Alex Murdaugh’s Murder Trial Starts With Cellphones, Bullets

Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son. ( photo: )

On Wednesday, after 19 months of speculation, prosecutors presented their evidence in court that Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son. This marked the beginning of the double murder trial for the South Carolina attorney. 

According to prosecutor Creighton Waters, there was gunshot residue on a seat belt, bullets recovered from the bodies matched ammunition found in the home, and the victims' cellphones were not used again shortly after a cellphone video recorded Murdaugh, his wife and son.

Waters stated that the case is complex and multifaceted, saying, "It's complicated. It's a journey. There's a lot of aspects to this case." He also compared it to putting together a puzzle, where the pieces slowly come together to form a clear picture. 

However, the defense lawyer argued that the prosecution had prematurely determined Murdaugh's guilt from the beginning, and have been trying to force pieces of evidence that can be disputed or are inconclusive into a narrative that implicates the wrong person.

The defense lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, argued that there is no concrete evidence linking Murdaugh to the crime. He stated, "There's no direct evidence. There's no eyewitnesses. There's nothing on camera. There's no fingerprints. There's no forensics tying him to the crime. None."

In contrast, Waters began the trial by describing in graphic detail the scene where the bodies of Maggie Murdaugh (52) and her son, Paul (22), were found. He said they were shot with at least one bullet to the head by two different guns, and pointed to Paul Murdaugh's head, describing the damage as "catastrophic."

Harpootlian also provided more disturbing details about the crime. He explained that the shotgun blast that killed Paul Murdaugh was so close to his head that his brain had exploded out of his skull and was found at his feet. When Harpootlian discussed this detail, Alex Murdaugh began crying.

Harpootlian emphasized that Alex Murdaugh had a loving relationship with his family, saying "Alex was the loving father of Paul and the loving husband of Maggie. You're not going to hear a single witness say that their relationship was anything other than loving."

The trial of Murdaugh, who is 54 years old, for two counts of murder began on Wednesday at the Colleton County Courthouse. The trial is expected to last for three weeks. 

Both the prosecution and defense have finished selecting a jury of 12 people, with an additional 6 alternates. If Murdaugh is found guilty, he could face a sentence of 30 years to life in prison.

The trial of Murdaugh marks the end of a dramatic and rapid downfall for a man whose family had long held significant influence in the legal system of the nearby small county of Hampton, known for their roles as both prosecutors and successful private attorneys in cases involving accidents and negligence.

Additionally, Murdaugh is facing approximately 100 other charges, including money laundering, embezzlement of millions from clients and his family's law firm, tax evasion, and attempting to arrange for a man to murder him for the purpose of his surviving son collecting a $10 million life insurance policy. He had been held in jail without bail on these charges prior to being charged with murder.

Before the trial began on Wednesday, prosecutors had not disclosed much information about their case. In their opening statement, they presented a timeline of events they believe occurred at the Murdaugh's residence and near the dog kennels on their 1,300-acre hunting property on June 7, 2021. 

According to the prosecution, Murdaugh told investigators that he was not present at the kennels at the time of the murders and discovered the bodies of his wife and son near them after spending an hour away from the home to check on his mother, who has dementia. 

The prosecutor, Waters, stated that there is a video on Paul Murdaugh's cellphone that contains the voices of him, Maggie and Alex Murdaugh. However, less than five minutes after the video was recorded, Paul Murdaugh's phone was never used again. Similarly, Maggie Murdaugh's phone "locked forever" about 30 seconds later, as per Waters.

The prosecution also mentioned that ammunition cartridges found around Maggie Murdaugh's body had markings that matched with cartridges that were fired at a range on the property and other locations. The cartridges were used in a type of automatic rifle that Alex Murdaugh had purchased but its whereabouts are unknown, Waters said.

According to the prosecutor, powder and residue left behind from a gun was found in several locations where Alex Murdaugh had also been present.

However, the defense lawyer, Harpootlian, argued that the prosecution is selectively presenting evidence that makes Murdaugh look guilty, while disregarding any evidence that does not fit their theory that he is guilty.

Harpootlian, the defense lawyer, argued that the residue came from Murdaugh handling a shotgun after checking for signs of life in his wife and son and calling 911 in case their killers were still on his property. He also stated that Maggie Murdaugh's cellphone, which was found the next day using the code provided by her husband, showed that it was being discarded on the side of the road off the property at the same time Alex Murdaugh's phone indicated he was starting his truck just outside his home.

Harpootlian stated to the jury that he wished he could provide an explanation for why someone brutally killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, but investigators had disregarded all other suspects and possibilities. He said "We don’t know why. He doesn’t know why," pointing to the prosecutor. He also said that the prosecution has theories but no concrete evidence to support them.

At the end of the trial proceedings, Alex Murdaugh shook hands with his attorney and then turned to look at his surviving son and brother who were seated behind him. He smiled and gestured towards them. He then walked towards the side door of the courtroom, where he will be escorted to the Colleton County jail where he is being held during his trial.

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