Opportunity, means and motive – the three pillars of prosecution – were clearly outlined at Alex Murdo’s trial this week in what appeared to be a series of losses in the courtroom for the man at the center of a horrific case. about the double murder that took over America.
The trial, which played out in Walterboro, South Carolina, attracted crowds of journalists and daily coverage in the American media, a combination of deep south intrigue, family strife, political corruption and brutal violence, including a trumped-up attempt on Murdo himself.
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Now jurors have heard claims that Murdo, 54, shot and killed his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, just hours after his business partner told him about $792,000 was missing from the family law firm.
“He burst into tears,” Chris Wilson, Murdo’s business partner, testified Thursday, before Murdo told him he had been stealing money from the company for more than 20 years to keep his opioid addiction going.
Murdo’s tears became the subject of a lawsuit. From time to time in the early days of the case, when graphic images and body camera footage of the crime scene were shown to the court, Murdo would sob or wipe his eyes with a tissue. The defendant was also supported by his surviving son Buster, aged 26.
In one conversation, Murdo, who pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison without parole if found guilty, turned to his son to ask, “Are you all right?” Buster nodded in response.
Prosecutors allege that Murdo carried out the horrific murders to divert attention from the decade of financial crime that was gathering around the defendant “like a perfect storm” at the time.
But jurors in the case have yet to hear the scope of Murdo’s financial claims, which amount to 99 separate charges ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement. During the murders, Murdo also faced a lawsuit over the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach in a boat crash involving his son Paul.
At a hearing scheduled three days after the murders, Murdo’s financial statements, which civil court filings say would “expose [Murdaugh] over the years of alleged wrongdoing” could be made public.
In the murder trial, prosecutor Creighton Waters said he wanted Murdo’s financial fortune to be admitted in order to establish a motive for the murder so that the jury could understand that the defendant “didn’t have options and time”.
Murdo hoped to buy time and sympathy by killing his wife and son, prosecutors said. “He was burning money like crazy,” Waters said in front of a jury last week. “He lived at the speed of money, which was really mind-boggling.”
But Murdo’s defense fought furiously to keep any financial motive from being admitted in court, with defense attorney Jim Griffin calling the move “completely inappropriate.”
Murdo’s financial swap came after seemingly damning evidence showed the defendant was at the scene of the crime at the estimated time of the murders between 9pm and 9:30pm on June 7, 2021.
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It is alleged that Murdo met with his wife and son for dinner before shooting them to death in the kennel of their Moselle country estate, using different weapons to make it look like an ambush. The accused claimed to have slept in the house, then woke up to visit his sick mother before returning to find his wife and son dead.
But the court heard from a South Carolina coroner who testified that Murdo muttered, “I did him such a bad thing” after being shown a photograph of his son’s body during interrogation three days after the murder.
Murdo’s defense argued that he actually said, “They treated him so badly,” and asked why, if Murdo said, “I treated him so badly,” investigators did not verify this and did not ask him to clarify that he meant.
“It was at the beginning of the investigation, it was more of an information gathering interview, and at that particular time, we didn’t have any evidence to dispute anything Alex would have told us,” an agent from the State Law Enforcement Division (Next) said. Jeff Croft. .
According to prosecutors, the chronology of events shows that Murdo was at the scene of the crime at the time of the murders.
Paul Murdo posted a video to Snapchat driving through the estate at 7:56 p.m. Twenty minutes later, at 8:15 pm, Murdo’s wife, Maggie, came home and the family had dinner.
Fifteen minutes later, Paul’s phone begins to approach the kennel. The second video, filmed at 20:44, shows that all three Murdos were together at the kennel. Five minutes later, the phone is locked.
But at 21:06 Murdo’s car starts up and the defendant goes to visit his mother. An hour later, at 10:07 pm, Murdo called 911 and said he returned home to find his wife and son dead.
Investigators later determined that both were shot several times before they were eventually hit in the head: Paul with a shotgun and Maggie with an AR-style rifle.
“He’s brainwashed,” lead attorney Dick Harputlian told Paul’s death court. “All around him is hair, blood, and pieces of a skull on the ceiling. Investigators testified that Murdo’s hands and clothes were clear of blood, despite the fact that he claimed to have tried to turn his son’s body over to check for a pulse.
“He looked like the man who had just decapitated his son?” Griffin asked rhetorically. Laura Rutland, a detective with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, said she couldn’t say “for sure.”
During the investigation, the police found an arsenal of weapons in the house, but never used two types of weapons – a shotgun and an AR-15 – to commit a crime. But ammunition similar to those used in the killings was found at home. The defense alleges that Paul Murdo was known to scatter guns and ammunition throughout the house.
Defense lawyers also argue that there is a “reasonable explanation” for the distance between the shots that killed the couple: one victim – Paul – was found inside a kennel, while his mother was shot some distance away.
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“There are two people there, there are two pistols, one shotgun, another machine gun,” Harputlian said. He suggested that Paul might have been shot by one criminal while the other, acting as an “observer”, was taken by surprise by Maggie.
As part of a defense effort to undermine the prosecution’s case, they raised questions about the apparent failure of investigators to preserve the footprints and tire marks found at the crime scene. Daniel Green, a police officer who was present at the crime scene, said it was “not part of my job description” to preserve the evidence.
Harputlian expressed concern about the preservation of the crime scene. At least one blood trail was left by one of the first rescuers. “Should the police walk through the scene?” Harputlian asked Melinda Worley, Investigator Trace.
“No,” said Worley.
“Do we know what other evidence they might have destroyed?” Harputlian asked Worley.
“I have no idea,” said Worley.
“No, you don’t,” Harputlian retorted.
How closely prosecutors can link Murdo to the crime scene remains key to the case.
“There is no direct evidence. There are no eyewitnesses. There is nothing on the camera. There are no fingerprints. Forensic evidence does not link him to the crime. None,” Harputlian told jurors.
The trial continues.