Alex Murdaugh’s comments to police about his whereabouts around the time his wife and son were fatally shot may not have been accurate, according to video evidence presented by prosecutors Friday at the South Carolina attorney’s murder trial.
In cross examining one of the detectives who interviewed Murdaugh, his lawyer underlined that despite the gory scene of two people killed with powerful weapons at close range, Murdaugh didn’t appear to have any blood on him.
The defence also questioned how evidence was collected at the family’s home, including whether drains were checked for blood.
Murdaugh, 54, is standing trial on two counts of murder in the shootings of his wife and son at their Colleton County home and hunting lodge on June 7, 2021. His wife, Maggie, 52, was shot several times with a rifle and son Paul, 22, was shot twice with a shotgun near kennels on the property.
He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
In his 911 call and the interview played in court, Murdaugh said he didn’t see or communicate with his wife for close to an hour before he left the house to check on his ailing mother.
But in their opening statement and court papers filed before the trial, prosecutors said a video shot by Paul Murdaugh about 20 minutes before his father drove away – according to cellphone data – had the voices of all three of them on it.
Prosecutors said the cellphones of both victims stopped being used about four minutes after the son’s video.
In the interview with Colleton County Sheriff’s Detective Laura Rutland and a state agent, Murdaugh said he checked his son’s pulse but quickly realized he was so badly injured he was probably dead.
Prosecutor John Meadors asked Rutland if she saw blood on Murtaugh’s hands, arms, shirt, shorts or shoes. She said no several times.
“Is the individual you describe as clean from head to toe in this courtroom?” Meadors asked.
“Yes he is,” Rutland said, describing what Murdaugh was wearing.
In his cross examination, defence attorney Jim Griffin hinted at a key part of Murdaugh’s defence – if Murtaugh brutally killed his wife, how could he have so effectively cleaned himself up in the less than 20 minutes between the time of the shootings and him leaving to visit his mother?
“In your mind’s eye, that night on June 7, did he look like someone who had just blown his son’s head off, spatter going everywhere?” Griffin asked the detective.
“I can’t say that for sure. A lot of things would come into play to say that. Distance is one of them,” Rutland said.
The interview hours after the killings took place inside a state agent’s vehicle and lasted about 30 minutes. Murdaugh’s personal lawyer sat in the vehicle too.
The investigators questioned him gently and Murdaugh co-operated whenever asked, telling them they could look at anything and talk to anyone. When asked, he cautiously shared the names of people he thought might have reason to kill his son.
At the start of the interview, Murdaugh sobbed as he spoke of seeing the bodies of his wife and son.
“I knew it was really bad,” Murdaugh said, then tried to gather himself for the next 15 seconds. “I could see his brain.”
The investigators asked him about his relationship with his wife and son.
“I’m sure we had little things here and there but we had a wonderful marriage. A wonderful relationship,” Murdaugh said, adding that his relationship with his son was “as good as it could be.”
In court, Murdaugh hung his head during graphic testimony and in parts of the recording when he cried.
Much of the rest of Friday’s testimony involved a state crime scene agent methodically detailing the evidence that was collected, including shotgun pellets and DNA swabs from the scene , clothes and fingernail clippings from the autopsies, and the seat belt from Murdaugh’s vehicle.
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.
Since the killings, Murdaugh’s life has seen a stunningly fast downfall. His family dominated the legal system in tiny neighbouring Hampton County for generations, both as prosecutors and private attorneys known for getting life-changing settlements for accidents and negligence cases.