On the night that Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son would be fatally shot on the grounds of their rural estate in Colleton County, South Carolina, the 22-year-old sent out a video on Snapchat to several friends.
What the video contains has not yet been disclosed publicly, but prosecutors say its existence is a “critical” facet of the double murder trial against Murdaugh, 54, a once-prominent lawyer accused of killing his wife Margaret, 52, and their younger son, Paul, on June 7, 2021. The trial continued Tuesday with jury selection.
Some of the prosecution’s evidence in the case — and what can and can’t be presented during the trial — must be determined by Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, as Murdaugh’s defense team filed motions Monday seeking to block some of the state’s expert witness testimony.
Court officials spent the first day of jury selection going through about 700 jury summonses, and Newman on Tuesday determined 123 qualified jurors to choose from to make up the jury of 12 plus six alternates. The defense suggested that opening statements could begin as early as Wednesday afternoon.
Newman has already ordered representatives from Snapchat, as well as Google, to be subpoenaed to testify at the trial to attest to evidence on electronic devices.
The Snapchat video was sent by Paul to his friends at 7:56 p.m., according to court documents, just over two hours before Murdaugh would tell a 911 dispatcher that he found his wife and son dead.
Neither tech company responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
Besides potential digital evidence, forensics may also play a key part during the trial.
But in the latest filings by Murdaugh’s lawyers, his defense team is seeking to get the court to refuse to admit evidence that authorities said will show blood from Paul spattered on his father’s shirt. The defense contends that the shirt was destroyed before they could test it and they said there is evidence the expert examining the shirt changed his conclusions under pressure from state agents.
Prosecutors also said at the December hearing that there could be problems with the blood spatter work. They haven’t commented on the subject in court papers or in the courtroom since then.
The defense’s filings shed light on aspects of the crime scene that were not previously made public. They include that Margaret had five different gunshot wounds, including in the back of the head, from a semi-automatic rifle, while Paul was shot twice with a shotgun, in the chest and shoulder.
There is DNA from the victims on Murdaugh’s shirt, but his defense said that was the result of coming into contact with their bodies, which were lying near dog kennels on the property.
“The murder scene was gruesome; there was a large amount of blood on and around their bodies which transferred onto Mr. Murdaugh’s hands and clothing when he frantically checked them for signs of life,” according to the filing.
There is no indication that the murder weapons were recovered at the scene.
During a motions hearing held Tuesday in response to the defense team’s filings, prosecutors agreed they would not address blood spatter evidence during opening statements and would determine whether to use such expert testimony during the trial.
Prosecutors are expected at trial to lay out why they believe Murdaugh killed his wife and son. At the December hearing, they allege he committed the murders in a desperate attempt to gain sympathy before a string of alleged financial crimes surfaced publicly. They accuse Murdaugh of scheming and stealing about $8.5 million from more than a dozen victims, including through his family’s firm and from clients. He has yet to face trial or enter a plea on those charges.
An attorney for Murdaugh said during the motions hearing Tuesday that the state’s allegations defy logic.
Murdaugh “knew the jig was up, so he went home and butchered, blew the head off his son and butchered his wife. There’s not one shred of evidence there were any problems between any of them,” defense attorney Richard “Dick” Harpootlian said, adding, “This is a fabrication described as bad character evidence: He stole all this money so he must have killed his wife and son.”
His lawyers have also said he had an alibi on the night of the killings and that he was spending time with his mother, who has dementia, and her caregiver.
More than 250 potential witnesses could be called during the trial, which could last a few weeks. They include members of the Murdaugh family, including another son, Buster, as well as Curtis Edward Smith, the man who authorities allege Murdaugh hired to kill him in September 2021 so that Buster could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy on his father.
The Associated Press contributed.