WALTERBORO, South Carolina — In their opening statements Wednesday, prosecutors in the double murder trial of a well-known former South Carolina attorney said that a lot of evidence would show that Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said that a “perfect storm” was building up before Murdaugh, 54, killed his wife Maggie Murdaugh and son Paul Murdaugh in June 2021. Dick Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s defence attorney, said that Murdaugh was innocent until the jury found him guilty. He also said that the state’s evidence was just “theories” and didn’t prove anything.
After opening statements, lawyers have made a list of more than 200 possible witnesses who could be called to testify. If Murdaugh is found guilty, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office wants him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutor: Wife was killed with a family weapon.
In his opening statement on Wednesday, Waters took the jury through a minute-by-minute timeline of the family’s movements on the night of the murders. He also talked about the forensic evidence the state will show, such as cellphone data, ballistic evidence, video statements from Alex Murdaugh, and body-worn camera footage from the crime scene.
Waters said that Murdaugh said he was never at the dog kennels on the family’s estate, but the voices of Murdaugh, his wife, and his son can be heard on a cellphone video taken by Paul
Murdaugh at 8:45 p.m. on June 7, 2021, near where the alleged murders happened. He said that Murdaugh shot his son with a shotgun and then shot his wife with a rifle, causing “catastrophic damage,” just minutes after that video was taken.
Waters said that the ballistics would show that Maggie Murdaugh was killed with a “family weapon.” He said that Alex Murdaugh bought three rifles in the AR style, but that two of them are missing.
He said that Murdaugh’s phone was not used from about 8 p.m. until just after 9 p.m., when he called his wife twice before driving to Alameda to see his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. Waters said that Murdaugh went home just after 10 p.m. and called 911 to report the deaths.
Waters says that after the murders, gunshot residue was found on Murdaugh, the seatbelt of his car, and a raincoat at his parents’ house.
“You will see what he did to Maggie and Paul, and it will be horrible,” said Waters. “This investigation has taken a long time and has been very thorough, but you will come to the terrible conclusion that he killed Maggie and Paul.”
“He is not guilty:” In the defence lawyer’s opening statement,
In his opening statement, the lawyer for the defence, Harpootlian, said that Murdaugh was a loving husband and father. Harpootlian said that Paul Murdaugh’s Snapchat video from an hour before the killings showed that the two of them were having fun, so it is “not believable” that Murdaugh could have killed him a short time later.
Harpolitan told the jury that there were no eyewitnesses to the shootings and no physical evidence linking him to the scene, like fingerprints or blood. He talked about Paul Murdaugh’s injuries in detail and said that the killer would have been covered in blood. However, no blood was found on Murdaugh’s clothes from the night of the murders.
He also didn’t agree with what Water said about ballistic evidence, saying that prosecutors can’t say for sure where the fatal shots came from because they don’t have the guns that were used.
Harpolitan wondered if Murdaugh had enough time to kill his family, hide the evidence, and start driving to his parents’ house. He said that since two different guns were used, it’s “much more likely” that there were two people involved. He didn’t say who else might have killed the people.
“He didn’t do it. He is not guilty, “Harpolitan came to an end. “He would want you to say that you are not guilty. The law says that. That is your pledge.”
At the pre-trial hearing, the judge makes decisions about some of the most important evidence.
During Tuesday’s pre-trial hearings, Circuit Judge Clifton Newman said he would think about letting in alleged financial evidence and evidence from a 2019 boat crash lawsuit involving Paul Murdaugh.
Newman also decided that he wouldn’t think about letting blood spatter evidence, polygraph data, or “third party guilt” evidence into the trial until it started.
Newman did decide to let the state use evidence from ballistics and expert testimony, which could be very important for the state.
Who are the jury members?
Four white men, six white women, and two black women make up the jury. Two white men, one white woman, one black man, and two black women are the back-ups.
Attorneys finished the last round of jury selection Wednesday morning. They took a list of 900 residents and cut it down to about 150 potential jurors in open court and made more cuts in the judge’s chambers.
What does Alex Murdaugh stand accused of?
Murdaugh, who was from a well-known legal family in South Carolina, was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of having a gun during a violent crime more than a year after the killings. Murdaugh told the police that he found their dead bodies when he got home from taking care of his sick mother. He said he wasn’t guilty.