery leads a series of twists and turns and more than 100 criminal charges. Here's a look at what to expect in the Alex Murdaugh trial.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this story. All rights reserved.

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LIVE NOW: Day 4: First witnesses to take stand in Murdaugh murder trial

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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The Alex Murdaugh murder trial is set to continue Wednesday afternoon with opening statements from the prosecution and defense after 12 jurors and six alternates were selected earlier in the day.

The 54-year-old Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife, Maggie, 52; and their youngest son, Paul, 22; at the family’s rural hunting property in the Islandton community on June 7, 2021. He is charged with two counts of murder and two weapons charges.

Before dismissing for lunch, the state reiterated that they would pursue all four charges against Murdaugh. Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman will go over the specifics of those charges after the break.

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The morning started with 122 potential jurors reporting to the courtroom. Once roll call was completed, Judge Clifton Newman began the process of whittling down the pool to 80 jurors that would make up the final group for jury selection, which began in earnest around 12:40 p.m. with the first juror number called to be selected for service.

The defense would use the first of its strikes on the second juror presented. The remaining selections saw the state use two strikes. The defense would finish the initial selections using two additional strikes.

The selection of the six alternates for the jury would see the prosecution using one strike and the defense using both of its strikes.

The jury was then sworn in and the court was put into recess for a lunch break.

Newman also addressed concerns about graphic photos and video of the victims issuing an order to keep those items under seal.

Newman heard a series of motions on Tuesday afternoon, ultimately deciding to wait until the issues come up at trial to decide whether jurors hear evidence about blood spatter or other crimes Murdaugh is charged with. Prosecutors have argued that the murders were a cover-up for Alex Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds. Previously, the defense has said the state turned over millions of pages of documents during discovery about these financial crimes.

Murdaugh also faces about 100 charges related to other crimes, including money laundering, stealing millions from clients, tax evasion and trying to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. He was being held in jail without bail on those counts before he was charged with murder.

The defense says this motive is completely fabricated.

“His theory is, he knew the jig was up, so he went home, and butchered, blew the head off his son, and butchered his wife,” Murdaugh’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said. “There’s not one shred of evidence there were any problems between any of them. There’s texts, pictures, people that were with them the previous weekend at a ball game, video from that day with Paul and he’s having a good time. There is no dispute anywhere that they were the perfect family in terms of their relationships.”

Newman told the attorneys he will decide on a case-by-case basis outside the jury’s presence.

In the blood spatter evidence, Murdaugh’s lawyers said emails turned over to them by prosecutors showed an expert, who analyzed the t-shirt Murdaugh was wearing when he said he found the bodies, initially determined there were no blood spatter stains, only spots that could have happened when Murdaugh checked to see if his son and wife were still alive.

The expert changed his mind several weeks later after state agents flew to his home in Oklahoma, according to the emails cited by Murdaugh’s lawyers. Testing on the shirt used chemicals that made it impossible for any defense expert to do their own testing or even check the original results, the defense said.

The defense agreed to wait and see if prosecutors decide to bring that expert to the stand.

The judge denied a request Tuesday by Murdaugh’s lawyers to prevent an expert from testifying that rifle cartridges found near his wife’s body have marks indicating they may have been fired from the same gun that fired other cartridges found at a shooting range on the property. Prosecutors said a similar model gun remains missing from the Murdaugh home.

The defense said recent scientific advances show ballistics experts can’t say with 100% certainty that there are unique markings linking a gun to a cartridge. Prosecutors said this kind of evidence is allowed in courtrooms all the time. Newman said defense lawyers can question the expert during cross examination.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked for a ruing before the jury was seated, likely because he wants to mention the evidence in his opening statement.

Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. He told investigators he found their bodies outside their Colleton County home on June 7, 2021. He said he’d been gone for about an hour to visit his ailing father and mother.

Court papers filed by the defense this week included a crime scene report detailing that Maggie Murdaugh was shot at least four times and appeared to be moving when she was wounded and Paul Murdaugh was shot twice, once with buckshot and once with smaller birdshot. Both were killed by shots to the head.

When asked during a preliminary hearing about what evidence they would produce, prosecutors presented a detailed timeline of how Murdaugh’s wife and son were killed the same day a paralegal at a law firm reported he might be stealing money.

State agents and prosecutors took 13 months to seek murder indictments against Murdaugh. The defense motion was the first indication authorities might have one of the two guns used. No evidence has made public about a possible confession or an eyewitness account.

The trial is expected to last up to three weeks, with prosecutors and defense attorneys providing a list of 255 potential witnesses to the judge.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.


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