Day 20: Prosecution rests, Murdaugh defense begins case
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WIS) - The Alex Murdaugh murder trial entered day 20 on Feb. 17. Friday began with the defense cross-examination of SLED agent Ryan Kelly, lead on roadside shooting investigation.
Friday afternoon the prosecution rested their case at around 4:00 p.m. and Murdaugh’s team began their defense. Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey is the first witness up for the defense.
SLED Agent Peter Rudofski takes the stand.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 17, 2023
He’s walking jurors through Alex’s OnStar data from his Suburban on day of murders. This includes GPS & speed data.
GPS data shows he visited his mother for 20 minutes that night. Contradicts what he said in 8/11/21 SLED intvw. @wis10
Day 20 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 17, 2023
Harpootlian cross-examines SLED agent Ryan Kelly, lead on roadside shooting investigation.
In testy exchange, he seeks to establish Alex was not in right state of mind when he confessed to lying about shooting.
📸: POOL pic.twitter.com/Fxhxxy8NPh
Update from day 19 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 17, 2023
Jurors heard evidence from September 2021 roadside shooting.
Alex lies to law enforcement about it, and later confessed to orchestrating the shooting.
State says this shows a pattern.
MORE: https://t.co/CFbUBr9V2d pic.twitter.com/x1ZCc8gONV
On Thursday, jurors in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial heard additional evidence about the September 2021 roadside shooting, where the disgraced attorney was shot in an alleged insurance fraud scheme.
Presiding Judge Clifton Newman initially ruled this evidence was not admissible, but reversed that decision Wednesday afternoon.
The state argues that this evidence is important to show Murdaugh’s pattern of lying to law enforcement.
Jurors heard statements Murdaugh gave to the 911 operator and to paramedics on the day of the roadside shooting, where he claims to have been shot by an unknown assailant.
Prosecutors then played an interview with law enforcement a little more than a week later where Murdaugh admits that all of that was a lie.
The inclusion of additional evidence from the roadside shooting on September 4, 2021 was made possible through an apparent miscalculation from defense attorney Jim Griffin during his cross examination of SLED special agent David Owen Wednesday, when the defense tried to point to Curtis “Eddie” Smith, the gunman in the roadside shooting, as a possible suspect in the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021.
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“I’m bleeding a lot,” Murdaugh said on the 911 call.
“What part of your body?” the 911 operator asked.
“I’m not sure, it’s somewhere on my head,” Murdaugh responded.
Murdaugh survived, and told investigators the person who shot him was a man in his 30s or early 40s.
While being transported for medical treatment, Murdaugh describes the incident again, and indicates he does not know who the shooter is.
“I pulled over and this car goes by me, and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, but then it turned around, came back, real nice guy, acted like, and I turned my head, and I mean, ‘boom,’” Murdaugh said.
On September 6, 2021, SLED called in a composite artist to draw up a sketch, based on Murdaugh’s description of the suspect.
Murdaugh is airlifted to a Savannah hospital after this.
Kelly testified that medical staff told investigators Murdaugh tried to pay hospital staff to make phone calls.
Those calls were to Smith, his drug dealer.
Murdaugh had just been fired from his law firm, PMPED, and said he was in a dark place.
At that point, Murdaugh owed PMPED hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He describes the scheme to law enforcement in an interview on September 13, with both of his attorneys present.
In the 40-minute long interview played for the jury, Murdaugh admitted that he lied to investigators about the roadside shooting, and that he had hired Smith to kill him in a scheme to get his son Buster millions of dollars in life insurance money.
“I thought that it would make it easier on my family for me to be dead,” Murdaugh said.
“And easier was some financial to your family if you were dead?” Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian asked during the interview.
“I have a fair amount of life insurance that –” Murdaugh replied.
“How much?” Harpootlian asked.
“Not off the top of my head, but like $10 million, $12 million,” he responded.
However, Murdaugh could not identify his insurance providers.
Murdaugh had called his housekeeper, Blanca Simpson, asking for his life insurance information on the same day of the roadside shooting, law enforcement learned.
He also tells investigators that he had been harboring a prescription drug addiction. The interview is conducted over the phone, while Murdaugh is staying at a rehab facility in Georgia
Investigators learned Murdaugh sent several hundred thousand dollars to Smith for drugs before and after the murders of his wife and son on June 7.
In the interview, Murdaugh also admitted to stealing from clients his law firm and using the funds to buy drugs through his fake Forge account, his personal Bank of America account, and a Palmetto State Bank account.
He also admitted to spending up to $60,000 per week on drugs.
Investigators thought it was odd that Murdaugh was adamant that he did not pay Smith for the shooting. Smith was going to do it for free, Kelly testified.
Murdaugh also told Kelly in that interview he got the .38 caliber pistol used in the roadside shooting from his mother’s home in Almeda, and said Smith had it in his possession.
The roadside shooting, witnesses have testified, at least initially made it seem like Murdaugh and his family were being targeted, possibly by a vigilante drug gang.
Prosecutors alleged that the botched suicide plot, and the evidence surrounding it, illustrate that Murdaugh was a desperate man who would do anything to escape consequences for his crimes, financial and otherwise, including lying to investigators, and concocting elaborate schemes.
The defense has argued that this evidence should not be admissible because it speaks more to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, and because the shooting took place nearly three months after the murders of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul.
Day 19 of the trial also featured testimony from Kenneth Kinsey, a deputy with the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office, who reviewed the crime scene and detailed the final moments of Maggie and Paul’s lives.
He also discussed the angles and patterns of the shots fired in the murders.
Many of Kinsey’s findings mirrored the those of the Dr. Ellen Riemer, the pathologist who performed Maggie and Paul’s autopsies.
He told jurors that there did not appear to be a struggle between either Maggie or Paul and the shooter, and that they did not have defensive wounds as if they had been fighting someone off.
This backed up the Reimer’s conclusion, which could suggest familiarity with the shooter.
Kinsey testified both were shot at relatively close range, and in his expert opinion, he said the evidence shows the shotgun blast that killed Paul was an upward shot from another person.
Kinsey said a tire impression was imprinted on Maggie’s calf.
The tire, he said, belonged to an ATV that was in close proximity to Maggie’s body, or a tire with similar characteristics.
Kinsey did not believe she was run over.
Harpootlian tried to show that his client was too tall, and would have to bend down considerably to fire the shot with the 135 degree angle that killed Paul.
Of note, Harpootlian has used Kinsey as a witness in other cases.
Kinsey, who has processed more than 800 death scenes in his career, held up well under cross-examination, holding firm in his findings and presenting them in a plainspoken way.
The dowel stick he carried was effective, showing clear paths of the shots.
Despite Harpootlian’s best efforts, Kinsey stood by his findings about the angles of the shots, and testified that he came to his own conclusions and did not rely on outside analysis.
The prosecution had initially hoped to rest its case by Wednesday, but with the introduction of this new evidence, that timeline has been pushed back, possibly to Friday.
Murdaugh’s defense has said it will need at least a week to call its witnesses.
The court is closed for President’s Day.
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