About 10 minutes after allegedly murdering his wife and son near the dog kennels of their South Carolina estate, Alex Murdaugh began making phone calls.
Murdaugh, a scion of the powerful legal family, allegedly began calling anyone who would answer—including his father, his brother, and several friends. During this calling spree, the 53-year-old also texted and called his dead wife, Maggie Murdaugh, twice.
“It’s up to you to decide whether or not he was trying to manufacture an alibi,” state prosecutor Creighton Waters said Wednesday at the start of Murdaugh's murder trial in Colleton County court.
The harrowing allegations were among several stunning details state prosecutor Creighton Waters revealed during his opening statement on Wednesday in Murdaugh’s double-homicide trial. Deemed by local media as the “trial of the century” in the Palmetto state, prosecutors allege that Murdaugh murdered his family on June 7, 2021, in an attempt to gain sympathy and turn the spotlight away from his financial crimes.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with the double homicide of his 52-year-old wife Margaret and his 22-year-old son Paul. Prosecutors allege that around 8:50 p.m. on June 7, 2021, Murdaugh first killed his son with a rifle before fatally shooting his wife.
“Neither Paul nor Maggie had any defensive wounds—as if they didn’t see a threat coming from their attacker,” Waters said. “Both Maggie and Paul were both shot at very close range.”
Authorities say that Murdaugh called the police about two hours later, instantly telling “anyone who would listen that he was not at those kennels” at the time of the murders. But Waters said that phone evidence suggests otherwise, noting that Murdaugh’s cell data shows he “was there just minutes before” his wife and son’s cell phones “go silent forever.”
As prosecutors began their opening statements to a jury of eight women and four men, several members of Murdaugh’s family listened silently two rows behind him. Among them: Murdaugh’s brothers, John Marvin and Randy; his only surviving son, Buster; and his sister-in-law, Liz. All of them are listed as possible witnesses in this trial.
The trial marks the first time Murdaugh is facing a jury in connection with a series of stunning allegations against him—ranging from accusations he swindled millions from his clients and former law firm to a botched assisted suicide scheme so his son could inherit his $10 million life insurance police.
Defense lawyers for Murdaugh have long insisted their client is innocent of the murder charges, claiming that he was with his ailing father at the time of the grisly crime and had no motivation to kill his family. In his opening statements, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian stressed it was his “honor” to represent Murdaugh, whom he asked to stand in front of the jury.
Harpootlian is quick to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, including a strong motivation for Murdaugh to “butcher” his son—who was described as “the apple of his eye”—and loving wife. As the defense attorney graphically detailed to jurors how his family was murdered, Murdaugh began to sob and hunched over in his seat.
Waters, however, wasted no time on Wednesday arguing to jurors that Murdaugh murdered his family. While he acknowledged that the state’s case is circumstantial, he said that does not make it weak. Rather, jurors must focus on “good old-fashioned common sense.”
Detailing some of the evidence, Waters said that jurors will view Murdaugh’s cell phone data from the night of the murders—which shows he was at the house with his family—and a video Paul took at the dog kennels for a friend where his father and mother can be heard.
When officers arrived at the scene, prosecutors have previously said that Paul was found with two gunshot wounds from a rifle. Maggie had been shot six times, with a weapon prosecutors believe to be a .300 Blackout semi-automatic that has not yet been recovered.
“It was a family weapon that killed Maggie Murdaugh,” Waters said Wednesday.
Waters said that jurors will also see body-worn videos of Murdaugh's interactions with officers who arrived at the scene after he called 911. He noted that on the videos, Murdaugh immediately brings up that his motive for the murder was associated with the February 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach. At the time of the murders, Paul was facing trial for allegedly drunk driving the boat, which resulted in the 19-year-old’s death.
“Watch those closely. Watch his expressions. Listen to what he’s saying. Use that common sense. Does this seem right?” Waters said.
Harpootlian said that Murdaugh was “traumatized” the night of the murders and was hysterical when officers arrived at the scene. As evidence of his “shocked” state of mind, the defense lawyer said that Murdaugh armed himself with a gun for his own protection—and tried to load it with the wrong gauge ammo despite being a lifelong hunter.
“They decided that night he did it. Without forensics. Without cell phones without any of that,” Harpootlian said, seemingly trying to explain away his client's various alibis.
About a week after the murders, however, prosecutors allege that Murdaugh showed up at his parent's house early one morning and stashed a “blue raincoat upstairs” that was coated with gunshot residue. Gunshot residue was also allegedly found in Murduagh’s vehicle.
About three months after the murders, Murdaugh would once again find himself the subject of national news after he attempted to stage his own murder in a Lowcountry backroad. Murdaugh has also been named in a slew of lawsuits, and is facing over 80 financial crimes after allegedly engaging in a years-long scheme to steal over $8 million to maintain his “fantasy persona of wealth, respectability, and prominence alive.”
Waters stressed on Wednesday that a “perfect storm” was brewing around Murdaugh as the threat of criminal exposure grew closer—and he responded by killing his family. Comparing the case to a puzzle, Waters said jurors need to piece it together “to reach the inescapable conclusion that Alex - that he - murdered Maggie and Paul.”
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