Witness testimony ends in Murdaugh case as jurors prepare to visit crime scene
Testimony ended Tuesday in the South Carolina double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, as the court prepared to bring jurors on Wednesday to the scene where Murdaugh's wife and son were fatally shot in 2021.
The judge agreed with a defense request to let jurors ride 40 minutes to see the sprawling Colleton County property where the Murdaughs lived.
Murdaugh is charged with killing 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh near kennels on the property on June 7, 2021. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday, Murdaugh's former law partner Ronnie Crosby had a testy exchange with defense attorney Dick Harpootlian as prosecutors got a chance to reply to the defense's case, including by rebutting their experts who suggested two different shooters killed Murdaugh's wife and son with two different weapons.
Prosecutors brought Crosby back to the stand to talk more about Murdaugh stealing millions of dollars from his clients and the firm the Murdaugh family founded more than a century ago. Prosecutors contend Murdaugh thought he was about to get caught stealing and killed Maggie and Paul to buy time to cover up the money trail.
During cross-examination, Harpootlian asked Crosby, who often represents accident victims, if going through trauma can cause people to forget details or get times wrong. Prosecutors have pounded Murdaugh for various inconsistencies and lies, including not saying he was at the kennels the night of the killing when he could be heard heard on video recorded by his son.
"You're trying to take me somewhere you probably don't want to," Crosby said, starting a tense exchange between the attorneys.
"You're angry at him for stealing your money," Harpootlian said.
"I have had anger with him, extreme anger, Mr. Harpootlian, because what he did with my law firm, my partners, his clients, our clients — what he did to his family. What he did to so many people," Crosby said, bristling. "But you can't walk around with anger."
Harpootlian then asked Crosby if he thought Murdaugh killed his wife and son.
"I don't have an opinion. I don't have the benefit of the materials you have," Crosby said.
Murdaugh is awaiting trial on about 100 other charges including financial crimes. Murdaugh, who has been disbarred, admitted to the thefts, which could carry decades in prison, on the stand last week.
Prosecutors also called back to the stand the pathologist who did the autopsies on the victims and their expert who studied the crime scene.
Kenneth Kinsey said a defense expert who measured the angles of the shots and concluded they were fired closer to the ground or by someone well shorter than the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Murdaugh didn't take into account the shooter and Maggie Murdaugh were both moving and the gun could have been fired from different positions.
"I think his intentions were well, but his methods were flawed," Kinsey said.
The defense also used their experts to suggest there were two shooters, based in part on common sense that the victims stopped using their cellphones within seconds of each other. Both victims appeared to be surprised with their hands down.
Kinsey testified his opinion was also based on being certain the fatal shotgun wound to Paul Murdaugh was fired from down low and headed up through the head instead of downward with the gun pressed against his head. The defense expert suggested a blast with the weapon's barrel would have stunned the shooter with bone fragments, blood and other gore, delaying the time the shooter could have gone after Maggie Murdaugh.
Dr. Ellen Riemer testified Tuesday that she stood by the findings of her autopsy that the fatal shot was fired upward. A defense expert said Riemer failed to shave hair from Paul Murdaugh's wound or X-ray his brain after it was blown from his body to confirm her findings.
"The reason you did not take X-rays of the brain was you already reached you conclusion," Harpootlian said.
"I did not because I felt comfortable with my determination," Riemer said. "I don't always take X-rays of every organ."
The prosecution also called back cellphone expert Paul McManigal, a sergeant with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.
The goal was to refute a defense expert who said moving an iPhone causes its backlight to come on. Maggie Murdaugh's iPhone was found on the side of the road outside of the property, and the backlight came on nearly two minutes before GPS data showed Alex Murdaugh's SUV pass by.
McManigal said he tested a similar iPhone in his office last week and determined the backlight comes on with a gentle movement, but not as often with a violet movement.
Defense attorney Phillip Barber asked if McManigal took any notes or videotaped his experiments.
"So, you're alone in your office, throwing the phone around, taking no measurements, recording nothing over the weekend, and you come in here and testify as an expert as to what the phone would do?" Barber said.
Defense attorneys asked that the jury be able to visit the scene of the killings to help them understand how small the storage room is where Paul Murdaugh was killed and the distance between the two bodies. Prosecutors were against the visit, saying the scene looks different than it did in June 2021 as trees and vegetation has grown and no one has lived on the property since the killings.
Judge Clifton Newman is allowing only the jury, attorneys from both sides, security and police, and a court reporter to come. He banned drones from flying over. Once the jury leaves, one reporter, photographer and videographer will be able to see the property.
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