WALTERBORO, S.C. (WSAV) — All eyes remain on the small town of Walterboro as disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial continues into its fifth week.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife and youngest son, Maggie and Paul, at their Colleton County hunting property in June of 2021.
The prosecution rested its case Friday and the defense began presenting its case. This week, defense testimony could prove to be pivotal.
Alex’s only surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, took the stand Tuesday, telling the jury he talked to his mother and father every day. He said that Alex appeared “destroyed” after Maggie and Paul’s murder.
Buster also admitted that Paul was not responsible with his guns and he often had to find the missing weapons for him. He knew about the missing .300 Blackout Rifle and said it had either been lost or stolen and hadn’t been replaced. Buster also told the jury that he was aware of his father’s drug use and hadn’t returned to Moselle since the murders.
Finally, Buster stated that he was not aware of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes. He found out around Memorial Day in September 2021.
Mike Sutton, a forensics engineer, also took the witness stand for the defense. He believes that the shooter had to have been between 5’2″ and 5’4″ by analyzing the distance and angles of the shells. The prosecution worked to discredit Sutton’s testimony establishing that Sutton was not a firearms expert and based his opinions on assumptions.
As the trial continues, we could also see other Murdaugh family members, and even Alex Murdaugh himself, take the stand. The defense could use multiple experts to damage the prosecution’s case by debating the investigation itself and evidence found at the scene and after.
The trial is set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
WSAV is streaming all throughout the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. Follow WSAV‘s Investigative Reporter @WSAVAndrewD and Reporter @JLeonardNews for live tweets and keep up with the trial via our live blogs on wsav.com. Tune in to News 3 at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. for full coverage.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL LIVE BLOG:
9:34 a.m. – Judge Clifton Newman gavels the court into session. Defense attorney Jim Griffin says the defense plans to rest its case by Friday.
Judge Newman scolded Griffin about retweeting a tweet from the Washington Post’s opinion section that claims police were sloppy in their investigation. “It appeared on my Twitter feed this morning … Mr. Griffin, was this a part of your defense strategy?”
Griffin defends himself saying it was merely just a retweet. Newman then talks about how an NBA player was recently fined for retweeting something. Griffin vows to not tweet or retweet anything until the trial is over.
9:44 a.m. – The jury enters the courtroom. Judge Newman says one juror had to be absent and an alternate had to take their place.
9:46 a.m. – The defense calls Murdaugh’s son, Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr(aka Buster) to the stand.
Buster tells the jury some background information on who he is like where he grew up, where he went to high school and what his interests are.
He and their friends would frequently hunt hogs around the property as there was a large population of them and they were considered pests.
Buster testifies that Paul would leave guns around the Moselle property often.
Buster says both he and Paul got 300 Blackouts for Christmas of 2016. The one that has been previously shown in court belongs to him. Paul’s gun was misplaced or stolen, so Buster’s gun became the one that they would both use.
He says Paul would use his gun and leave it somewhere and Buster would have to track it down.
10:02 a.m. – Buster testifies that he would often put his guns away and keep them loaded. He said he would commonly load Turkey rounds followed by bigger rounds just in case he missed his first shot. However, he said he would never load a buckshot with a birdshot following it.
10:04 a.m. – Buster testifies that he was living between Columbia, South Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina at the time of the killings. He also said Paul had an apartment in Columbia and was living there in Spring 2021 while he was attending the University of South Carolina.
10:10 a.m. – Buster testifies that Alex would frequently go to Almeda to check on his parents at all hours. He says he usually went at lunch, but also in the evenings. He says his mother, Maggie, went occasionally but not very regularly.
10:14 a.m. – Griffin asks Buster if it’s normal to park where Murdaugh parked at his parent’s house in Almedia, South Carolina, according to GPS data. Buster says it is. Buster is now looking at pictures of his grandparent’s house and describing the protocol the family used when they visited. “Was it common to go in the backdoor,” Griffin asks. “Yes sir,” Buster replies.
10:21 a.m. – Buster testifies that he would talk to his parents “pretty much every day.” He goes on to say he would talk to them several times per day. Griffin walks through a call log that shows Maggie calling Paul, Buster and Alex frequently. Buster testifies that it was normal for the family to call that frequently.
Buster testifies that nothing was out of the ordinary as far as communication goes on the day of the killings.
10:31 a.m. – Griffin asks Buster about a phone call from Murdaugh at 9:10 p.m., which is roughly 15 minutes after the state says Paul and Maggie were killed. Buster says Murdaugh was telling him that he was going to check on Murdaugh’s mom in Almeda.
Griffin: “What was his demeanor in the conversation?”
Buster: “Normal… probably one of the most regular occurrences.”
Buster also testified that Murdaugh would sometimes leave his phone places while he was on the property. He also said Paul would misplace his phone often.
10:36 a.m. – Buster testifies that he was aware of Murdaugh’s opioid addiction. He was aware of his rehab and several at-home detoxes he would do. Buster testifies he thought Murdaugh had overcome his addiction.
Buster testifies Murdaugh was very patient when the family had disagreements and that there was no violence either.
Buster testifies that the Hampton community turned on the Murdaugh family after media coverage of Paul’s criminal charge in the boat case that left Mallory Beach dead. Buster testifies that Paul received threats on social media and would sometimes get accosted while he was in public. He also said Maggie stopped grocery shopping in Hampton and would instead shop in Walterboro.
10:46 a.m. – Buster testifies that Maggie, Murdaugh, his girlfiend and he went to a baseball game in South Carolina the weekend before. He testifies that it was a normal and fun weekend.
10:49 a.m. Buster testifies that Murdaugh called him late at night on June 7, 2021 and told him about the killings. “I was in shock,” Buster said. Buster said he and his girlfriend packed their bags and headed to the Moselle home. He also said Murdaugh couldn’t really speak and was visibly upset that morning on June 8, 2021.
10:53 a.m. – Buster testifies that he and Murdaugh went back to the Moselle home the next morning. The pair showered there the next day and got things packed for them to stay at the Almedia home. Buster testifies that he stayed with Murdaugh for several days after the killings to keep an eye on him.
11 a.m. – Buster testifies that he got a job in Charlotte, North Carolina sometime after the killings. Buster said he and Murdaugh talked about how his safety but Buster said he didn’t want to carry a gun or have any security personnel accompany him.
Griffin shows Buster the Snapchat video that Paul took several hours before the killings. Buster says he’s not aware if Murdaugh had a seafoam green Columbia shirt. He also said Murdaugh didn’t wear a lot of Vineyard Vines shirts.
11:11 a.m. – Griffin plays video of a SLED investigation of Murdaugh on June, 10, 2021 when he says “I/They did him so bad.” Buster testifies that he heard Murdaugh say “they” and added that Murdaugh said that several times the night of the killings.
11:34 a.m. – Court resumes with the state cross-examining Buster. Prosecution attorney John Meadors starts off by telling Buster he was sorry for his losses.
11:43 a.m. – Buster said he went to the Almeda home with Murdaugh several times. He said he would always call ahead of time even if they visited at 6:30 a.m.
Meadors asks Buster if Maggie planned on staying at the Edisto home the night of the killings. Buster said he didn’t know her plan.
Buster also said he was not aware of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes. He found out around the memorial day holiday in September 2021. Meadors has established several times that Buster had no idea, at that time, of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
11:52 a.m. – The defense calls its fourth witness Mike Sutton, a forensic engineer. Sutton says he mostly examines accidents and failures. He says he collects data, physical evidence and then interprets their findings to determine what happened in the event.
He said he’s worked on around 50 incidents that involved shootings. Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian spent several minutes going over Sutton’s education and career to establish him as an expert.
12:06 p.m. — Harpootlian and Sutton begin showing a presentation of Sutton’s findings where he examined the bulletholes found at the scene of Paul and Maggie’s killings. Sutton says if you draw a line from the bullethole, the angle would determine where the shooter was when the bullet was fired.
Harpootlian and Sutton then discuss a 3D model Sutton created of the crime scene. Sutton put in crime scene photos taken by Special Agent Melinda Worley to help accurately build the rendering. The pictures matched up with Sutton’s projections so he says he’s confident the markings are accurate.
Sutton shows an image with two lines depicting the flight path of the bullet that ended up in the quail pen, where Maggie’s body was found. This was the bullet with an upward trajectory at either 1.5 or 3 degrees. There are two lines depicting each degree. Sutton says other information can be used to determine where along those lines the shooter was likely standing.
He looked at where a collection of cartridge casings was found right beside the trajectories, which could be where the shooter was standing.
He placed a shooter holding a 300-Blackout in the rendering and found that based on the trajectory of the bullet, the shooter was likely not shooting from the shoulder. “It just doesn’t make any sense,” Sutton said. He says the person was likely holding the gun from the hip.
Sutton also created an image with a shooter on the 1.5-degree line and a shooter on a 3-degree line to show the range of how the person was likely able to make the shot.
12:53 p.m. — Sutton said he measured Murdaugh Tuesday morning at 6-foot-4 inches tall. Considering Murdaugh’s height and Sutton’s findings, in order for Murdaugh to be the shooter he would’ve had to have the gun below his kneecap.
“It just makes it very unlikely that a tall person made that shot,” Sutton said. Sutton says his estimation is that the shooter is between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-4 inches tall.
Harpootlian asks Sutton: “So can you say to a degree of engineering certainty, more probably than not, that Alex Murdaugh on the night of June 7, 2021, did not fire that shot into the quail pen.”
“In my opinion, it’s very unlikely that he fired that shot,” Sutton said. Sutton also said during their investigation, SLED did not examine these shot angles.
1:01 p.m. — Judge Newman issues a lunch break until 2:15 p.m.
2:25 p.m. — The defense asks how the gun would be positioned if someone who was 6’4″ was holding it. Sutton says the gun would have been positioned low below the knee.
Sutton says the shot came from a height of 3 feet and 11 inches from the doorsill in an upward trajectory.
Acoustical testing was also done to determine whether someone in the main house could hear a shotgun being fired from the kennels according to Sutton.
The .300 Blackout Rifle would have been louder than the shotgun.
Sutton says you wouldn’t have been able to hear the shots from the house. He tells the defense, “there were times we shot a shotgun near the house and we couldn’t hear it.”
3:02 p.m. — Harpootlian presents a graph depicting Alex Murdaugh’s speed as he traveled from Moselle to Almeda. The defense asks if Murdaugh would have been able to see Paul and Maggie’s bodies when he pulled up, but the prosecution objects and Judge Newman sustains the objection.
Sutton says the bodies would have been visible, but could not say what Alex Murdaugh saw on the night of June 7.
The prosecution enters several objections challenging the qualifications of Sutton.
Harpootlian asks Sutton if the phone would have tumbled if it had been thrown out of the window. Sutton says yes, the phone could have traveled up to 150 feet.
3:18 p.m. — The jury leaves for a break.
3:36 p.m. — The jury returns.
The prosecution begins cross-examining Sutton. The prosecution asks when Sutton was retained and he answers that Jim Griffin called him in September 2022.
Sutton finalized the PowerPoint he presented to the jury one day before the trial. He gets paid $350 an hour for his time. He says that he isn’t sure how many total hours he’s worked, but he’s been to Moselle twice, he guessed he has 40-50 hours invested in the case.
Sutton was retained to work on the boat case where Mallory Beach was killed. The prosecution confirms that Sutton’s background is in mechanical engineering.
The prosecution asks if guesswork is involved in engineering. Sutton replies saying that engineers do make assumptions based on the facts of the case. The prosecution asks if engineers base their opinions on assumptions. Sutton says opinions can’t be based on assumptions.
Sutton tells the prosecution that he has no formal training in pathology or firearms. Sutton says he does analyze gunshot trajectory professionally.
3:51 p.m. — The prosecution presents the graph of Alex Murduagh’s Suburban on the night of June 7.
The prosecution asks if Sutton can identify certain times on the chart without the use of his laptop. Sutton says no, but he points out two lines that he thinks could be certain times that the prosecution asked for. The state presses Sutton to answer the question with certainty without using the laptop. Sutton is unable to identify the times without the laptop.
The state is working to discredit Sutton. The prosecution begins showing Sutton images of the Moselle property and asking about sound studies Sutton had performed in the past.
The prosecution asks Sutton to identify a .300 Blackout Rifle. The prosecution asks if he’s aware if the gun would be considered a pistol, and he says he was unsure. Next, the prosecution asks Sutton to identify 12 gauge buckshot and then turkey load.
Sutton says the volume of the TV wouldn’t have made a difference on the night of the murders because the sound of the gunshots would have been too quiet.
The prosecution asks if the height of the trees would have an effect on the sound. Sutton says minor variables like wind, humidity, and the trees wouldn’t make a difference.
The prosecution asks if Sutton has any formal training on shotguns and Sutton says no.
4:00 p.m. update:
4:23 p.m. — The state then asks if he could determine the spread of a shotgun. Sutton gives an opinion but says he would have to look it up to be sure.
The prosecution asks Sutton how he can be sure that the last pellet, missed by SLED investigators, went through the window. Sutton says he doesn’t need to test that because ” that’s what happened.”
The prosecution shows the jury an image of Alex Murdaugh standing next to a tape measurer. His shoulder is 64 inches above the floor. The state shows Sutton several more images including one of the doghouse. Sutton is unable to recall how tall the doghouse is off the top of his head.
A computer-rendered image of a 5’2″ person shooting a rifle from the hip is shown to the jury. Sutton explains how he determined the posture and distance of the shooter.
The prosecution asks if it was possible that cartridge casings were moved. Sutton says it was possible. Where they lay may not be where they fell that night.
The prosecution continues referring to the subject generated by Sutton as “the 12-year-old.”
Harpootlian objects saying the state is misinterpreting the facts.
Judge Newman overrules the objection.
5:00 p.m. update:
5:01 p.m. — The state asks if Sutton’s calculations accounted for the projectiles passing through something like wood or a human body. Sutton says he did not.
The defense begins questioning Sutton again.
Judge Newman tells Harpootlian to stop leading the witness.
Harpootlian asks Sutton if SLED did any of the trajectory calculations that he did. Suttons says no. Harpootlian asks one of his clerks to stand up saying she was 5’3″ trying to prove that an adult could have been that tall.
5:25 p.m. — The jury is dismissed for the day and will return to the courtroom tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.
6:00 p.m. update:
WCBD contributed to this story.