BLOG: Day 17: Murdaugh defense cross-examines forensic pathologist, kennel caretaker testifies

Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 11:45 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2023 at 6:02 PM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Alex Murdaugh’s defense team worked to establish doubt over testimony from the doctor who performed autopsies on Maggie and Paul Murdaugh and the man who took care of the dog kennels.

Murdaugh is standing trial for the June 7, 2021, murders of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul.

Roger Dale Davis testified that he had a certain way he would hang the water hose up after cleaning the dog kennels.

Prosecutors showed Davis photos of the kennels taken the night of the murders.

Davis pointed out the hose hanging at the kennels that he had used daily for the past four days, twice a day, and said it wasn’t rolled the way he would have rolled it before he left.

Davis testified he was at the kennels around 4 p.m. on June 7, 2021, just hours before the murders. He said no one else was at Moselle while he was there and he was finished around 4:30 p.m.

Through crime scene photos, Davis pointed out places along the kennel run where water would pool. When asked, he said water wouldn’t pool around the feed room and the kennels directly across from it because the sun would hit and dry it out quickly. Davis was shown a photo of that area and said there was too much water in the photos based on when he left.

Jim Griffin attempted to poke holes in Davis’s testimony by showing him the video taken around 8:44 p.m. at the kennels the night of the murders.

Griffin pointed to the hose in the video and noted it wasn’t hanging in the photo and asked if anyone else was as particular as him in hanging it up.

Davis said Alex Murdaugh only cared about it being out of the way and Paul Murdaugh wasn’t particular at all about it.

The hose can be heard running in the video indicating it was being used at the time. Crime scene photos show it was later placed back on its hanger at the kennels.

Davis testified he had never seen Murdaugh raise his voice to Maggie Murdaugh or their children. He said if they wanted something Murdaugh would try to get it for them.

Davis said he had to put down one of the family’s hunting dogs after it was injured because Murdaugh wasn’t able to do it himself.

The defense worked to place doubt in the minds of the jurors over the shotgun wound to Paul Murdaugh’s head.

Dr. Ellen Riemer described in detail Monday the injuries the two victims suffered. She has been considered an expert in her field for decades.

Dick Harpootlian questioned Riemer over her examination of the wounds Paul Murdaugh sustained asking if the wound to the back of his head could have been an entrance wound instead of an exit wound as she testified.

Riemer said if that were the case then she would have found soot on the top of Paul Murdaugh’s head and the blast would have done considerably more damage to his head and brain.

Riemer also explained that the entrance wound to Paul’s shoulder was larger than the wound at his head because of the angle of the shot. If the wounds were reversed then the concentration of pellets in Paul’s shoulder would not have been there, she said.

Riemer testified that the shot fired into Paul Murdaugh’s chest was fired from between three feet and six inches based on the wound having stippling but not soot.

The possibility of a bruise on Maggie Murdaugh’s calf was brought up by Harpootlian and Riemer said her notes didn’t indicate bruising and that dirt could have fallen off when they transported the body.

The location of the entrance and exit wounds on Maggie Murdaugh’s body could have been an indication that she, the shooter or both were moving during the shooting.

On Monday, Riemer testified that Paul could have survived the first shotgun blast to the chest had he received medical treatment. The second shot to Paul was a severe fatal injury to the head.

READ RECAP: Jurors hear forensics, autopsy testimony in Murdaugh murder trial

“A shotgun wound is entering the top of the left shoulder, and let’s say his head is turned like that,” Riemer said. “It’s going to go right through the face, but if his head is turned like that it’s going to spare the face and be able to go behind the face.”

Paul Murdaugh would have had his arms by his side when the first shot was fired and showed no defensive wounds, Riemer said. Pauls’s face had scratches consistent with a forward fall where he was unable to brace himself. The jury was shown autopsy photos of Paul Murdaugh. When Riemer finished her explanation of the photos taken during the autopsy the jury was sent to the jury room for a quick break.

Riemer explained Maggie Murdaugh’s injuries in just as much detail, telling jurors that she had five gunshot wounds from at least four gunshots.

Stippling around Maggie Murdaugh’s wounds indicated the first two shots had been fired from within three feet, Riemer said.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

Riemer testified at a shot fired into Maggie Murdaugh’s abdomen while she was standing likely would have caused her to bend over or fall to her hands and knees setting up the first of two fatal shots to the head.

“So this was an exit and we have like a reentrance. So we have a series of defects, so we have an entrance, an exit and then the bullet continued through the left side of the face and lower ear area,” Riemer said. A second shot to the head entered at the top of the head and exited through the shoulder. Both shots to the head would have been instantly fatal, Riemer said.

Riemer noted no signs of defensive wounds on Maggie Murdaugh’s body.

Court was sent to recess for the day before the defense had the chance to cross examine Riemer.

Jurors also heard from two forensics experts from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division about swabs and cuttings taken from the crime scene, Murdaugh’s clothing, his Chevy Suburban and the controversial blue raincoat.

Monday’s proceedings began with Judge Clifton Newman announcing that two jurors had been dismissed after testing positive for COVID-19. Two alternates will take their place, leaving a total of just three alternates left.

Newman rejected suggestions from both prosecutors and the defense to delay the trial a few days until more COVID tests are done, require masks throughout the courtroom or limit the more than 200 people allowed inside to watch the trial each day. But he said jurors agreed to wear masks.

They are next set to be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday.