BLOG: Day 6: Murdaugh defense poses new theory, state shows new interview
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - In a Colleton County courthouse Monday, prosecutors continued to present their case in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
Day six of testimony picked up where the court left off on Friday afternoon. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Special Agent Melinda Worley took the stand as the defense readied for cross-examination.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian begins cross-examination with a continued push towards evidence preservation and the lack of protocols by responding deputies and investigators.
Harpootlian begins by asking what role the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office should have played while waiting for SLED investigators to arrive.
Worley says their job was to secure the scene. When asked why deputies would make evidence, she says they were probably doing their part to preserve evidence.
Harpootlian also introduced a new theory in the cross-examination of Worley.
“Is it a possibility that there are two shooters…based on the data you collected?” Harpootlian said.
“It just indicated there was movement,” Worley said.
Harpootlian spent more than an hour asking SLED agent Melinda Worley about her process of analyzing the crime scene.
Worley did agree that it could be a reasonable theory but that she was unaware of what height or distance the shots came from.
But in their redirect, the prosecution asked her if it was possible for there to be one shooter with two guns, to which she replied also replied “yes.”
Most of Monday’s testimony centered around SLED Agent John Croft and his investigations on the property. The court is shown body camera footage of Croft and other agents going around the property and collecting .300 Blackout casings that appeared to be fired from the stoop.
Body camera footage also shows agents searching the trash can near the shed and locating empty ammunition boxes and a credit card statement that showed a large purchase from the Gucci store that had been circled.
The court is then played an interview conducted by Croft, David Owen and Dylan Hightower of the 14th Solicitor’s Office.
The interview takes place a couple of days after the murders.
Murdaugh is asked about the three .300 Blackout rifles that he bought from a DNR officer who also owns a gun business, John Beddington.
In his testimony, Croft says Beddington built each one, and Murdaugh had bought both of his sons one.
Murdaugh said he could only locate one gun, that Paul’s had been stolen even though it had never actually been reported.
He tells the investigators that he thought the gun had been replaced, but his oldest son, Buster, told him he hadn’t.
“I’m certain we replaced it,” Murdaugh says.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters also introduced several family-owned guns into evidence Monday. The guns were taken from Moselle by Croft during a search of the property.
The guns included the single .300 Blackout that was accounted for and several 12-gauge shotguns.
The defense team objected to every gun entered into evidence Monday but was overruled on each one.
Newman says the guns are admissible because they were in or around the crime scene on the night of the murders.
“I find that it’s relevant and more probative than prejudicial,” Newman said.
In the interview, Murdaugh is asked about guns around the kennels.
He says it’s not unusual for guns to be left around the property and that Paul was often careless with his things.
“He would leave anything, anywhere,” Murdaugh says.
The state ended its questioning of Croft just after 5 p.m. Monday and court was put into recess until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Tuesday’s testimony will begin with the defense’s cross-examination of Croft.
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.
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.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
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.