COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Week one of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial is complete, with nine witnesses having testified thus far.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL: DAY 4 RECAP
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On Friday, three witnesses took the stand: one investigator from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office and two from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
Body camera footage released from the night of the murders showed a distraught Alex Murdaugh being interviewed by first responders. One of the people conducting that interview, Laura Rutland, testified.
Both prosecution and defense focused heavily on how Rutland remembered Murdaugh looking that night. She described him countless times as clean, having no blood on his body or clothes despite him admitting to touching the bodies and the grizzly nature of the crime scene. Defense took the testimony as support for him not being present at the time of the murders, but prosecutors and Rutland indicated he may have changed his clothes.
Another witness, SLED agent Melinda Worley, served as a crime scene expert with a focus on footwear. Prosecutors used her to debunk many accusations made by the defense that the crime scene was contaminated because of improper procedure. Worley testified that evidence was properly preserved and documented. She also provided insight about bloody footprints and tire tracks found at the crime scene, saying the footprints matched Paul’s shoes and the tire tracks belonged to the caretaker for the dogs.
Worley’s examination by prosecutors took around four hours, as they meticulously had her present several pieces of evidence. The defense will pick up questioning Worley at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
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4:35 p.m. – Defense asked if court could recess for the weekend and pick up with cross-examination Monday morning. Court will resume Monday at 9:30 a.m.
2:21 p.m. – Court resumed. The state picked up questioning Worley, asking about the shell casings collected around the crime scene.
They ask about tire impressions found on the property. Worley says they took photographs but did not do an extended analysis because they concluded that they belonged to the caretaker for the dogs.
Prosecution is asking Worley to open several bags of evidence, take the items out one by one, and confirm what they are. The process is long. Evidence includes, but is not limited to, shotgun shells, seatbelts, projectile fragments, plastic wadding, and the shoes Paul was wearing at the time of his death.
Prosecutors then move to asking about how Worley processed Murdaugh’s clothing.
She said they processed his clothing with a chemical called LCV that turns purple when it comes into contact with blood. Things like rust and bleach can also cause the reaction.
Worley said some spots on the shirt and Murdaugh’s shorts tested presumptive positive for blood. She was not involved in any further analysis of the shirt.
Worley said that over time, LCV causes any area of the object sprayed to turn purple. Worley does not mention it, but this happened to Murdaugh’s shirt. The shirt has been the subject of much contention between the prosecution and the defense.
1:05 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch and will resume at 2:20 p.m.
12:22 p.m. – SLED agent Melinda Worley is called as the ninth witness. She is an expert crime scene examiner with a focus on footwear and tires.
They ask about protocol to prevent contaminating the crime scene, which defense has tried throughout the case to prove was improper. Worley said it would not be normal to wear foot coverings or “booties” to outdoor crime scenes.
Worley said it took her over two hours to get to the scene because she responded from Columbia. Upon arriving, she said she met with agents on scene and did an initial walk-through. They observed evidence marked by CCSO and looked for additional evidence before they began taking photographs.
Prosecution asks about the crime scene and how it was processed.
Worley investigated the bloody footprints found in the feed room. She compared them to the shoes Paul was wearing when he died. She said the footprints in the feed room corresponded with Paul’s shoes.
12:16 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. Dick Harpootlian asks about Cirencione’s role at SLED. He asks if she did any crime scene processing other than receiving items for chain-of-custody purposes. She says she did not do any crime scene processing in this case.
Harpootian identifies the phone as Maggie Murdaugh’s.
12:02 p.m. – The eighth witness, SLED agent Delila Cirencione, is called to the stand. She is currently in the behavioral science unit but was in the crime scene unit.
Cirencione collected DNA swabs from Paul and Maggie. She also collected a cell phone that was seized as evidence.
11:55 a.m. – Prosecution follows up with a few more questions about Rutland’s assistance with the SLED investigation, her interview with Murdaugh that night, and what she saw at the scene.
Prosecution goes on to ask Rutland if Murdaugh looked like somebody who had just changed his clothes. Defense objects. Objection is overruled. Rutland says Murdaugh’s clothes did appear fresh. Prosecution notes it was raining that night and Murdaugh was sweating, but his clothes were dry.
11:15 a.m. – Defense began cross-examining Rutland. Jim Griffin questions her description of the scene, noting the large amount of blood, brain matter, etc at the crime scene. They then contradict that with her description of Murdaugh as clean. Griffin asks if Murdaugh looked like he had just blown his son’s head off that evening. Rutland says it would depend on a lot of things, like distance.
They discuss the collection of the clothes Murdaugh was wearing that night. Rutland says she was nearby when Owens collected Murdaugh’s clothes.
Griffin asks whether when they were interviewing Murdaugh, they asked how he tried to turn Paul over. Rutland says they did not ask that. They also did not ask where Murdaugh tried to check Paul’s pulse.
Rutland is asked about assisting SLED in the following days searching the property.
Griffin asks about notes made in Rutland’s report about markings on Paul and Maggie that may have indicated signs of a struggle. He references a note about Maggie’s fingernails, possible hair in her hand, and scratches and a bruise on Paul’s face.
He then asks whether Alex Murdaugh was a suspect that night. “That night, everybody was a suspect,” Rutland says.
Defense plays a video that they describe as sensitive. The video depicts Paul’s body covered by a sheet. Murdaugh looks down, closes his eyes, and rocks back and forth as the video is played.
11:10 a.m. – Court resumed. Judge Newman reminded counsel that only one person from each team should cross-examine each witness and only that person should make objections.
10:56 a.m. – Court is in recess for 10 minutes as counsel and Judge Newman discuss a matter.
9:37 a.m. – Detective Laura Rutland with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office is called as the seventh witness. The prosecutor jokingly asks if she’s nervous. She says yes. He says “don’t worry, no one is watching.” She mainly focuses on child crimes and internet crimes against children.
Rutland lives in Ridgeville, about 45 minutes to an hour away from Colleton County. She was the one to prepare the search warrant for the property on the night of the murders.
Upon learning that she had no knowledge of the Murdaugh family and was only vaguely familiar with the boat crash, she was appointed as the SLED liaison.
Rutland said that when she got to the scene, the first thing that struck her was the overwhelming smell.
As she describes the nature of Maggie and Paul’s injuries, Murdaugh doubles over sobbing.
Rutland said that after she saw the bodies, she went over to talk to Murdaugh. He was standing with his brother Randy and a man who he introduced as his personal attorney, Danny Henderson.
Rutland said that she saw what appeared to be fresh shoe impressions in a sandy area near the hangar shed. They appeared to be flat shoes or flip-flops, according to Rutland. She said she was positive it was just one set and it looked like the person walked in one direction and then maybe doubled back.
She and her supervisor, Jason Chapman, followed the prints. They were careful to walk alongside them, about a foot to the left she said. They appeared to go down to the end of the building and turn around. She said that was the only set of prints that she saw.
Rutland looked at the shoes Maggie was wearing to see if they could be the shoes that matched the impressions, and Rutland said they were very similar.
The prosecutor asks if the defense contacted her about the footprints. She said they did.
They then review Rutland and lead SLED agent David Owens’ interview with Murdaugh on scene. They conduct the interview in Owens’ car because it is raining. Rutland, Owens, Murdaugh, and Danny Henderson are in the car.
Body camera footage of the interview is played. Murdaugh sounds like he is sobbing uncontrollably as he describes discovering the scene.
Murdaugh tells them he tried to turn Paul over and his cell phone popped out of his pocket. He said he put it back immediately. He said that he tried to take both Paul and Maggie’s pulses and then called 911. Murdaugh said after he called 911 he called his brother Randy and his brother John and then tried to call a neighbor.
Owens questions Murdaugh about the family relationship. He describes his and Maggie’s relationship as wonderful; he says they had some issues, but it was normal. He says his and Paul’s relationship was as good as it could be.
Owens asks if they’ve had any problems out there. Murdaugh says the boat wreck is the only thing that comes to his mind. He says there has been a lot of negative publicity, a lot of people online saying nasty stuff, and that when Paul goes out he has been “punched and hit, attacked a lot.” Owens asks if Paul has received any direct threats. Murduagh says repeatedly that Paul gets them all the time.
Owens asks if there is anybody that they need to talk to tonight. Murdaugh says he can’t think of anybody he is overly suspicious of off the top of his head.
He says “it’s a stupid thing, I’m embarrassed to even say it…” then talks about a guy he had just hired to work on the property — C.B. Rowe — who told Paul some story about how he got in a fight in high school then was put on an undercover team of Navy Seals. Owens and Murdaugh agree the story is far-fetched. Murdaugh noted that Rowe was off today and that he really does not think Rowe is the person responsible. “For all his weirdness, I mean I do think that they got along pretty well,” Murdaugh said.
Owens asks if anybody from the boat accident would come after Paul. Murdaugh says he doesn’t know of any direct threats from any people on the boat. He said most of the boating accident threats came from people Paul didn’t know or only knew distantly. He recalls a time Paul went to Charleston and came back with a black eye.
Rutland asks how Paul is handling it. Murdaugh says he’s never been prouder of Paul in how he has handled the pressures and adversity in that situation and that Paul is a wonderful kid.
They discuss weapons on the property. Murdaugh says there are probably 25 guns of all varieties and that he doesn’t have a list but he can make one.
Murdaugh tells them it is very common for Maggie to be out at the kennels in the evenings.
They ask if he has any cameras on the property. He says he has deer cameras around the property, but none near the crime scene.
Prosecutors ask Rutland about Murdaugh’s claims that he tried to check Paul’s pulse. They focus in on the fact that Paul is lying face down with his arms under his body, so his wrists would not be accessible. Given the extent of injuries to Paul’s head, checking the pulse on his neck would also be difficult, they said. Murdaugh acknowledged that he tried to roll Paul over. Prosecutors focused on the fact that Rutledge remembered Muraugh’s hands, clothes, and shoes being clean. She also did not remember seeing any footprints or knee prints around the body.
9:06 a.m. Alex Murdaugh arrived at the courthouse for day five of his double murder trial with a suit jacket covering his handcuffs.
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