Three weeks into South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s double-homicide trial, prosecutors called dozens of witnesses offering wide-ranging and sometimes rambling testimony.
Jurors heard from detectives who found the bodies of Murdaugh’s wife and child, and technicians who found gunshot residue, cracked open cellphones for video, and tested dozens of shell casings.
They heard of betrayed law firm employees, heartbroken friends of Murdaugh and his family, and a man whose insurance claim was stolen after his mother, the Murdaughs’ housekeeper, died in a fall at their home.
But witnesses were called in disorganized groups and tantalizing bits of evidence presented but not explained. The defense hopes to start the case mid-next week and had scheduled a deposition week, but is having second thoughts due to the length of the trial.
Here are some key aspects of the process so far.
Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in the deaths of 52-year-old Maggie, who was shot multiple times with a shotgun, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, who was shot twice with a shotgun at a dog shelter near their County home. Colleton on June 7, 2021. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
The disbarred attorney also faces around 100 other charges ranging from stealing money from clients to running a drug ring and money laundering.
Much of the week’s testimony focused on Murdaugh stealing money from his family’s law firm and clients. Prosecutors say Murdaugh thought he was about to be caught shoplifting and killed his wife and child to buy time to cover the money trail.
The family law firm’s office manager said Murdaugh stole millions in fees and client deals. A law school classmate said Murdaugh took advantage of his trust and left him paying $192,000 to balance his client’s trust fund. The son of the Murdaughs’ housekeeper and nanny, who died in a fall, testified that Murdaugh promised to get them a hefty death insurance settlement, but kept more than the $4 million raised for himself.
The defense countered each witness, saying there was no evidence linking the murders to financial wrongdoing.
“This is piling up. This is more of an attempt to bias the jury into somehow believing that someone who steals a bunch of money in any way could commit murder,” said Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian.
Prosecutors called 47 witnesses in 12 days of deposition, but there was at times little pace in the ruling.
This week, Murdaugh’s mother’s guardian testified about a blue jacket Murdaugh may have kept during his visit, but then other witnesses testified about financial crimes before the state forensic scientist who tested the jacket for blood and drug residue firearm took the floor.
The long and boring testimony focused on cell phone data among friends of Paul Murdaugh.
Some intriguing evidence has been introduced but never explained to jurors, who have no notebooks to keep track of testimony.
A crime scene technician highlighted a receipt with a $1,021.10 Gucci item circled, but it hasn’t been mentioned since. An FBI tech provided the times Murdaugh’s SUV was moved in and out of the parking lot on the night of the murders without interpretation.
A courtroom camera is trained on Alex Murdaugh every moment he is in court. Several cameras wait for him every day as he gets in and out of a prison van.
Early in the trial, Murdaugh cried and rocked in his chair several times as crime scene photos of his wife and son were shown and described. Prosecutors and the defense said the aftermath of the shooting was gruesome. Officers testified that Paul Murdaugh’s brain was severed from his skull with a shotgun blast at close range.
Murdaugh has categorically denied killing his wife and child. His lawyers said he was visiting his sick mother on the night of the murders and police wrongly focused on him from the outset.
Murdaugh wept on Thursday when the defense showed video of a family birthday party weeks before the murders.
But while testifying about financial crimes, Murdaugh was much more stoic, listening to and occasionally talking to his lawyers.
Within weeks of the murders, state troopers wanted data from the SUV Alex Murdaugh drove to visit his mother the night of the murders and from Paul Murdaugh’s cell phone.
But both devices were encrypted and impossible to crack in 2021.
Advances in the hack allowed officers to hack into data on Paul Murdaugh’s iPhone last year and have found one of the key pieces of evidence so far: a video he shot of a dog in the family’s pound about five minutes before he said it. detectives claimed that the murders had taken place. Several witnesses said all three Murdaughs can be heard on video taken near where the bodies were found.
Alex Murdaugh told police both soon after the bodies were found and again a few days later that he was never at the animal shelter.
An FBI agent testified that he worked for a year to crack encrypted data from the entertainment console and computer information on the SUV that the family law firm provided to Murdaugh.
Along with other information, he pulled out the times the vehicle was moved in and out of the parking lot, though he couldn’t tell if the vehicle was in motion or someone had their foot on the brake. The officer said he could also tell when the windows were rolled up or down, but he never said whether that happened during Murdaugh’s 20-minute drive to her mother’s house on the night of the murders.
Maggie Murdaugh’s cell phone was recovered on the side of a road the day after the murders.