Prosecutors to call more witnesses in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial before jury visits scene where his wife and son were killed | CNN
A day after defense attorneys rested their case in Alex Murdaugh’s weekslong double murder trial, prosecutors on Tuesday intend to call a handful of rebuttal witnesses before the jury visits Murdaugh’s sprawling South Carolina estate where his wife and son were shot to death in 2021.
The state plans to call four or five witnesses to testify on issues raised by the defense, and hopes to finish with all of them by the end of the Tuesday, prosecutor Creighton Waters said.
Judge Clifton Newman approved a request from the defense on Monday to allow the jury to view Murdaugh’s property in Islandton, particularly its dog kennels where the bodies of Murdaugh’s wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and son Paul Murdaugh were found. That visit will happen sometime after the rebuttal witnesses’ testimony, Newman said without specifying a day.
The defense rested its case Monday after calling 14 witnesses, including Murdaugh, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the June 7, 2021, killings.
Murdaugh is separately facing 99 charges related to alleged financial crimes that will be adjudicated later.
In his two-day testimony last week, Murdaugh pushed back on prosecutors’ accusations that he killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from the financial misconduct allegations, some of which the state says were about to come to light before the fatal shootings.
“If I was under the pressure that they’re talking about here, I can promise you I would hurt myself before I would hurt one of them, without a doubt,” Murdaugh said on the stand Friday.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have called more than 60 witnesses and sought to poke holes in Murdaugh’s account of his whereabouts the night of the killings, using cell phone data, video and other evidence to suggest he tried to manufacture an alibi.
While Murdaugh maintains he left home that night to visit his mother in a nearby town, he admitted in court that he lied to investigators when he said he had not been at the scene on the night of the killings until the bodies of his son and wife were found.
Murdaugh acknowledged his voice can be heard in a video appeared to be filmed that evening at the dog kennels before the killings, and testified he previously lied about being there because of “paranoid thinking” stemming from his addiction to painkillers.
“I don’t think I was capable of reason, and I lied about being down there, and I’m so sorry that I did,” Murdaugh said.
The defense has painted Murdaugh as a loving father and husband being wrongfully accused of the killings after what it says has been a mishandled investigation and crime scene.
Among the witnesses called by Murdaugh’s attorneys were his former legal partner who testified the scene was not properly secured, and a forensics expert who said his analysis suggests two shooters carried out the killings.
Murdaugh’s only surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, also testified last week, saying his father was “destroyed” and “heartbroken” following the killings.
In the absence of direct evidence connecting Murdaugh to the killings – no murder weapon, bloody clothing or eyewitnesses – key arguments in his trial have revolved around the timeline of events and Murdaugh’s whereabouts the night of June 7, 2021.
Prosecutors have used a video filmed at the dog kennels shortly before authorities say the killings took place to argue Murdaugh was at the scene just minutes before the fatal shootings.
Multiple witnesses – including now Murdaugh himself – have testified that Murdaugh’s voice can be heard in the background of the video, which was filmed on Paul’s phone starting at 8:44 p.m.
Now that Murdaugh has admitted he lied to investigators about being at the scene that evening, his defense attorneys are tasked with persuading the jury that Murdaugh is telling the truth about leaving the property that night and returning later to find the bodies of his wife and son.
Murdaugh testified last week that he went down to the kennels at Maggie’s request, but then returned to the house and laid down on a couch. When he got up, he said, he drove to visit his ailing mother at her home in nearby Almeda, before returning to his property later that night. Police say he called 911 at 10:07 p.m. to report finding the bodies.
To show the killings could have taken place after Murdaugh left the kennels, the defense has tried to establish that Maggie and Paul’s time of death could have fallen in a much longer time window than prosecutors have presented.
More than a week ago, Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey testified that he estimated the time of death to be around 9 p.m. – just minutes after Murdaugh’s voice was captured on the video – based in part on armpit checks he conducted to feel how warm the bodies were.
Harvey, who said he arrived on scene at 11:04 p.m., also testified that rigor mortis – the stiffening of a body’s joints and muscles following death – had not yet set in, and that it typically starts developing one to three hours following death.
However, when asked by the defense if the pair could have been shot anytime between 8 or 10 p.m., Harvey said yes.
A forensic pathologist, Jonathan Eisenstat, testified Monday that armpit temperature checks are “just not a valid method to try to make a determination of time of death,” calling the technique “just a guess.”
Instead, he said, someone arriving on scene should first check the ambient temperature of the area where the body is found and then take a rectal temperature to get as close to a core body temperature as possible.
Harvey testified earlier that he did not take rectal temperatures that night. During cross examination, prosecutors asked if the coroner had an idea of when the killings occurred since he did not take exact temperatures.
“You really do not have a general idea as to when that incident actually occurred?” Deputy Attorney General Attorney Don Zelenka asked Harvey.
“Yes sir, that’s true,” Harvey said.
The defense has also tried to portray the investigation into the case as shoddy, arguing that the crime scene was not secure or handled carefully. One witness, Mark Ball, one of Murdaugh’s former law firm colleagues, testified no barricades or police tape were set up to block several visitors from entering the property the night of the killings.