BLOG: Day 8: State argues video places Alex Murdaugh at kennels

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 3:00 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:11 PM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - State prosecutors claim a video taken on the night Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were killed at their Colleton County home puts Alex Murdaugh at the scene despite his telling investigators he wasn’t there.

Murdaugh, 54, the disbarred Lowcountry attorney, is standing trial for the killings of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, at the family’s Colleton County hunting property on June 7, 2021.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Lt. Britt Dove went through pages of data from the phones. He testified that some messages appeared to be missing from Alex Murdaugh’s cellphone, implying those messages may have been deleted. (Story continues below Live Blog.)

The video shown in court Wednesday is thought to have been meant for Paul’s friend Rogan Gibson and taken just after the two had a four-minute phone conversation about Gibson’s dog that was staying at the kennels where Maggie and Paul were found.

In the video, three distinct voices can be heard. Prosecutors say those voices are Paul, Maggie and Alex. Two witnesses called Wednesday would testify they were both sure of the identity of the voices.

Dove also said there was a gap in the call logs of Alex Murdaugh’s phone from June 4 - 7 saying they were possibly deleted.

Dove also said Murdaugh stopped opening text messages after around 8:30 p.m. on June 7, 2021, until the next afternoon. A pattern laid out in court showed this to be outside of the norm when it comes to Alex reading texts.

“Just in your general review, and I’m sure there’s outliers. But what is Alex’s general habit when he reads texts?” Prosecutor John Conrad said.

“Usually it could vary anywhere from reading it within 5 minutes to 30 minutes maybe 40 minutes, depending. It was generally within an hour’s time that the texts were read,” Dove said.

Dove also testified to Paul Murdaugh’s habits.

He said Paul stopped answering texts around 8:48 p.m. on June 7 while in the middle of conversations with some of his friends.

Records entered into evidence show Paul was quick to read and respond to texts until he stopped responding altogether.

Dove said Paul’s phone had a battery percentage of 2% when he stopped answering calls and texts and that the phone lasted until just after 10:30 p.m. when it died.

The records covered in Dove’s testimony also show Maggie’s last read text happened at 8:48:27 p.m. and another text received at 8:49:35 is never opened.

The state also called two of Paul’s friends to the stand, Rogan Gibson and Will Loving.

Gibson is believed to be the last person to talk to Paul on the night of the murders, having a four-minute phone call around 8:40 p.m. on June 7, 2021.

The call centered around Gibson’s dog that he would leave at the Moselle kennels while he worked out of town during the week. Paul had called Gibson about a problem with the dog’s tail. Gibson said he asked Paul to either Facetime him or send a video to show the problem with the dog’s tail. When the connection was bad for the Facetime call, Gibson said he asked Paul to send him a video. The video was never sent to Gibson on the night of June 7, 2021.

Gibson also testified about his friendship with Paul and how they would spend time hunting on the Moselle property together. He said they always used the black .300 Blackout with the thermal scope to hunt hogs.

Gibson told Prosecutor Creighton Waters that he remembered hearing about Paul’s gun being stolen from his truck at a party. He also told Waters he didn’t know about a replacement gun.

The replacement gun was again brought up when another of Paul’s friends, Will Loving, was called to the stand.

Loving told Waters he had only ever seen the black .300 Blackout and a tan .300 Blackout that didn’t have a sight. He said he went with Paul to buy a red dot sight for the rifle and they spent some time around March or April trying to sight that rifle in on the stoop just outside the gun room at Moselle. Investigators recovered weathered .300 Blackout casings from that stoop during the investigation of the Moselle property.

Loving said he went to Moselle after the murders and talked to Alex.

“We mostly just grieved,” Loving said.

Loving and Gibson both told attorneys during cross-examination that the relationships between Alex and Maggie and Alex and Paul were great. Both talked about how Paul’s friends were always welcome at any of the Murdaugh properties.

Loving is shown the Snapchat video sent to him by Paul around 7 p.m. on June 7.

Waters asks Loving to describe the clothing Alex Murdaugh is wearing in the video and says it’s a shirt and long pants with shoes.

When investigators arrived to Moselle that night he was wearing shorts and a white t-shirt.

The state also tried to begin the process of introducing evidence from Murdaugh’s financial crimes by asking Loving if he knew why the family’s Hampton house was sold and if he knew about the civil discovery process.

Judge Clifton Newman said he would address the rule about evidence of other crimes being used as a motive for this crime Thursday morning.

Alex Murdaugh also faces 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.

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.

READ RECAP: BLOG: Day 7: Investigator doubles down on Murdaugh statement, phone records build timeline

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.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

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 ask 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.