Day 5: 2nd day of testimony begins in Murdaugh murder trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Evidence collection and preservation continued as the main theme during day five of the Alex Murdaugh trial.
During the course of Friday’s testimony, jurors heard the first interview Murdaugh had with investigators just hours after his wife and son were killed.
It was also revealed in court that the black Suburban that Murdaugh was driving on June 7, 2021, had been swabbed in nearly a dozen places around the driver and passenger sides. Those swabs preliminarily tested positive for blood.
Colleton County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Laura Rutland was the first witness called Friday morning. She was the investigator who secured the search warrant for the Moselle property on the night of the murders.
Rutland said she was called on the night of the murders but was turned around to go to the sheriff’s office to secure a search warrant for the Moselle Road property. She told the court she had to wake a judge to get the warrant signed.
Prosecutors have listed more than 200 potential state witnesses, but it is not clear whether they intend to call everyone to testify on the list.
Rutledge was questioned by Prosecutor John Meadors on her role on the night of the murders. Rutland, along with SLED Agent David Owen, interviewed Murdaugh around 1 a.m. while still on the scene of the shootings. Murdaugh and a man he identified as his personal attorney Danny Henderson.
The informal interview is inside Owen’s car because of the rain.
Murdaugh can be heard breaking down during the interview as he tells them about finding Paul. He says he tried to turn Paul over and says his cell phone fell out of his pocket so he picked it up and decided to place it back down “real quick.”
Murdaugh says he went to Maggie next. When asked if he touched Maggie he says yes but says he tried to be limited.
Murdaugh then tells them he called 911 and called his brothers.
Owen asks Murdaugh to describe his relationship with Maggie and Paul.
“How about yours and Maggie’s?” Owen said.
“Wonderful,” Murdaugh said. “I’m sure we had little things here and there but we had a wonderful marriage, a wonderful relationship.”
“And your’s and Paul’s relationship?” Owen said.
“As Good as it could be,” Murdaugh said.
He also described the relationship between Maggie and Paul as “wonderful.”
He’s asked about problems lately. Murdaugh brings up the boat crash again and says Paul has been punched and hit before because of the crash. He doesn’t think he knows the full story but is aware of the threats.
He says Paul gets the threats “all the time.”
Murdaugh tells investigators that Paul was getting ready to move into a house with his friends in Columbia. He gives investigators the names of Paul’s friends and says one is at the property.
Murdaugh can be heard in the interview referencing the murders.
“This is such a stupid thing,” Murdaugh said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Investigators then ask if he could think of anyone who could have murdered Maggie and Paul.
He says no. Then tells detectives that he had just hired a new person at the Moselle property, a man named “C.B. Rowe” and he possibly had a suspicious background based on a story he told Paul.
“He told Paul a story the other day about how when he was in high school he had got into a fight with some black guys,” Murdaugh said. “An FBI undercover team observed him fighting those guys and put him on an undercover team with navy seals to fight and their job was to kill radical Black Panthers and they did that from Myrtle Beach to Savannah.”
Murdaugh tells investigators that Rowe had been employed for “a couple of months.”
Murdaugh says Rowe was off that day to take his dad to the doctor and recognized the theory as wild.
C.B. Rowe is on the list of potential witnesses and could be called to testify during the trial.
Murdaugh goes on to describe the hours leading up to the murder.
He says he took a nap for around 25 or 30 minutes on the couch. Then, called Maggie and she didn’t answer. He also tells investigators he sent her a text message. He tells investigators that it’s odd she didn’t call him back or send him a text, but not unheard of.
He tells Rutland and Owen that he sent a message to Maggie that he was leaving for his mother’s house at 9:08 p.m. and another at 9:47 p.m. to tell her he was leaving. Murdaugh tells them he also called Paul who didn’t answer.
After listening to the call, Meadors asks about a point in the interview when Murdaugh mentions trying to move Paul’s body and checking Maggie’s pulse.
Meadors asks Rutland how Murdaugh could have checked Paul’s pulse before asking about Murdaugh’s appearance.
Rutland remarks that Murdaugh appeared to be clean and she could not see any blood on his clothes, hands, arms or shoes.
Rutland also testifies that she didn’t see footprints or kneeprints in the blood.
“Is the individual that you describe as clean head to toe sitting in this courtroom?” Meadors said.
Rutland points out Murdaugh in the courtroom.
In cross-examination, Attorney Jim Griffin asks Rutland about Murdaugh’s appearance.
He says if Murdaugh was clean then did Rutland believe he looked like someone who had just “blew his son’s head off.”
Rutland would tell Griffin that she couldn’t make that assessment based on the information available to her.
During the redirect portion of Rutland’s questioning, Meadors again asks about Murdaugh’s appearance. This time if the clothes looked fresh, again Rutland replies with a yes.
Griffin comes back and points to a section of the interview video and asks if Murdaugh’s clothes looked fresh out of the laundry.
Rutland said yes because Murdaugh was sweating and his clothing was dry.
The rest of Friday’s testimony centered around evidence collected at Moselle.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Agent Dalila Cirencione is brought to the stand. She collected DNA swabs from the bodies of Maggie and Paul and was later tasked to collect Maggie’s cell phone.
It’s the cell phone that Attorney Dick Harpootlian is most interested in during cross-examination.
He asks Cirencione about the steps taken by her and other agents to prevent data from being destroyed from the phone. He asks about a bag used to prevent access to the phone and data loss.
Cirencione says she’s not familiar with the bags. She tells Harpootlian that computer investigators generally handle phone collection.
She testifies that when she was given the phone at the scene but didn’t know if it was on or off.
SLED Agent Melinda Worley is the final witness called on Friday.
Worley’s testimony provides new insight into the crime scene around the bodies.
She describes the scene inside the feed room where Paul was found by saying investigators recovered shotgun shells from behind the door of the feed room and footprints were found in the blood inside the room. She says Paul’s body was laying with his feet inside the room and his body in the doorway.
Investigators noted more blood on the outside of the door than on the inside.
The shoes Paul was wearing on the night of the murders were compared to the footprints inside the feed room and determined to be a match.
The state also used Worley’s testimony to introduce loads of evidence including more photos, items collected during the autopsies of Maggie and Paul and ammunition found around the property both fired and unfired.
The biggest evidence introduced during Worley’s testimony was nearly a dozen swabs that were taken from Murdaugh’s black Suburban. The swaps were taken in various places on the driver’s side of the vehicle including the steering wheel, front of the seat and the door handle. The swabs tested presumptive for blood. Later, agents returned to collect the entire seatbelt from the driver’s side of the vehicle.
The defense did not get a chance to cross-examine Worley on Friday with Harpootlian telling the judge that his questioning could take several hours.
First day of testimony filled with first responders
Throughout testimony on Thursday, bodycam footage from law enforcement officers who responded to the property played in monitors in the courtroom. Visitors in the courtroom did not see the images because monitors were turned away from the gallery. Defense attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian periodically held a cardboard box lid in front of the monitor at the defense table, shielding their client from having to see the footage.
Still, at several times during the trial Thursday, Murdaugh became emotional as officers described what they saw that night.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Colleton County Sgt. Daniel Greene, the first person to testify in the trial on Thursday, was the first officer to arrive on the scene where Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie; and youngest son, Paul, had been gunned down. Greene said Murdaugh was upset but had no tears in his eyes.
Some footage showed Greene questioning Murdaugh and protecting the crime scene, since the two victims were obviously dead.
Murdaugh’s lawyer questioned Greene at length on what he did at the scene, suggesting that officers disturbed potential evidence by walking around in the dark without flashlights, failing to look for shoe prints or tire tracks, and standing near the bodies after it was established that they had died.
He testified that when he arrived, he saw Murdaugh talking on the phone, standing near where the bodies were found, with a shotgun resting against his truck that Murdaugh said he grabbed for protection.
“He was upset, but I didn’t see any visible tears,” Greene said.
Later Thursday, Colleton County Sheriff’s Capt. Jason Chapman testified that he noticed that too, but he said Murdaugh did look tormented.
“Not everyone cries. I don’t have an issue with that,” Chapman said,
The deputy testified that Murdaugh seemed to settle down and pay attention to parts of the investigation, such as when deputies tried to follow tire marks.
Prosecutors suggested in their questioning that he might be making sure his alibi was sticking. The defense suggested he wanted the killer or killers of his wife and son found and perked up when he thought there might be clues for investigators to follow.
Much of the defense’s cross examination centered on protecting evidence at the crime scene. Harpootlian asked Greene why he didn’t indicate to state crime scene agents about possible tire tracks and footprints. Greene said it wasn’t his job.
Harpootlian asked why another officer went into a feed room behind Paul Murdaugh’s body. Greene said he didn’t know, but that officers were doing their best to protect the evidence.
“Best? To walk in an area where there is blood, where there is brain matter?” Harpootlian said.
Later testimony from other deputies said the officer only went into the room to help lift the sheet on Paul Murdaugh’s body straight up to check if there was a weapon near or under his body. Chapman said he didn’t want to drag the sheet across the body and possibly dislodge evidence.
Murdaugh rocked back and forth with his head down and wiped his eyes as the condition of the bodies was discussed.
Murdaugh appeared to be distraught several other times during graphic testimony, as officers and first responders talked about how his son’s brain was ripped away by the shotgun blast and was found by his feet, and that his wife had a hole in her head big enough to see her skull cavity.
Prosecutors also had the 911 call played in court, during which a deeply upset and agitated Murdaugh told the operator several times that neither his son or wife was breathing and asked for an ambulance to hurry.
Murdaugh also faces about 100 charges related to other crimes, including money laundering, stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, 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.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this story. All rights reserved.