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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Alex Murdaugh trial will be battle of evidence as state reveals Snapchat video is ‘critical’ to case

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On the night that Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son were to be fatally shot on the grounds of their Colleton County, South Carolina, estate, the 22-year-old sent a video on Snapchat to several friends.

What the video contains has not yet been made public, but prosecutors say its existence is a “critical” facet of the double murder trial of Murdaugh, 54, a once-prominent attorney accused of murdering his wife Margaret, 52, and to have killed their youngest son. , Paul, on June 7, 2021. The trial continued with jury selection on Tuesday.

Some of the prosecution’s evidence in the case — and what can and cannot be presented at trial — must be determined by Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, as Murdaugh’s defense team filed motions on Monday to to block state testimony.

Court officials spent the first day of jury selection going through about 700 jury summons, and Newman on Tuesday determined 123 qualified jurors to choose from to form the jury of 12 plus six alternates. The defense suggested opening statements could begin as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Newman has already ordered Snapchat and Google representatives to be subpoenaed to testify to evidence on electronic devices at trial.

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 was supposed to tell 911 that he found his wife and son dead.

Neither technology company responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.

In addition to potential digital evidence, forensic investigation can also play an important role during the process.

But in the latest filings from Murdaugh’s lawyers, his defense team is trying to get the court to refuse to admit evidence that authorities said would have spattered Paul’s blood on his father’s shirt. The defense claims the shirt was destroyed before they could test it and they said there is evidence that 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 have not commented on the subject in court documents or in court since then.

The defense files shed light on aspects of the crime scene that had not previously been made public. They include Margaret having 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 says that was the result of coming into contact with their bodies, which were found 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 to Mr. Murdaugh’s hands and clothing as he frantically checked them for signs of life,” the filing said.

There are no indications that the murder weapons were recovered at the scene.

At a motion hearing held Tuesday in response to the defense team’s filings, prosecutors agreed that they would not address evidence of blood spatter during opening statements and would determine whether to use such expert testimony at trial.

Prosecutors are expected to explain at trial why they believe Murdaugh killed his wife and son. At the December hearing, they claimed he committed the murders in a desperate attempt to win sympathy before a series of alleged financial crimes came to public light. They accuse Murdaugh of planning and stealing approximately $8.5 million from more than a dozen victims, including through the family business and clients. He has yet to face trial or plead those charges.

A Murdaugh attorney said at Tuesday’s hearing that the state’s charges defy logic.

Murdaugh “knew the mold was over, so he went home and butchered, blew off his son’s head and butchered his wife. There’s no evidence whatsoever that there was any trouble between either of them,” lawyer Richard “Dick Harpootlian, adding, “This is a fabrication described as evidence of bad character: 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 murders and spent time with his mother, who suffers from dementia, and her carer.

More than 250 potential witnesses can be called during the process, which can take several weeks. Among them are members of the Murdaugh family, including another son, Buster, and Curtis Edward Smith, the man authorities say was hired by Murdaugh to kill him in September 2021 so that Buster could get a $10 million life insurance policy from his father. can collect.

The associated press contributed.


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