Here’s how Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial unfolds, 2 weeks later


Two weeks after South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial began, prosecutors have presented no direct evidence that he killed his wife and son at their home in June 2021.

There are no confessions, no surveillance camera footage, no recording of the victims’ last moments.

If convicted of murdering his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son, Paul, 22, Murdaugh faces 30 years in prison to life without parole. The disgraced lawyer, who also faces around 100 other charges ranging from stealing money from clients to insurance fraud, has adamantly denied shooting his wife and son.

Lawyers for Murdaugh said he was visiting his sick mother the night of the murders and that the police mistakenly focused on him from the start, ignoring the possibility that someone else had killed them.

HOW DO PROSECUTORS PRESENT THEIR CASE?

Prosecutors are trying to build a mountain of circumstantial evidence so high that it removes any reasonable doubt from jurors about Murdaugh’s guilt.

Murdaugh becomes emotional after seeing his family in the courtroom during opening statements on Wednesday.

In seven days of testimony, prosecutors presented crime scene photographs, firearms recovered from Murdaugh’s home, cellphone data and a video of Murdaugh wearing different clothes less than three hours before the time in which he said he discovered the bodies at their home in Colleton County.

They also showed a video the son took five minutes before the victims suddenly stopped using their mobile phones in which family friends say they can hear the voices of the three Murdaughs. Alex Murdaugh told investigators early in the case that he was not there.

They argue that Murdaugh shot the two to distract from his other crimes, for which he is awaiting trial.

HOW IMPORTANT IS CRIME SCENE EVIDENCE?

Evidence at the scene is key to unraveling what happened before Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot at least once in the head by two different guns.

State agents drove two hours from Columbia to invade the Murdaugh home on the night of the murders, taking photos of bloodstains, shoe prints and gun casings. They recovered firearms, tested Murdaugh’s hands for gunshot residue and took DNA swabs.

“The crime scene is kind of a temporary thing. Once the crime scene has been processed, you cannot return to it. So… you’re really trying to cover absolutely everything while you’re there,” said Kenneth Moses, a medical examiner who led the Crime Scene Investigation Unit at the San Francisco Police Department and now works as a consultant, mainly for the accused.

But there are things that have not been done. On cross-examination, officers said they did not test the shower and sink drains for blood. They didn’t search Murdaugh’s mother’s house for months, even though that’s where he was before he said he found the bodies. And they didn’t preserve the tire tracks.

Defense attorneys are looking for an error, or potential error, that will resonate with a jury, Moses said.

It’s “different from the police, who don’t care about juries at all. They are looking to make an arrest,” Moses said.

WHAT ABOUT CELL PHONE EVIDENCE?

Murdaugh was not charged with murder until 13 months after the murders. Thanks to testimonials, finally getting data from Paul Murdaugh’s phone seems like a key development at this time.

Agents testified that they couldn’t extract data from Paul Murdaugh’s phone until advancements in technology outpaced the security features Apple puts on iPhones.

The phone contained a 50-second video that Paul Murdaugh took around 8:45 p.m. near the kennels where the two bodies were found. His friends testified to hearing the voices of the three Murdaughs. Alex Murdaugh told police at least twice that he was not at the kennel that night.

But the cellphone evidence also appears to have helped the defense.

Alex Murdaugh handed over his cell phone to investigators and evidence showed it in his SUV still parked at home at the same time his wife’s cell phone was dumped on the side of the road half a mile (800 meters) away of property, defense attorneys said.

Both sides are trying to get their version of Murdaugh, who comes from a well-known family in local court circles, before the jury.

The defense wants to portray a loving family man and questioned any witness who knew the Murdaughs about their relationship. All said that Murdaugh and his wife seemed happy together and that Alex Murdaugh was a doting dad.

Prosecutors are trying to show a lawyer living a double life who was so scared it’s discovered he stole millions of dollars he committed the murders to try to buy time to cover up his other crimes. They asked every officer who met Murdaugh after finding the bodies of his wife or son if he was crying and all said he seemed upset and distraught, but without tears.

WHAT DOES THE DEFENSE SAY?

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian argues prosecutors wrongly locked in Murdaugh’s guilt early on and tried to blur evidence that can be explained or leave an incomplete picture in a story that frames the bad man.

“There is no direct evidence. There are no eyewitnesses. There is nothing on the camera. There are no fingerprints. There’s no forensic evidence linking him to the crime. None,” Harpootlian said.

Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


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