Testimony from phone data expert is crucial to state’s case against Alex Murdaugh

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Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 9:24 AM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. – (WIS) Prosecutors in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh say that smart phone data, which is a key part of almost everyone’s lives in today’s technological age, will reveal where the defendant was, and what was happening on the night of the murders of his wife and son on June 7, 2021.

On Tuesday afternoon, the state called SLED Lt. Brent Dove as a witness in the double murder trial of the disbarred lawyer.

Dove is a computer crimes analyst with SLED, who is deeply credentialed and expert in solving cyber-crimes on the local, state and national level, working with authorities all the way up to the Secret Service to collect data and prosecute crimes.

Dove testified that he processed Maggie, Paul and Alex’s cell phones shortly after the murders, and extracted the data using some of the most sophisticated software available to authorities.

The data from each phone yields pages of information. Dove testified that for one device, for the given timeline in question, a data report of 9,000 pages can be generated.

His testimony is expected to be deeply revealing, if not crucial in determining Alex’s whereabouts, down to each step he took the night of the murders and what data was transmitting from his device.

Prosecutors aim to use Dove’s testimony to tie Murdaugh to the place and time of the murders of his wife and son, contradicting his alibi, that he was asleep.

In the state’s opening statement last week, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters waved around a cell phone, and told the jury the evidence will show data from Alex’s phone contradicts the story he told investigators in separate interviews.

Dove’s two-and-a-half-hour testimony Tuesday began to do just that, showing in painstaking detail, how every move, and every swipe with a smart phone is stored, and can be tracked.

For much of the afternoon, Dove zeroed in on Maggie’s device, which authorities discovered a short distance from Moselle in airplane mode after the murders.

Dove testified that a phone in airplane mode can be wiped remotely if another user has the iCloud password.

But he said call data is preserved.

He testified that data from her phone reveals the steps she took, when facial recognition was activated and when the phone was picked up.

All of it creating a forensic trail, that investigators say will create a conclusive picture of what happened that night.

He then walked jurors through some of the information that Maggie’s phone gathered and stored the night of June 7, 2021.

Dove testified that data from Maggie Murdaugh’s phone shows someone picked up her device and changed photo settings at 9:06:12, within 2 seconds of her receiving a call from her husband, Alex Murdaugh and just over 15 minutes after prosecutors say she was killed.

Dove stated during his testimony that “9:06 12.. is the start time for the orientation change to portrait.”

A prosecutor with the state AG’s office asked for clarification.

“And again, in your opinion, what does that tell you about whether this phone is in someone’s hand?

To which Dove replied, “In my opinion it would be in someone’s hand that was changing (the photo setting) from landscape up to portrait.”

Dove’s testimony expected to continue tomorrow… he will most certainly face cross examination as he pieces together the data puzzle from that night.

The morning began with a blistering cross-examination of SLED Special Agent Jeff Croft, one of the first law enforcement officers to interview Alex after the murders.

Murdaugh defense attorney Jim Griffin took Croft to task over that critical moment during Alex’s second interview with investigators where prosecutors say he appears to make a confession.

Croft testified Monday that during a voluntary interrogation of Alex on June 10, he heard Alex describe the murder scene, and at one point say, “I did him so bad” in reference to his slain son, Paul.

On Tuesday, Griffin repeatedly pressed Croft’s interpretation of the recording.

“Are you 100 percent confident that Alex said ‘I did him so bad,’ rather than ‘they did him so bad?’” Griffin asked.

“I am 100 percent confident in what I heard and I interpreted him as saying,” Croft replied.

Griffin asked Croft why he did not follow-up with Murdaugh for clarification after he heard what he initially interpreted as a possible confession. The heated exchange lasted several minutes.

“Why didn’t you ask him, ‘What did you mean by that Alex?’” Griffin said.

“Again, it was early in the investigation,” Croft said. “It was more of an information gathering interview, if you would call it an interview, with Mr. Alex. And we did not, at that particular time in the investigation, we did not have evidence to challenge anything that Mr. Alex would have told us.”

On redirect, the prosecution defended the tactics used in that interview.

“When you’re that early in an interview and you are interviewing someone who might be in the circle, as Mr. Griffin describes it, are you trying to keep your ears open?” Waters asked Croft.

“Yes sir, I am,” Croft responded.

“Are you trying to keep the lines of communication open?” Waters said.

“Yes sir, I am,” Croft said.

“Are you going to confront somebody that early on or are you going to try to keep the dialogue going?” Waters said.

At that point, Griffin asked for the audio to be played at one-third speed.

After the slowed-down audio played, Griffin asked Croft, “Did you hear ‘they’ then?”

Croft replied, “No sir, I did not.”

Croft that said ultimately a jury would decide what was said.

The defense also questioned Croft about the Murdaugh family guns, seeking to cast doubt over the fact that a gun owned by the family was used to kill Maggie and Paul.

Griffin asserted that despite SELD retrieving several shotguns from the Moselle property, none were capable of firing the 12-guage shotgun shells that killed Paul.

“Have you ever found the murder weapons to your knowledge?” Griffin asked Croft.

“Not that I’m aware of, sir,” Croft said.

Griffin suggested that .300 Blackout rounds are commonly used in rural areas like Hampton County.

The state pushed back on redirect.

“How many criminal investigations have you worked where .300 Blackout was the murder round?” Waters asked Croft.

“I have none,” Croft replied.

The defense also criticized law enforcement for allegedly not checking Alex’s alibi, the home of his mother on the day after the murders.

“Are you aware of anyone ever going to Alameda to search the house until sometime in Sept of 2021?” Griffin asked Croft.

He responded, “There was a number of agents out working, I’m not sure what the other agents did.”

Watch WIS News 10 at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.



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