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HomeTechnologyThe Alex Murdaugh homicide trial: Closing arguments and a juror dismissal

The Alex Murdaugh homicide trial: Closing arguments and a juror dismissal

Twenty-eight days into the trial of Alex Murdaugh, the alleged perpetrator on the heart of one of the byzantine true crime instances in latest reminiscence, each side lastly delivered their closing arguments. After frustration at varied factors with how lengthy either side was taking to current its case, prosecutor Creighton Waters took a complete day on Wednesday to summarize a prolonged case, utilizing presentation slides to clarify authorized factors to the jury and emphasizing the mountain of circumstantial proof pointing to Murdaugh because the killer of his spouse, Maggie, and his second son, Paul.

The protection took its flip Thursday, specializing in the idea that investigators rushed to judgment in accusing Alex and didn’t correctly examine the crime scene. Legal professional Jim Griffin accused investigators of “fabricating proof in opposition to Alex” and argued that Murdaugh’s “longtime drug points … made him a straightforward, simple goal.”

The ultimate day bought off to a shock begin, with one juror having to be eliminated and changed with an alternate. A member of the general public notified circuit court docket Choose Clifton Newman, who’s overseeing the case, that the juror had been improperly talking in regards to the case; an investigation discovered the juror had spoken in regards to the case to no less than three folks in opposition to strict directions to maintain mum, together with giving her opinion about Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence. The juror then additional bemused the court docket by revealing she’d left a dozen eggs within the jury room, apparently introduced by one other juror, and requesting the bailiff retrieve them so she might take them along with her. (To be truthful, eggs are costly!) Newman, who’s develop into a well-liked determine with the tens of 1000’s of day by day viewers of the courtroom livestream, remarked, “We get a variety of attention-grabbing issues, however now a dozen eggs…”

The eggs have been removed from the one head-turning second within the trial to this point — a trial that’s seen a number of moments of dramatic testimony, a lot of it frequently emphasizing extraordinarily graphic particulars of the crime scene, with attorneys typically belaboring seemingly irrelevant particulars like hog searching and guinea fowl. After weeks of dramatic trial revelations, Murdaugh unexpectedly took the stand on February 23 to testify in his protection in opposition to the cost that he murdered his spouse and son in 2021.

On the stand, a teary-eyed Murdaugh haltingly professed his innocence — however then instantly admitted to mendacity to the police about his whereabouts on the time Maggie and Paul have been fatally shot. In a exceptional reversal, Murdaugh, in rambling, tearful testimony, positioned himself on the scene of the crime — the household’s property.

In a very weird scene, Murdaugh’s lawyer led him by way of an concerned anecdote detailing the place he was on the time of the murders. Whereas putting himself on the property, Murdaugh claimed he had a bathe, then went right down to the kennels briefly — lengthy sufficient to free a rooster from a chook canine — then left instantly once more and returned to the home. The testimony explains why Murdaugh gave the impression to be clearly caught on video within the background of his son Paul’s final Snapchat video, however conveniently put him inside throughout the murders.

Murdaugh’s testimony was filled with unrelated tangents about every thing from the place an acquaintance’s son performed baseball to the Krispy Kreme doughnuts he introduced his father earlier within the day. He spent roughly 10 minutes discussing the chook canine within the kennel, to no obvious level past establishing that he had certainly been on the kennels. He did, nonetheless, get a chuckle from the viewers when he described making an attempt to revive a rooster that one of many canine had caught.

Based on Murdaugh, he returned to the home for some time however drove again to the kennels when he couldn’t get Maggie or Paul to reply their telephones. “I noticed what y’all have seen photos of,” he mentioned, indicating he discovered their our bodies after which referred to as 911. Murdaugh steadily stopped and sobbed and requested for water.

The trial for the 2021 homicide of Murdaugh’s spouse and son, which lastly started on January 23, has been something however a routine affair. Alongside his indictment final yr for the double murder, Alex Murdaugh (pronounced “Alec Murdoch”) additionally faces over 100 counts of monetary crimes together with fraud, cash laundering, embezzlement, and tax evasion. To date, the Murdaugh trial has introduced us weird and ugly opening statements, a “yanny/laurel” second within the courtroom, and a head-spinning protection mistake that will explode the entire trial.

Going into trial, the case in opposition to Alex Murdaugh has appeared largely circumstantial — however there’s a staggering quantity of circumstances, implicating Murdaugh in not one, not two, however 5 suspicious deaths since 2015. (Take a look at our explainer on the head-turning twists on this case for the total image.) As a member of an elite South Carolina household of high-powered attorneys, Murdaugh gained a neighborhood repute for with the ability to manipulate the justice system and bend different folks to his will, all with little or no accountability. That every one modified in 2019 with the loss of life of Paul’s good friend’s girlfriend, Mallory Seaside, in a boating incident. Paul was allegedly piloting the boat whereas drunk.

All through the following investigation, Alex drew scrutiny for trying to hinder any potential prosecution in opposition to his son, which solely raised extra questions on different suspicious deaths to which he had ties. These included the 2011 loss of life of Hakeem Pinckney, a consumer whose insurance coverage payout Alex allegedly stole; the 2015 loss of life of Stephen Smith, a homosexual faculty scholar who was rumored to have connections to his different son, Buster; and the 2018 loss of life of the Murdaughs’ housekeeper Gloria Satterfield from a mysterious head damage incurred on the Murdaugh property, after which Alex allegedly embezzled life insurance coverage cash from her household. Hypothesis solely elevated following the double murder of Maggie and Paul, which occurred on the Murdaugh property on June 7, 2021. Alex’s conduct after their deaths didn’t alleviate suspicion; he was subsequently arrested for insurance coverage fraud after reportedly hiring somebody to kill him and stage it to appear like a homicide.

By this level, the Murdaughs have been making nationwide headlines, so when Alex pleaded not responsible to the 2 homicide prices in 2022, he assured a media circus of a trial. However you want extra than simply proximity to a string of murders to safe a conviction, and with all eyes on the Colleton County Courthouse, the place the trial started final week, questions on what precise proof the state had in opposition to Alex loomed giant.

Right here’s what we’ve discovered to date.

Each attorneys on this case have a aptitude for the dramatic

Opening statements kicked off with a bang on January 23. After a jury choice course of that winnowed a pool of over 900 candidates right down to 12 jurors and 6 alternates, chief prosecutor Creighton Waters led by describing Maggie and Paul’s accidents — two pictures for Paul with a shotgun, no less than 5 pictures with an assault-style rifle for Maggie — and really saying, “Pow, pow!”

“It’s sophisticated. It’s a journey,” he instructed jurors, describing the entire case as a puzzle they have been slowly placing collectively. He laid out the proof, a lot of it new and far of it forensic, that the jury might count on to listen to, together with gunshot residue throughout Murdaugh’s garments and automobile, and cellphone proof that apparently debunks Murdaugh’s alibi.

Then, with Alex Murdaugh brazenly weeping at components, his protection lawyer, Richard “Dick” Harpootlian, gave quizzical directions to the jury: “He didn’t do it, and it’s worthwhile to put any thought that he did out of your thoughts,” he instructed them. “There’s no direct proof. There’s no eyewitnesses. There’s nothing on digicam. There’s no fingerprints. There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None.” He additionally repeatedly asserted that Paul and Maggie have been “butchered,” which arguably didn’t assist his case.

“He didn’t do it. He didn’t kill — butcher — his son and his spouse, and it’s worthwhile to disregard any hypothesis that he did.”

Whereas his theatrics could also be off-putting to some trial junkies, don’t write off Harpootlian simply but: When he’s not serving within the South Carolina state Senate, the 74-year-old Harpootlian is a veteran trial lawyer who’s labored as each prosecutor and protection lawyer, identified for hoodwinking opponents at trial with sneaky however efficient ways. Within the Murdaugh trial, he was bringing his explicit dramatic aptitude to the courtroom lengthy earlier than opening statements started, trying to overturn a protecting order in August and accusing the prosecution of withholding essential proof from the protection. There’s no proof that that’s true, however it does point out that we are able to count on some grandstanding alongside the way in which.

Alex Murdaugh’s alibi could also be a bust

In Alex’s now-infamous 911 name on the day of the murders, he claimed he arrived at his household’s canine kennels at their “Moselle” property after spending a while together with his mom, solely to seek out the our bodies of his spouse and son. Prosecutors allege as an alternative that he lured his household there (his sudden curiosity in getting her out to the closely wooded home prompted Maggie to textual content a good friend that he was “performing fishy”) and shot them with two totally different weapons.

To attempt to show it, the prosecution opened with a never-before-seen cellphone video from Paul’s telephone shortly earlier than the murders. Whereas on the kennels, Paul took a video of himself taking part in with one of many canine. Prosecutors argue that within the background, you’ll be able to hear two further voices — implying that certainly one of them is Maggie and the opposite is Alex.

Prosecutors allege that this video, which was filmed on Paul’s telephone at 8:44 pm, occurred roughly 5 minutes earlier than the shootings, based mostly on when Paul and Maggie stopped taking a look at their telephones and replying to texts. That might place Alex firmly on the scene earlier than the murders, contradicting his model of the timeline.

The prosecution’s reliance on this video is essential, since they don’t have GPS location information from Alex’s telephone on the night time of the murders. Exercise information from Alex’s telephone, however, signifies about an hour inside the timeframe earlier than the murders throughout which no steps have been recorded, indicating Alex might have been driving a automobile.

On the opening day of testimony, the court docket seen Alex’s preliminary, half-hour interview with police, which occurred shortly after the murders. In that footage, Alex is sporting a shirt that seems to be fully clear, and speaks in a manner that has led to questions on whether or not he’s faking tears. Investigators on the scene have been initially suspicious of Alex due to his general calm demeanor when discussing particulars.

A whole lot of this forensic proof is circumstantial — however that doesn’t make it any much less damning

To date, direct forensic proof has been skinny on the bottom. For instance, on February 3, fingerprint skilled Thomas Darnell testified that he couldn’t determine particular prints on the gun or telephones discovered on the scene, so hopes of a telltale fingerprint Alex might have left behind appeared dashed.

Among the many key proof the prosecution has offered is ballistics proof, primarily pertaining to gunshot residue discovered on Alex’s clothes and throughout his automobile, together with the seat and seatbelt. In his opening assertion, Waters additionally promised the jury they’d study a blue raincoat that Murdaugh apparently took and left at his mom’s home following the murders — which had gunshot residue all around the inside.

However gunshot residue, although compelling, continues to be shaky forensically — it might probably switch to an individual who merely holds a gun with out firing it, and it might probably switch simply from one individual to a different. The protection claims the gunshot residue is because of Alex choosing up one of many weapons after the homicide, although it hasn’t addressed why Alex would try this.

The presence of gunshot residue, nonetheless, presents a mini-mystery: It doesn’t clarify why Alex’s garments largely seem to haven’t any bloodstains, mud, or any dust from contacting the victims. In Alex’s telling, he checked the our bodies of his spouse and son to see in the event that they have been nonetheless alive. This lack of residue might be a mark in favor of the protection (he didn’t shoot them, so he didn’t get blood on himself) or for the prosecution (he modified garments to cover the blood or wore the raincoat to guard himself from splatter). One blood spatter skilled might doubtlessly testify that Murdaugh did have blood on his garments, however provided that this proof is fairly shaky forensically, it’s unclear whether or not the prosecution will name on him.

A lot of the opposite ballistics proof is extra damning — proof that the protection had beforehand fought and did not exclude. The prosecution claims merely that the ammunition used to kill Alex’s spouse and son matched ammo discovered all around the Murdaughs’ appreciable property. Particularly, the 300 Blackout rounds used to kill Maggie and the 12-gauge shotgun shells used to kill Paul each matched ammunition on the property. Examples of matching ammo included unused bins within the household “gun room” and spent shell casings discovered across the property’s searching grounds. Witnesses have additionally testified that Murdaugh had a personalized AR-15-style rifle made for him. The sort of gun is appropriate with the bullets used to kill Maggie and aligns with the proof that Murdaugh used such a rifle to kill her.

“I” vs. “they,” and different unanswered questions

One investigator claimed on the stand in late January that, whereas chatting with him by way of tears, Murdaugh mentioned, “I did him so dangerous,” referring to the state of Paul’s physique. This led to a melodramatic alternate by which the protection offered a slowed-down model of the frankly indecipherable audio in query and requested him whether or not he heard “I” or “they.” Whereas the agent caught to his authentic declare that he heard the phrase “I,” the Rorschach nature of the audio solely underscored that to this point, the state’s evidentiary case has been missing in onerous proof.

A “humanizing” birthday video — and a significant protection mistake that opened the door to a stunning timeline reveal

On February 1, the protection unexpectedly entered a brief video into exhibit that confirmed Alex celebrating his birthday at residence with household and mates. The video confirmed Alex smiling and laughing as a bunch gathers round to sing “Completely happy Birthday.”

However the video, which the protection launched to indicate a softer aspect of the defendant, had an sudden consequence: As a result of it launched a personality argument into the trial, it created a gap for a wealth of prosecutorial proof that the decide had beforehand dominated inadmissible: Alex Murdaugh’s alleged years of monetary fraud and associated schemes, which have been unraveling within the lead-up to the murders of his spouse and son.

The sudden reintroduction of all this proof meant that the trial was halted a number of occasions all through the week to permit the decide to entertain whether or not particular items of testimony will probably be admitted. A few of that testimony, given with out the jury current, has included allegations that Alex created fraudulent financial institution accounts, in addition to tearful testimony given on February 2 from certainly one of Murdaugh’s former finest mates, lawyer Chris Wilson.

Wilson testified that regardless of their lifelong shut friendship, Murdaugh manipulated him after their corporations labored collectively on a lawsuit. When the time got here to separate the proceeds, Wilson claimed that Alex had requested him to make out a $792,000 settlement verify on to him, Alex Murdaugh, as an alternative of to his regulation agency. When Wilson referred to as him out, Murdaugh returned $600,000 to him however requested Wilson to entrance him the opposite $192,000. Wilson did, and Murdaugh by no means paid him again the cash. Wilson’s testimony was probably the most emotional level of the trial to this point, with each he and Murdaugh showing visibly moved. “I had cherished the man for therefore lengthy, and I in all probability nonetheless cherished him a little bit bit,” Wilson mentioned, “however I used to be so mad.”

The identical day, the decide heard from Jeanne Seckinger, chief monetary officer of the Parker Legislation Group, the agency the place Murdaugh labored till he resigned in September 2021. Seckinger revealed that she had confronted Alex on the morning of the murders in regards to the lacking $792,000 settlement verify from Wilson — funds she believed he had stored for himself moderately than flip over to the regulation agency. She mentioned Alex gave her “a grimy look” and instructed her he had the funds and would return them quickly. (Seckinger is the sister-in-law of one other participant on this saga — Russell Laffitte, a former financial institution CEO who was convicted final yr of monetary crimes related to Murdaugh’s alleged monetary schemes.)

This startling information places the timeline of Maggie and Paul’s loss of life in a brand new perspective. It additionally factors towards the prosecution’s idea that Alex’s motive for the double murder might have been to distract the agency from his alleged embezzlement and purchase himself time to recuperate the funds. By Seckinger’s account, it labored: “No one needed to harass him” after the murders, she mentioned, describing him as “distraught and upset and never within the workplace a lot.”

It’s unclear if any of this proof will probably be allowed into the trial; the decide continues to be intermittently listening to new proof and has but to rule on its admissibility.

That’s removed from the one unsettled a part of this case. With an inventory of 255 potential witnesses, this trial might go on for fairly a while. However we nonetheless have some main unknowns.

What was the motive? The prosecution has leaned into the concept that Murdaugh needed to realize sympathy for himself by killing his spouse and son, whereas drawing on the insurance coverage cash — and we all know that he needed that for his remaining son, Buster, as a result of he later admitted to making an attempt to stage his personal homicide to make it occur. However it appears far-fetched at finest {that a} double murder, timed because it was, would level scrutiny away from Murdaugh. Have been there different suspects who had good motive to kill both Paul or Maggie, or to implicate Alex of their deaths?

Did he have assist? Neither Paul nor Maggie had defensive wounds; it appears unlikely that Alex would have been in a position to kill them each with totally different weapons with out one or each of them placing up a struggle. Provided that the proof factors to an “ambush,” per the prosecution’s opening statements, how would Murdaugh be capable to kill them each? And if he had assist, who was it from? Some have steered Eddie Smith, the alleged drug vendor who wound up serving to Alex stage his botched pretend homicide try. Alex had paid Smith greater than $150,000 within the months earlier than the murders, however we nonetheless don’t actually know why.

We stay up for these questions being answered at trial. To date, although, this case has left us with extra questions than solutions — lots of which, because of the deaths of Paul and Maggie, will stay ceaselessly unanswered.

Replace, March 2, 12 pm ET: This story was initially revealed on February 2 and has been up to date a number of occasions to incorporate the most recent developments from the trial.



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