Defense argues key evidence misleading in Murdaugh murder trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Alex Murdaugh’s defense team used closing arguments in his double-murder trial to make a plea to jurors and claim Murdaugh was the only target for state agents.
The jury returned a guilty verdict in the case after nearly three hours of deliberations. Sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Murdaugh, the disbarred Lowcountry attorney, faces up to 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of the June 7, 2021, killings of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh at the family’s rural hunting property in the Islandton community.
Judge Clifton Newman told the jury that a verdict was solely their responsibility.
“Remember you have no friends to reward or no enemies to punish,” Newman said.
Investigators have argued that Murdaugh had no more than 17 minutes from the time Maggie and Paul Murdaugh stopped using their cell phones to when he left for his mother’s house.
It wasn’t possible for Murdaugh to kill his wife and son, clean up and leave in that amount of time, defense attorney Jim Griffin told jurors during closing arguments Thursday.
“He had 17 minutes. He would have to be a magician to make all that evidence disappear,” Griffin said.
Prosecutors have used a video taken at 8:44 p.m. at the kennels on the property the night of the murders to establish Murdaugh was there just before the time they claim the murders took place.
BLOG: Day 28: Jury begins deliberation in Murdaugh murder trial
It wasn’t until Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense that he admitted to anyone that he was there that night.
Griffin said nothing in the video indicated Murdaugh was going to go on a murderous rampage.
“Four minutes later, the state would have you believe that Alex Murdaugh up and blew his son’s brains out of his head, and murders his wife after having that conversation about Bubba having a chicken,” Griffin said.
Griffin told the jury that the state didn’t meet its burden of proof.
“You’ve heard weeks of testimony about Alex’s financial crimes, drug addiction and lies,” Griffin said. “But after all that the state has failed to prove, to provide a satisfactory answer to this question: why? Why? Why? The state cannot provide an answer to this question because the answer is he would not.”
Prosecutor John Meadors, during rebuttal, compared the defense’s case to an eclipse.
“That’s what the defense is doing,” Meadors said. “Taking you away from the facts.”
Those facts, Griffin had argued, included a botched investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and lying to a grand jury to get the charges against Murdaugh.
“With your voice, you can tell the state they can’t lie to a grand jury and bring you a case built on theory and speculation,” Griffin said.
Griffin brought up the interview video where Murdaugh can be heard saying either I or they did him so bad.
Griffin accused SLED special agent Jeff Croft of saying the wrong thing and telling the jury Murdaugh had said “I did him so bad.”
He said his client clearly said “they did him so bad.”
The lead investigator in the case, David Owen, testified he told the grand jury that the t-shirt Murdaugh was wearing on the night of the murders had high-velocity blood spatter on it despite testing of the shirt showing no evidence of blood. Owen testified he never saw the report that showed the shirt had no blood on it.
“How does the lead investigator in the case, not get the lab report that says there’s no blood on the shirt?” Griffin said.
Meadors said he took offense to the idea of the defense claiming law enforcement didn’t do their job and said Murdaugh was “withholding and obstructing justice by not saying, ‘I was down at the kennels.’”
Meadors instead directed the jury to the large raincoat found in a closet at Murdaugh’s parents’ home that tested positive for gunshot residue.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
The defense argued that Libby Murdaugh’s caretaker, Shelley Smith, could not identify the raincoat and instead described it as a tarp.
Meadors told the jury there was no way Smith could have made up the story that she saw Murduagh arrive in the early-morning hours a few days after the murders holding something blue and vinyl.
The prosecutor pointed out other strong circumstantial evidence as well like the changing of Murdaugh’s clothing. Smith testified that Murdaugh had been wearing different shoes on the night of June 7, 2021, than the pair that was recovered by law enforcement.
“Now they’re trying to put us on trial for doing our job,” Meadors said. “To blame everybody else.”
Meadors conceded that mistakes can be made, “but you don’t misremember being at the scene of the murder.”
As Griffin ended his arguments to the jury he became emotional at his mentions of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
“On behalf of Alex, on behalf of Buster, on behalf of Maggie and on behalf of my friend Paul,” Griffin said. “I respectfully request that you do not compound a family tragedy with another.”
Meadors left the jurors with an agreement to Griffin’s assertation that Murdaugh loved Maggie and Paul.
“I think he loved Maggie. I think he loved Paul,” Meadors said. “You know who he loved more than that? He loved Alex.”
Another juror removed
One of the 12 jurors in the Murdaugh murder trial was removed because of what the judge called “inappropriate conversations” just before Murdaugh’s defense team began presenting its closing arguments.
Newman said the court had learned that the juror, identified only as Juror 785, had discussed the case with parties not associated with the case. The person who notified the court provided the names of the people with whom the juror allegedly spoke and those people provided affidavits about the contact with the juror. The contact did involve the juror offering her opinion on evidence received up to that point, he said.
The judge called the juror out from the jury room to notify her that she was being removed from the jury but thanked her for her service.
“I’m not suggesting that you intentionally did anything wrong, but that in order to preserve the integrity of the process and in fairness to all the parties involved, we’re going to replace you with one of the other jurors,” Newman told her.
In a moment of levity, the juror told the judge she did have a few items she had left in the jury room, including her purse, a bottle of water and a dozen eggs. The mention of the eggs drew laughter from the gallery.
Once the jury was set to begin deliberations the remaining alternate was asked to stay in the event something happened to one of the 12 jurors deliberating the case. That juror will be in a separate room from the rest of the jury.
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