Alex Murdaugh juror removed, defense gives SC trial closing

READ MORE


Alex Murdaugh Coverage

The Murdaugh family saga has dominated the news after another shooting, a resignation and criminal accusations — with Alex Murdaugh at the center of it all. Here are the latest updates on Alex Murdaugh.

Expand All


Whatever other failings and misdeeds Alex Murdaugh may be guilty of, he would “not have killed the people he loved most in the world,” his defense attorney told jurors Thursday before they decide whether the former Lowcountry attorney committed murder.

[–>

Jim Griffin gave the final defense of Murdaugh Thursday after a six-week trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, just minutes after a juror was publicly removed from the jury by the judge overseeing the trial.

[–>

In that time, he and fellow attorney Dick Harpootlian tried to parry prosecutors’ arguments that pinned the guilt for the June 7, 2021, murders of Maggie and Paul on their client.

[–>

Griffin finished his roughly two-hour closing argument around midday Thursday. Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters delivered the prosecution’s roughly three-hour closing arguments Wednesday, and prosecutor John Meadors gave a rebuttal argument for the prosecution after Griffin Thursday.

[–>

Griffin highlighted deficiencies in the S.C. Law Enforcement Division’s investigation of the murders, starting the night first responders initially arrived at the Murdaughs’ rural Colleton County property, called Moselle.

[–>

He highlighted how investigators failed to maintain tire tracks at the scene that could have indicated whether someone else had driven onto the property; failed to collect finger prints from the inside of the feed room where Paul was shot; and failed to collect foot impressions from outside the feed room. No DNA was ever collected from Paul and Maggie’s clothes, Griffin said.

[–>

“You know who they took extensive DNA from was Alex,” Griffin said. “Was Alex assaulted on June 7? Was he wrestling with the assailant on June 7? Why would they take DNA evidence off of Alex’s clothing? There’s only one reason. They had decided, unless we find somebody else, it’s going to be Alex.”

[–>

Not only did investigators focus on Murdaugh to the exclusion of other witnesses, they “fabricated evidence” against the defendant, Griffin said.

[–>

Although a confirmatory test on the shirt Murdaugh was wearing on the night of the murder went “zero for 74” on finding evidence of blood, investigators told the grand jury as well as Murdaugh’s family that they did find blood on Murdaugh’s clothes that night.

[–>

“They went from Mr. Bloody Shirt leading up to this trial to Mr. Clean during the trial,” Griffin said, shifting to the argument that he disposed of the clothes he wore earlier that day, without ever asking the defendant to provide them.

[–>

Griffin also said the state’s timeline is too compressed for Murdaugh to be able to kill Maggie and Paul, remove any physical evidence from himself, and dispose of the murder weapons and any bloody clothes in such a way that investigators have never been able to find them.

[–>

He’s got 17 minutes,” Griffin said. “He would have to be a magician to make all that evidence disappear.”

[–>

Griffin focused on the central piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case — a cellphone video shot by Paul that places Murdaugh at the kennels shortly before the killings. Murdaugh has admitted he lied to investigators about being at the kennels during that time.

[–>

“He lied because that’s what addicts do. Addicts lie,” Griffin said, referring to Murdaugh’s admitted abuse of opioids. “He lied because he had a closet full of skeletons, and he didn’t want more scrutiny on him. … But he didn’t lie because he was covering up the murders of Maggie and Paul.”

[–>

The state’s contention that Murdaugh committed the murders in order to avoid a financial investigation means that “he put himself in the middle of a murder investigation and a media firestorm,” Griffin said.

[–>

The cellphone video Paul shot in the dog kennels showed a happy family without strife or anger, and that Murdaugh would have had no reason to lie about it, Griffin argued.

[–>

Griffin noted many witnesses testified to the love Murdaugh showed toward his family, and said it was not “rational” to think Murdaugh’s financial troubles would lead him to murder his wife and son. His behavior that night — including misstating the time of his movements — are the result of Murdaugh’s shock at discovering the dead bodies, and that the DNA found on Murdaugh’s clothes and the blood he transferred to his car and his shotgun are proof he did check the bodies when he arrived at the kennels after 10 p.m.

[–>

“Do not compound one family tragedy with another,” Griffin said in summation.

[–>

In his rebuttal, Meadors, a veteran prosecutor on murder cases, bashed Murdaugh’s withholding of evidence from investigators.

[–>

“It’s offensive to me that the defendant, who was a part-time solicitor, said law enforcement didn’t do their job while he is withholding and obstructing justice by not saying, ‘I was down at the kennels,’” Meadors said. “They blame everybody but Alex.”

[–>

Meadors once again summed up the standard of reasonable doubt the jury must apply when determining Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence.

[–>

“You don’t have to answer every question,” he said. “If you are firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt, you must find him guilty.”

[–>

Murdaugh faces life in prison without parole if convicted of shooting Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22.

[–>

Judge Clifton Newman is expected to charge the jury about the laws in the case Thursday afternoon.

[–>

The state has presented a completely circumstantial case, with no direct physical evidence tying Murdaugh to the crimes.

[–>

Unlike many other high-profile killings, there is no video and no witnesses.

[–>

While the murder weapons have never been found, prosecutors say comparisons between shell casings at the scene and others found on the property prove they were family weapons.

[–>

Juror removed at last minute

[–>

Before Griffin’s arguments began Thursday morning, Newman made the surprise announcement that one of the jurors was being removed after he was alerted that she had conversations with others outside of court about the case.

[–>

“This juror has had contact or discussion concerning the case with at least three individuals,” Newman told the courtroom Thursday. “Though it does not appear the conversation was that extensive, she did offer her opinion on evidence up to that point in the trial.”

[–>

Newman said he and attorneys on both sides spoke with the female juror, No. 785, who denied she had discussed the case, but the other individuals had provided affidavits to their contact with her about the case, Newman said. He added those individuals “waffled on the nature and extent of the contact” when he spoke to them in his chambers.

[–>

After she was removed, a bailiff entered the jury room to remove a dozen eggs the juror had brought with her, which she then took home.

[–>

The juror was replaced with an alternate, No. 254, leaving the trial jury with only one of the original six alternates assigned to the case. Four jurors have now been replaced in the trial, the other three for health-related reasons. Another alternate was also released for health reasons.

[–>

Harpootlian said he accepted the court’s judgment, but argued that of the two agents with SLED who investigated the juror’s comments, one had previously testified in the trial and another had been involved in the investigation of Murdaugh.

[–>

“Once again SLED has made another bad judgment in this case,” Harpootlian said.

[–>

The state makes its case

[–>

Prosecutor Waters argued for three hours Wednesday that Murdaugh did commit the crimes — because he had the means and the motive do it.

[–>

Waters painstakingly went through the details of the case, from the charges of financial improprieties to Murdaugh’s minute-by-minute movements the night of the murders. Waters also examined the the evidence against Murdaugh, most crucially the cellphone video shot by Paul.

[–>

“Only one person had the motive, the means and the opportunity to commit these crimes, and whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him,” Waters said Wednesday, at times extending his right arm to point at a grim-faced Murdaugh.

[–>

Waters, in his three-hour closing argument, attempted to summarize hundreds of exhibits and testimony from some 61 prosecution witnesses about the execution-style slayings.

[–>

On June 7, 2021, Murdaugh knew his lies about embezzlement were on the verge of being exposed by his firm and a 2019 fatal lawsuit over a boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.

[–>

As an “outwardly successful middle-aged man,” who was respected by the community, family and fellow lawyers and who owned a vast country estate, Murdaugh plotted to kill Maggie and Paul, Waters told the jury.

[–>

The threats to his life of lies were a “gathering storm” that had reached “a crescendo” the day of the murders, Waters told the jury. That morning, he had been confronted by Jeanne Seckinger, who manages the firm’s finances, about a missing $792,000 fee he was supposed to have deposited in the firm’s client trust account.

[–>

That conversation was interrupted because Murdaugh received a call about his father going into the hospital, Seckinger testified earlier.

[–>

In committing a rare kind of murder known as ‘’family annihilation,” Murdaugh quickly became an object of sympathy in the community and shut down not only his law firm’s investigation into his thefts, but he also delayed and perhaps scuttled a lawsuit against him in which the plaintiff’s lawyer, Mark Tinsley, was seeking millions of dollars, Waters said.

[–>

After the deaths of his wife and son, those pressures “immediately go away,” Waters said. After the killings, Murdaugh’s law partners stopped asking about the missing money, and Tinsley no longer believed the case could succeed, Waters told the jury.

[–>

Murdaugh carefully planned the crime, Waters said, using two weapons — a shotgun and a .300 Blackout assault-type rifle — to make people think there were two shooters. Then he got rid of the weapons, putting them in a place that baffled law officers have never been able to locate, Waters said.

[–>

In one of the most dramatic parts of his arguments, Waters recreated the killings, describing how Paul was shot first with two shotgun blasts, and when Maggie “runs to her baby,” Murdaugh “moves around her firing” with his .300 Blackout. The kill shot to Maggie was at her head, Waters said.

[–>

“We couldn’t bring any eyewitnesses because they had been murdered,” Waters said.

[–>

Lies and a cellphone video

[–>

Some of Murdaugh’s biggest lies were that he was not at the murder scene minutes before Maggie and Paul were believed to have been killed. For months, Murdaugh told people he was napping in the estate’s main house around the time of the killings and was nowhere near the dog kennels.

[–>

That lie held up until April 2022, Waters told the jury, when investigators finally cracked the pass code to Paul’s cellphone.

[–>

The biggest clue found was a video Paul had taken at 8:44 pm on June 7, 2021 — just minutes before he and Maggie are believed to have been shot. A voice on the video was identified by numerous witnesses as Murdaugh’s.

[–>

The video, whose existence was kept confidential until the trial, forced Murdaugh to go on the witness stand last week. In hours of cross-examination by Waters, he admitted his life of lies but insisted he did not kill Maggie and Paul, weeping at times as he professed his love for them.

[–>

Prosecutors have built a timeline of the killings based on activityceasing at 8:49 p.m. on Paul and Maggie’s cellphones.

[–>

Maggie’s cellphone records movement from 8:53 p.m. to 9:08 p.m., during which time it traveled from the kennels to the side of the road outside Moselle. Data from Murdaugh’s phone and his car also recorded his movements leaving the property around the same time.

[–>

In his argument, Waters noted that Murdaugh consistently lied about being at the kennels, even when family friend Rogan Gibson said he heard Murdaugh’s voice in the background of a phone call with Paul that night.

[–>

“Law enforcement didn’t have this kennel video until April of 2022, when the phone was unlocked,” Waters said. “Why would a loving husband and father lie about that, and lie about it so early? ‘Rogan was mistaken.’ ‘I’m surprised.’ ‘Not if my times are right.’ That’s what he said.”

[–>

Waters also noted that Murdaugh must have been aware Paul was talking to Gibson, because he would have seen missed calls and texts from Gibson on Paul’s phone after he was shot. Murdaugh’s phone shows he tried to call Gibson multiple times the night he says he found the bodies.

[–>

“He’s calling Rogan before he calls many of his family,” Waters said. “Before he calls Buster, he calls Rogan multiple times. Those messages would have come through on Paul’s phone. What’s he so concerned about?”

[–>

Waters continued that Murdaugh “was forced to do what he’s done all the time, come up with a new lie when he’s confronted with evidence he cannot deny. That’s because all those witnesses sat there and said, ‘That’s him. He was there.’”

[–>

Not a single person close to Murdaugh knew who he really was, Waters said.

[–>

“Not a single person close to him had not been lied to by this man, and this is the most blatant one yet,” he said.

[–>

In his closing, Waters said the law does not treat circumstantial evidence as less valid than direct evidence. He also said the legal standard of reasonable doubt doesn’t mean the jurors have no doubt at all.

[–>

To illustrate, Waters held up a picture of the Mona Lisa and ripped off a corner. The picture remained intact.

[–>

The picture is now incomplete, Waters noted, saying but, “you still know what this is.”

[–>

“Don’t let him fool you too,” Waters told the jury.

[–>

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

this story was originally published March 2, 2023, 11:53 AM.

Follow more of our reporting on Murdaugh family news and updates

See all stories

Profile Image of Bristow Marchant

The Bristow Marchant covers local government, schools and community in Lexington County for the State. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 2007. He has more than 10 years of experience covering South Carolina at the Clinton Chronicle, Sumter Items and Rock Hill Herald. He joined The State in 2016. Bristow won the SC Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.
Support my work with a digital subscription

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A US Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including those of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins and child killer Tim Jones. Monk’s hobbies include hiking, books, languages, music and a lot of other things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *