Judge in Murdaugh trial decides key motions as jury selection continues
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WIS) - Lawyers clashed over potential evidence on the second day of jury selection Tuesday in the double murder trial of disbarred Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh.
Murdaugh is charged in the June 2021 killings of his wife Maggie and son Paul.
The defendant arrived Tuesday morning around 9 A.M. wearing a plaid shirt and khakis. He did not respond to questions from reporters.
The morning began with continued questioning of a fourth and final panel of jurors.
Jurors are screened for any type of relationship with a lengthy list of more than 250 potential witnesses, a list so long that it took presiding Judge Clifton Newman about 12 minutes to read them to potential jurors.
That list includes familiar names in the saga like Buster Murdaugh, Alex’s lone surviving son, and Curtis “Eddie” Smith, the man accused of shooting Murdaugh in an alleged insurance fraud scheme.
Eric Bland, the estate attorney for Gloria Satterfield, the late Murdaugh housekeeper, who was also named as a potential witness, said seating a jury without any knowledge of the Murdaughs or the case is going to be a nearly impossible task.
“A lot of time and money by both sides have gone into determining what the optimal juror is going to be in this case, whether it’s a younger person, an older person, whether they want somebody that’s highly educated that’s going to ask the hard questions,” he said. “You usually want a couple strong people in your jury, and then a couple people that are going to be compliant and go along with the other side.”
After a lengthy recess, several pre-trial motions regarding potential evidence were debated.
The defense and prosecution battled over the alleged motive in the case.
The prosecution alleges that Murdaugh murdered his wife and son to stave off a looming financial firestorm.
“The jury has to understand that he had been stealing for over a decade, 99 counts to date, and facing essentially life without parole on these particular financial counts, and that’s the significance of what he was trying to prevent from being exposed,” Creighton Waters, lead prosecutor for the state, said.
Defense attorney Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, pushed back, painting the Murdaughs as “perfect family.”
“[Waters’] theory is that he knew the jig was up, so he went home and butchered, blew the head off his son, and butchered his wife,” he said. “There’s not one shred of evidence there was any problems between any of them. There’s texts, pictures, people that were with them the previous weekend at a ballgame, video from that day with Paul and he having a good time.”
Newman pumped the brakes on those arguments ahead of the jury trial.
“You’re giving me jury arguments, and you’re arguing multiple motions simultaneously,” Newman said.
Newman ruled against the state’s pre-trial motion to include financial crimes evidence.
This does not mean that the state cannot use that evidence. It simply means that it is not immediately allowed, and will be argued on a case-by-case basis as the trial unfolds.
In a ruling late Tuesday, Newman ruled that SLED’s ballistics firearms expert Paul Greer can testify during the trial.
Greer is a critical witness for the prosecution…
On Tuesday afternoon, Greer took the stand, defending his credentials and education. He said he has testified in 25 separate federal and state cases.
The state alleges that Murdaugh used a 300 blackout rifle to shoot and kill his wife Maggie on the family’s Moselle hunting property on June 7, 2021.
The weapons have not been recovered in this case, however.
In pre-trial motions, the defense has sought to cast doubt on the expertise of potential state witnesses.
Greer asserted that the rifle, belonging to Murdaugh, fired the shell casings found on the scene.
“Based on the information there, after I examined those cartridge cases for those markings, it’s my opinion that those items all shared matching mechanism marks, and had been loaded into, extracted, or ejected from the same firearm at some previous time,” he said.
The work of seating a jury will continue on Wednesday morning.
That is when the defense and prosecution will have the opportunity to dismiss a certain number of jurors.
There will be a final number of 12 jurors, with 6 alternates.
Opening arguments could begin as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
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