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Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Will Alex Murdaugh testify? Takeaways from his murder trial


The defense team at disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial finally get their chance to present their version of events after more than three weeks of testimony.

Murdaugh, 54, is accused of killing his wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, at their home in June 2021 as the once-prominent attorney’s career and finances were crumbling. Murdaugh, whose family dominated the legal system in tiny Hampton County for generations, has denied any role in the fatal shootings.

Prosecutors called 61 witnesses and introduced more than 550 pieces of evidence over 17 days of testimony — from descriptions of the brutality of the killings to numbing details about bank records.

Here are some key takeaways so far.

WILL ALEX MURDAUGH TESTIFY?

Murdaugh’s lawyers haven’t given any indication publicly if the disbarred attorney will take the stand.

Doing so would allow him to explain some of the evidence prosecutors presented.

For example, Murdaugh told police he wasn’t at his Colleton County home in the hours before the killings, but several witnesses said they heard his voice on video taken from the dog kennels there just minutes before his wife and son were shot. Their bodies were found near the kennels.

Murdaugh also could respond to his sister-in-law’s testimony that he didn’t appeared scared in the weeks after the slayings even as other family members were worried that they, too, were potential targets.

Testifying also could come with risks.

Defendants who choose to do so sometimes give jurors evidence of their guilt.

For Murdaugh, he could open himself up to questions about some of the roughly 100 other charges he is awaiting trial for. Those include allegations that he stole millions from clients and others.

He faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder.

TRIALS WITHIN A TRIAL

Throughout the double murder trial, Judge Clifton Newman has allowed prosecutors to present evidence related to those other charges — from insurance fraud for allegedly trying to arrange his own killing to theft to money laundering to tax evasion.

Prosecutors have argued that evidence is central to the murder case. They say Murdaugh wanted sympathy to buy time to cover up his financial crimes that were about to be discovered. They also say it shows that when Murdaugh is about to face dire consequences, he chooses violence.

His defense team has strongly objected, saying the crimes are unrelated to murder. They say that evidence is intended to convince a jury that Murdaugh is so bad he must have killed his family, even if prosecutors haven’t proved that.

Newman’s decisions in favor of prosecutors have led to trials within a trial, with days spent on testimony related to the other allegations.

If Murdaugh is convicted of murder, that’s likely to be a huge part of any appeal.

ALEX MURDAUGH’S HEIGHT

The defense has made Murdaugh’s height an issue, suggesting he’s too tall to have fired the shot that killed his son.

At one point, defense attorney Jim Griffin got out a tape measure during a courtroom break and stretched to log his client’s height, thought to be about 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters).

A pathologist and a crime scene expert testified the bullet that killed Paul Murdaugh entered through his abdomen and traveled at a steep angle up through his head, and that the barrel of the shotgun was held away from his skin. The defense suggested a tall man would have to stand at an odd, off-balance angle with a shotgun with a strong kickback to fire that way.

Jurors also heard about a blue rain jacket with gunshot residue on the inside lining. Prosecutors suggested Alex Murdaugh used it to take away the murder weapons, which have not been found.

The jacket was recorded as a large on the crime lab’s evidence log sheet, a lab tech said under questioning from Murdaugh’s attorneys.

They later asked the housekeeper and family friend who washed the family’s clothes what size Murdaugh wore.

Her answer: XXL.

EVIDENCE TEASED

A receipt with a $1,021.10 item from Gucci circled. Hair in Maggie Murdaugh’s hands. Footprints near the kennels that seemed to be from her flip flops.

Those are among the evidence that prosecutors have presented but not yet explained.

Out of nowhere Thursday, prosecutor John Meadors mentioned a cooler that a caretaker at the Murdaugh home mentioned was there before the killings and he hadn’t seen since.

Meadors asked a state agent if someone could theoretically take wet clothing or guns away in a cooler and not get the inside of their vehicle dirty. No cooler has been placed in evidence and that was the only mention of it so far.

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