LIVE NOW: Day 4: First witnesses to take stand in Murdaugh murder trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The Alex Murdaugh murder trial is set to continue Wednesday afternoon with opening statements from the prosecution and defense after 12 jurors and six alternates were selected earlier in the day.
The 54-year-old Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife, Maggie, 52; and their youngest son, Paul, 22; at the family’s rural hunting property in the Islandton community on June 7, 2021. He is charged with two counts of murder and two weapons charges.
Before dismissing for lunch, the state reiterated that they would pursue all four charges against Murdaugh. Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman will go over the specifics of those charges after the break.
The morning started with 122 potential jurors reporting to the courtroom. Once roll call was completed, Judge Clifton Newman began the process of whittling down the pool to 80 jurors that would make up the final group for jury selection, which began in earnest around 12:40 p.m. with the first juror number called to be selected for service.
The defense would use the first of its strikes on the second juror presented. The remaining selections saw the state use two strikes. The defense would finish the initial selections using two additional strikes.
The selection of the six alternates for the jury would see the prosecution using one strike and the defense using both of its strikes.
The jury was then sworn in and the court was put into recess for a lunch break.
Newman also addressed concerns about graphic photos and video of the victims issuing an order to keep those items under seal.
Newman heard a series of motions on Tuesday afternoon, ultimately deciding to wait until the issues come up at trial to decide whether jurors hear evidence about blood spatter or other crimes Murdaugh is charged with. Prosecutors have argued that the murders were a cover-up for Alex Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds. Previously, the defense has said the state turned over millions of pages of documents during discovery about these financial crimes.
Murdaugh also faces about 100 charges related to other crimes, including money laundering, stealing millions from clients, 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.
The defense says this motive is completely fabricated.
“His theory is, he knew the jig was up, so he went home, and butchered, blew the head off his son, and butchered his wife,” Murdaugh’s defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said. “There’s not one shred of evidence there were any problems between any of them. There’s texts, pictures, people that were with them the previous weekend at a ball game, video from that day with Paul and he’s having a good time. There is no dispute anywhere that they were the perfect family in terms of their relationships.”
Newman told the attorneys he will decide on a case-by-case basis outside the jury’s presence.
In the blood spatter evidence, Murdaugh’s lawyers said emails turned over to them by prosecutors showed an expert, who analyzed the t-shirt Murdaugh was wearing when he said he found the bodies, initially determined there were no blood spatter stains, only spots that could have happened when Murdaugh checked to see if his son and wife were still alive.
The expert changed his mind several weeks later after state agents flew to his home in Oklahoma, according to the emails cited by Murdaugh’s lawyers. Testing on the shirt used chemicals that made it impossible for any defense expert to do their own testing or even check the original results, the defense said.
The defense agreed to wait and see if prosecutors decide to bring that expert to the stand.
The judge denied a request Tuesday by Murdaugh’s lawyers to prevent an expert from testifying that rifle cartridges found near his wife’s body have marks indicating they may have been fired from the same gun that fired other cartridges found at a shooting range on the property. Prosecutors said a similar model gun remains missing from the Murdaugh home.
The defense said recent scientific advances show ballistics experts can’t say with 100% certainty that there are unique markings linking a gun to a cartridge. Prosecutors said this kind of evidence is allowed in courtrooms all the time. Newman said defense lawyers can question the expert during cross examination.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked for a ruing before the jury was seated, likely because he wants to mention the evidence in his opening statement.
Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. He told investigators he found their bodies outside their Colleton County home on June 7, 2021. He said he’d been gone for about an hour to visit his ailing father and mother.
Court papers filed by the defense this week included a crime scene report detailing that Maggie Murdaugh was shot at least four times and appeared to be moving when she was wounded and Paul Murdaugh was shot twice, once with buckshot and once with smaller birdshot. Both were killed by shots to the head.
When asked during a preliminary hearing about what evidence they would produce, prosecutors presented a detailed timeline of how Murdaugh’s wife and son were killed the same day a paralegal at a law firm reported he might be stealing money.
State agents and prosecutors took 13 months to seek murder indictments against Murdaugh. The defense motion was the first indication authorities might have one of the two guns used. No evidence has made public about a possible confession or an eyewitness account.
The trial is expected to last up to three weeks, with prosecutors and defense attorneys providing a list of 255 potential witnesses to the judge.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.