The night Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son were fatally shot on the grounds of their rural property in Colleton County, South Carolina, the 22-year-old sent a video on Snapchat to several friends.
The content of the video has yet to be released publicly, but prosecutors say its existence is a «critical» facet of the double murder trial of Murdaugh, 54, a prominent lawyer accused of killing his 52-year-old wife Margaret. , and his youngest son. , Paul, on June 7, 2021. The trial continued Tuesday with jury selection.
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 Monday. to block some of the testimony of the state’s expert witnesses.
Court officials spent the first day of jury selection reviewing about 700 jury summons, and Newman on Tuesday determined 123 qualified jurors to choose from to make up the jury of 12 plus six alternates. The defense suggested that opening statements could begin on Wednesday afternoon.
Newman has already ordered that representatives of Snapchat, as well as Google, be subpoenaed to testify at trial to attest to the evidence on the electronic devices.
Paul sent the Snapchat video to friends at 7:56 p.m., according to court documents, just over two hours before Murdaugh told a 911 dispatcher that he found his wife and son dead.
Neither tech company responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
In addition to potential digital evidence, forensic science can also play a key role during the trial.
But in the latest filings by Murdaugh’s lawyers, his defense team is seeking to have the court refuse to admit evidence that authorities say will show Paul’s blood splattered on his father’s shirt. The defense maintains that the shirt was destroyed before it could be tested and said there is evidence that the expert who examined 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 issue in court documents or in the courtroom since.
The defense documents shed light on aspects of the crime scene that had not previously been made public. They include that Margaret had five different gunshot wounds, including to the back of the head, from a semi-automatic rifle, while Paul was shot twice from a shotgun, to the chest and shoulder.
There is DNA from the victims on Murdaugh’s shirt, but his defense said it was the result of coming into contact with their bodies, which lay near the property’s kennels.
“The crime scene was gruesome; there was a large amount of blood on and around their bodies that transferred to Mr. Murdaugh’s hands and clothing as he frantically checked them for signs of life,” according to the file.
There is no indication that the murder weapons were recovered at the scene.
During a motions hearing held Tuesday in response to the defense team’s submissions, prosecutors agreed they would not address the blood spatter evidence during opening statements and would determine whether to use such expert testimony at trial.
Prosecutors are expected to state at trial why they believe Murdaugh killed his wife and son. At the December hearing, they allege he committed the murders in a desperate attempt to win sympathy before a series of alleged financial crimes came to light. They accuse Murdaugh of scheming and stealing about $8.5 million from more than a dozen victims, including through his family’s firm and his clients. He has yet to face trial or plead guilty to those charges.
A lawyer for Murdaugh said during the motions hearing Tuesday that the state’s allegations defy logic.
Murdaugh «knew the set-up was over, so he went home and murdered, blew off his son’s head and murdered his wife. There’s not a shred of evidence that there was a problem between any of them,» he said. defense attorney 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 child.»
His lawyers have also said that he had an alibi on the night of the murders and was spending time with his mother, who has dementia, and her carer.
More than 250 potential witnesses he could be called during the trial, which could last a few weeks. They include members of the Murdaugh family, including another son, Buster, as well as Curtis Edward Smith, the man authorities allege Murdaugh hired to kill him in September 2021 so Buster could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy to his father.
The Associated Press contributed.