Alex Murdaugh’s defense this morning fought the suggestion he wrapped the murder weapons used to kill his wife and son inside a blue raincoat dumped at his mother’s house.
The State says the coat was covered with gun residue and found stashed in a closet at Libby Murdaugh’s home in Almeda nine days after Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, were murdered at the family’s hunting estate, Moselle.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin this morning grilled forensic scientist Megan Fletcher about how the rain jacket could have accumulated gun residue in any number of ways and said the particles could have been on the garment for years.
Fletcher yesterday told the court she found 38 gunshot residue particles across the interior and exterior of the coat. She found so many, in fact, that she stopped searching the jacket. John Meadors for the State asked if a firearm could have been wrapped inside the coat. She confirmed that was a possibility.
But Griffin this morning said that even the seat Fletcher was sitting in could have gun residue on it given that the evidence had been presented from the witness stand. She agreed that was possible.
The raincoat the prosecution say Smith saw Murdaugh with nine days after the killings. The jacket was found to be covered in gun residue. It was presented on Monday at Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina
Murdaugh arrives at court Wednesday morning with his blazer hiding his handcuffs
The defense attorney added that the residue on the rain jacket might have come from Alex’s father, Randolph Murdaugh III, tossing his jacket onto his shotgun in his truck. Fletcher said this too was plausible.
Fletcher told jurors yesterday that as well as the ‘significant’ gunshot residue on the coat, she found particles on Murdaugh’s t-shirt, shorts, his hand and the seatbelt of his car, from samples taken by cops the night of the killings.
Griffin asked the forensic expert if the small amount of gunshot residue found on Murdaugh’s clothes and hands could have come from the shotgun he claims he grabbed for protection after arriving back at Moselle to find Maggie and Paul dead.
Fletcher agreed this was possible, telling jurors: ‘That would be consistent with somebody that had a firearm in his hand prior to collection.’
Griffin also questioned why the blue tarp discovered at Murdaugh’s parents’ house was not tested for gunshot residue.
The defense claim that the ‘blue something’ that Murdaugh’s mother’s caregiver saw him with nine days after the killings was a blue tarp, not the raincoat.
Fletcher said the jacket was seized because it was bundled up in a closet, while the tarp was folded in a storage container.
Griffin grilled her about the logic of that decision, but the forensic scientist said this was not her job – she did not recover the item from the property she only analyzed it.
The prosecution is still laying out its case in the double-murder trial at Colleton County Court in Westboro.
Murdaugh, 54, is accused of shooting his wife and son dead at the kennels on the estate in a bid to distract from the millions he had embezzled from his law firm.
On the day of the murders, June 7, 2021, he had been confronted by the chief financial officer at the firm over $792,000 that he had stolen. Prosecutors say this was just the tip of the iceberg and ‘the walls were closing in.’
Further evidence of his financial crimes is set to be heard by jurors later Wednesday after Judge Clifton Newman ruled that it is admissible.
Buster Murdaugh arrives with his girlfriend Brooklynn White and Alex Murdaugh’s sister Lynn at Colleton County Court on Wednesday
The defense battled to keep the testimony of seven state witnesses from the jury, arguing that there is ‘no logical connection’ between his financial crimes and the murders of Maggie and Paul.
But the judge on Monday granted the prosecution’s motion because the crimes ‘are so intimately connected and explanatory, it’s vital for context and essential for telling the complete story.’
Giving evidence on the blue raincoat yesterday, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent Megan Fletcher testified she found a large amount of gunshot residue inside the jacket and said it was consistent with either firing a gun while wearing it inside out or being wrapped around a recently fired weapon.
Defense attorneys said prosecutors did not connect the jacket to Murdaugh through the confusing testimony of Murdaugh’s mother’s caregiver, who said he brought a ‘blue something’ to the house at around 6.30am, nine days after the killings.
Witnesses have testified the Murdaugh family often shot guns and hunted on their property and the defense said residue can’t be linked to a specific weapon.
The defense did an ‘effective job in cross-examination in raising questions as to the credibility of the witness. And that is the exact job the jury has to do – weigh the credibility of the witness,’ the judge said.
Muschelle ‘Shelley’ Smith (left) – the caregiver of Murdaugh’s elderly mother Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Alexander Murdaugh (right) – told how she spoke to the alleged killer on the night of the murders
But Newman’s decisions could also help the defense. If Murdaugh is found guilty, the decisions could be brought up on appeal.
The extra witnesses will extend a trial that reached its 12th day on Tuesday with no end to the prosecution’s case in sight.
Jurors heard Tuesday from Ronnie Crosby, a law partner with Murdaugh for more than two decades.
Crosby testified for the prosecution that Murdaugh told him and other law partners he was never at the kennels the night of the shootings and later became the third witness to identify Murdaugh’s voice along with his wife and his son on a video from the kennels about five minutes before investigators say they were killed.
Crosby became emotional and took his time answering several times during his testimony. Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked Crosby if he had a drink after a partner called him to his home and showed a folder of evidence that Murdaugh was stealing money.
‘Yea, ultimately more than one,’ Crosby said.
Ronnie Crosby, who worked with Murdaugh at PMPED, said that in the early hours of June 8, 2021 – the day after the murders – the alleged killer told him he was only ever at the crime scene after getting back from his mother’s in Almeda, South Carolina. However, in video played to the court taken by Paul just minutes before prosecutors say he was killed, Crosby told jurors he could ‘100 percent’ hear Murdaugh’s voice
Crosby didn’t go to a meeting the next day where other partners confronted Murdaugh and he resigned. But he said he was told that Murdaugh told his colleagues ‘he knew he was going to get caught at some point.’
On cross-examinaton, Crosby said he arrived at the Murdaugh home about an hour after the bodies were found the night of the killings. He got close enough to the bodies to know what kind of ammunition was fired and said it never looked like state agents searched the Murdaugh home.
The next day after state agents left, Crosby said he and another partner saw birdshot still near the shooting scene and thought about collecting it in case it was important evidence.
‘It was so bad. We thought at some point we were going to clean it up. But it overwhelmed both my partner Mark and I,’ Crosby said.
Tuesday’s testimony started with Jeanne Seckinger, who is the office manager and chief financial officer for the law firm Murdaugh’s family founded more than a century ago.
Murdaugh took money from legal settlements that was supposed to go to clients by routing it to a fake company that he created and that had a similar name to the company the law firm had intended to send it to, Seckinger said. The real company would have then dispensed the money to the firm’s clients.
Alex Murdaugh pictured with his wife Maggie and their two sons Paul (left) and Buster
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh about almost $800,000 in missing law firm fees on the day of the killings. But during the conversation, Murdaugh found out doctors had told his father he would die within days. Seckinger said all the grief ended the investigation into the missing fees until things settled down.
After an extensive investigation, the firm determined that Murdaugh took more than $5 million from clients, and it is in the process of paying them everything they were owed, Seckinger said.
For nearly two hours, Seckinger went over dozens of checks Murdaugh sent to his fake company. Then he asked why the law firm had to pay the money back.
‘Alex had stolen it,’ Seckinger said again and again.
On cross-examination, she agreed with defense attorney Jim Griffin that Murdaugh faces criminal charges for each client.
Griffin also asked Seckinger if it was true that Murdaugh started stealing in 2011, ‘Some 10 years before the murders of Maggie and Paul?’
‘That´s correct. He managed to fool a lot of people, myself included,’ Seckinger said.
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