Alex Murdaugh's theft of millions of dollars was about to be revealed so he killed his wife and son to buy time to figure a way out, a prosecutor said Wednesday during closing arguments in the disgraced South Carolina attorney's murder trial.
Fearing his years of stealing from his law firm and clients would be exposed and hoping to maintain his lofty standing in the community, Murdaugh killed his wife and younger son in the hopes it would make him a sympathetic figure and draw attention away from the missing money, prosecutor Creighton Waters told jurors. Aided by his knowledge of how criminal cases are constructed, he hatched a clever plan to make sure they were at the family's Colleton County property on the night they were killed, June 7, 2021, he said.
“The pressures on this man were unbearable. And they were all reaching a crescendo the day his wife and son were murdered by him,” Waters said. The defense will get to sum up its case on Thursday.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of either murder count. Investigators said his 22-year-old son, Paul, was shot twice with a shotgun and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle outside of the kennels on their property.
Jurors began the day with a visit to the crime scene, where a pool reporter said at least one of them carefully inspected the door frame of a storage closet where Paul Murdaugh was standing when he was killed.
The key piece of evidence connecting Alex Murdaugh to the killings is a video Paul Murdaugh shot from the kennels about five minutes before he last used his cellphone. It took more than a year for federal agents to hack into the young man's locked iPhone and find it.
Alex Murdaugh repeatedly told everyone, starting with the first investigator to respond to the killings, that he hadn’t been at the kennels that night. But while testifying in his own defense, he admitted that he lied and that he had been there.
“Why in the world would an innocent, reasonable father and husband lie about that? And lie about it so early?” Waters said.
Although the weapons used to kill the victims haven't been found, an expert testified that the markings on the bullet casings found near Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched those found on casings at a shooting range on the family's property.
But there was no blood spatter linking the killings to Alex Murdaugh or anyone else, and prosecutors didn't spend much time laying out how they think Murdaugh could have killed his family, cleaned himself up, disposed of the clothes and weapons, and composed himself in the 15-minute window before GPS data shows he left the property to visit his ailing mother.
The prosecution's star crime scene expert said there wasn't enough evidence collected at the scene to definitely say whether there were one or two shooters at the kennels.
Still, Waters said there is enough evidence to link the killings to the financial crimes and to Alex Murdaugh being the only person with the motive, means and opportunity to kill his wife and son.
“As all of these pressures were mounting, the defendant killed Maggie and Paul,' Waters said, pulling out his cellphone and waving it. ”The forensic timeline puts him there. The use of the family weapons collaborates it. And his lies and his guilty actions afterward confirm that."
Waters said Alex Murdaugh has been lying for years to cover up his opioid addiction and the millions of dollars he stole, so it would be easy to lie about being at the kennels and killing his family, and to lie while testifying in his own defense last week.
“Always having to stay one step ahead of the game. Always have to literally beg, borrow and steal for over a decade to have the truth from being exposed,” Waters said.
The prosecutor said he thought Murdaugh rehearsed his testimony and was scared to deviate, so he couldn't give specifics when Waters asked for details that would seem memorable such as his last conversation with his wife at the kennels before she died.
"This defendant has fooled everyone — everyone who thought they were close to him," Waters said. "He fooled Maggie and Paul, too, and they paid for it with their lives. Don’t let him fool you, too.”
The defense has said state agents conducted a poor investigation that focused too quickly on Alex Murdaugh and missed evidence such as fingerprints and shoe prints that could have led to the real killers.
They asked for jurors to be allowed to visit the property in order to help them understand how small the storage room is where Paul Murdaugh was killed and the distance between the two bodies.
Prosecutors opposed the visit, saying the scene looks different than it did in June 2021, as trees and vegetation have grown and no one has lived on the property since the killings.
Judge Clifton Newman allowed the visit but cautioned jurors about the differences in how the property looks now. They were also cautioned to watch for snakes.
Once closing arguments are finished, the jurors will get their instructions and begin deliberating what they learned during a trial that has included more than 75 witnesses and lasted more than six weeks. They will be able to review about 800 documents, photographs, videos of police interviews of Alex Murdaugh and other exhibits while deciding on a verdict.
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