Jury returns guilty verdict in double murder trial of Alex Murdaughget the free app
After weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses — including the defendant himself — the jury in the trial of disgraced ex-attorney Alex Murdaugh found him guilty on Thursday.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison after being convicted on two counts of murder. Investigators said his 22-year-old son, Paul, was shot twice with a shotgun and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle outside of the kennels at their rural Colleton County home called Moselle. He was also convicted on two weapons charges.
Closing arguments concluded earlier Thursday. A defense lawyer for Murdaugh told the jury that the authorities were so determined to get the disgraced South Carolina attorney convicted of murder that they lied about or misrepresented evidence.
Attorney Jim Griffin gave the defense's closing, emphasizing Murdaugh's main point — that investigators focused solely on him and conducted the investigation so poorly that any evidence pointing to someone else, like fingerprints or possible DNA on Maggie or Paul Murdaugh's clothing, was never gathered.
"How could he have butchered Maggie and Paul without leaving a trace of evidence within a matter of minutes?" Griffin said.
Prosecutors got the last word with a rebuttal argument.
"You can't answer every question, and the law doesn't require it," prosecutor John Meadors said.
Investigators think Murdaugh had no more than about 17 minutes from the time his wife and son stopped using their cellphones to when he left the property to visit his ailing mother.
Experts from both sides agreed there had to be a massive amount of blood, tissue and other material from the killings, but the prosecution did not present any evidence of blood spatter on clothes. The weapons in the case also have never been found.
"He had 17 minutes. He would have to be a magician to make all that evidence disappear," Griffin said.
No one tried to look for DNA on the clothes of the victims, which a killer could have left. No one tried to see if fingerprints or shoe prints could be lifted from the blood around Paul Murdaugh and matched to a possible killer, Griffin said.
Prosecutors think Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son because he feared his years of stealing millions of dollars from his law firm and clients would be exposed and his standing in the community toppled. They said he hoped their deaths would make him a sympathetic figure and draw attention away from the missing money.
A key piece of evidence for prosecutors is a video that includes the voices of Murdaugh, his wife and son at the kennels just minutes before investigators said they were killed. The video wasn't discovered for a year because agents couldn't initially hack into his son's iPhone
For 20 months, Alex Mudaugh told everyone that he wasn't at the kennels, but while testifying in his own defense, he finally admitted he was there.
"He lied because that's what addicts do. He lied because he has a closet full of skeletons," Griffin said.
Prosecutors said all Murdaugh did was lie — to the people he was stealing from, to the police about a key fact in their investigation, to his family about his drug use and even about the order in which he checked his wife and son for signs of life, switching who he checked first in different police interviews.
Griffin said that showed how badly the state wants to convict Murdaugh at all costs, referring to prosecutors' closing argument where they said the evidence showed Maggie Murdaugh died while running to see her son.
"Alex was running to his baby. Can you imagine what he saw?" Griffin said. "And is it evidence of guilt that he doesn't remember what the sequencing was at that moment?"
Griffin said his time as a prosecutor left him pained to say the State Law Enforcement Division either fabricated or lied about evidence.
The lead agent on the case said on the stand that he told the grand jury that indicted Murdaugh 13 months after the deaths that the T-shirt Murdaugh was wearing when police arrived had high-velocity blood spatter from his son that happens when someone is shot at close range.
But other agents in the case had already reported further testing on the shirt showed no blood on it and the shirt was never mentioned by prosecutors at the trial.
Meadors said law enforcement is not on trial, Murdaugh is.
The prosecutor said he was offended that Murdaugh's defense is claiming that law enforcement "didn't do their job while he is withholding and obstructing justice by not saying, 'I was down at the kennels.'"
The two shotgun blasts that killed Paul Murdaugh had different size pellets. Owen incorrectly told the grand jury other shotguns in the house were loaded in a similar fashion.
"There's two shooters out there," Griffin said.
And there was the matter of the blue rain jacket that state agents said was covered in gunshot residue when it was found at Murdaugh's mother's house. Investigators theorized Murdaugh wrapped guns in it to hide on his parents' property, but Murdaugh's family didn't recognize it and it wasn't his size.
Earlier Thursday, Judge Clifton Newman removed a juror because she discussed the case with other people. Five jurors have had to be replaced during the six-week trial, leaving the jury with just one alternate with deliberations looming.
Newman's exchange with the juror Thursday was pleasant. He asked her if she needed the bailiff to get any of her things from the jury room. She said she had her purse and a dozen eggs that a fellow juror brought for each juror from his farm.
Murdaugh is also accused of stealing millions and faces more than 100 other charges for alleged financial and other crimes. He was disbarred last year for what the state Supreme Court called "admitted reprehensible conduct."