Day 10: Examiner says traces on gun, phone not enough to ID in Murdaugh murders
Alex Murdaugh, a once prominent Hampton-based attorney from a well-known politically-connected family, is on trial in the deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty. He faces life in prison without parole if found guilty. The trial started last week with jury selection, opening arguments and the initial round of witness testimony. It is expected, for now, to run through Feb. 10 in Walterboro.
How to watch the Murdaugh double murder trial, who to follow from The State, Island Packet
5:30 p.m. — Court adjourned
Judge Clifton Newman has sent court into recess for the weekend.
SLED ballistics expert Paul Greer left the stand after intense questioning from defense attorney Jim Griffin, who at points became frustrated that Greer wouldn’t answer a question “yes” or “no.”
Griffin grilled Greer over whether he could confirm every .300 Blackout rifle “anywhere in the world” would leave unique marks on bullet casings used in the rifle. Greer insisted further explanation was needed to capture the nuance of his analysis.
During cross-examination, Greer clarified that the .300 Blackout shells he found near Maggie Murdaugh’s body and near the side entrance of the Murdaughs’ Moselle home had only been cycled through the same weapon’s chamber, in his opinion, not necessarily fired from the same gun.
The jury will return at 11:30 a.m. Monday, after a 9:30 a.m. hearing between lawyers and Newman.
Mark Tinsley, an attorney who represented the family of Mallory Beach, who died in the 2019 boat wreck, is expected to testify without the jury present.
4:15 p.m. — ‘Inconclusive’ if seized guns fired shells found at Moselle
In cross-examination, defense attorney Jim Griffin pressed SLED ballistics expert Paul Greer on his certainty any of the weapons SLED seized could be matched to bullet casings found at Moselle.
“You cannot, and you did not, and you are not offering an opinion that the item (No.) 22 shotgun was used to murder Paul Murdaugh, correct?” Griffin asked.
Greer said his testing on the shotgun was “inconclusive,” meaning the shells recovered could have been fired by the shotgun seized, or by another, similar weapon.
“And this .300 Blackout,” Griffin pushed on, seeking to undercut the prosecution’s suggestion Paul Murdaugh’s missing .300 Blackout is the murder weapon. “We know a .300 Blackout was used to murder Maggie Murdaugh, correct?”
Tests from the .300 Blackout rifle seized at Moselle were also “inconclusive,” Greer said.
“Meaning, I was unable to determine if those cartridge casings were fired by item No. 33 (the rifle seized from Moselle), or if they’d been fired by another firearm,” Greer added.
3:50 p.m. — Expert says shells at kennels, house from same gun
SLED ballistics expert Paul Greer testified that .300 Blackout bullet casings found at the crime scene and elsewhere across Moselle were cycled into the same gun.
Based on markings left on the shells as they cycled through the rifle, Greer said he determined they were cycled through the same weapon.
The prosecution has never recovered a murder weapon, but they’ve heavily hinted they believe the murder weapon was a .300 Blackout rifle formerly owned by Paul Murdaugh that went missing a few months before he and his mother, Maggie, were killed.
Maggie was killed by a .300 Blackout.
Some of the shells were recovered near the side entrance to Alex Murdaugh’s home. They were “weathered,” indicating they’d been on the ground for some time. In that same area, around March 2021, Paul’s friend Will Loving testified he and Paul were firing the rifle to calibrate a new scope they bought for it.
The defense has discredited Greer’s testimony, arguing there isn’t enough evidence that markings left by one .300 Blackout rifle would differentiate it from any other rifle of the same caliber.
2:52 p.m. — Court back in session
The jury has returned to the courtroom.
Paul Greer, a SLED ballistics expert who examined shell casings from the crime scene and elsewhere across Moselle, remains on the stand.
1:31 p.m. — Court enters lunch recess
Judge Clifton Newman has sent court into recess for lunch.
SLED ballistics expert Paul Greer is still on the stand. Greer has identified various pieces of state evidence, including shell casings, weapons and bullet fragments from the crime scene.
Court will resume at 2:45 p.m.
12:45 p.m. — Ballistics expert testifies before jury
Paul Greer, a SLED ballistics expert who previously testified in motion with the jury absent, has taken the stand.
Greer testified earlier that he examined the markings left on .300 Blackout casings recovered from across the Murdaugh’s Moselle property. The markings were similar enough to determine they were fired from the same rifle, Greer said.
“Firearm identification been around for years,” Greer told the court last Tuesday. “There are many studies showing reliability of firearms identification.”
The defense argued to have Greer’s testimony excluded, claiming there wasn’t sufficient evidence marks left on the casings would differentiate rifles from Moselle from “every other .300 Blackout rifle manufactured in the world.”
12:26 p.m. — State introduces DNA swabs
Prosecutors have blitzed through a slew of SLED agents who collected DNA swabs from persons of interest in the investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s deaths.
SLED agents Blake Johnson, Deborah Horney, Joe Albayalde, and Allendale Police Chief Lawrence Wiggins have all taken the stand briefly to introduce DNA swab evidence they collected.
Albayalde said he collected swabs from Randy Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s brother, and Allen Gonzalez.
Horney testified she took swabs from Morgan Doughty, Paul’s ex-girlfriend, and Miley Altman.
Wiggins collected DNA samples from Anthony Johnson, he said.
Johnson said he took samples from C.B. Rowe, Murdaugh’s former groundskeeper, and Connor Cook, a survivor of Paul’s 2019 boating accident.
None of the witnesses were cross-examined.
12:10 p.m. — Defense questions crime scene fingerprint search
In an ongoing bid to cast doubt on SLED’s examination of the area Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were killed, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian questioned the lack of fingerprint evidence collected from the scene.
“If you had a relatively small room where somebody’s head exploded, and blood and all kinds of bodily fluids were sprayed over the inside of that room, you would want to take a meticulous examination of that room to see if there were finger prints in blood or bodily fluid would you not?” Harpootlian asked.
SLED fingerprint examiner Thomas Darnell confirmed he would have, adding he wasn’t sure “what all they (first responders) had going on” in the immediate investigation.
Harpootlian also suggested investigators overlooked potential sources of fingerprints, such as doorknobs at the kennels.
The defense contends that SLED never considered other suspects but Alex Murdaugh in the murders, and a potentially bungled investigation may have destroyed evidence linking others to the crime scene.
Darnell has stepped down from the stand.
12 p.m. — SLED unable to compare fingerprint traces on phones, guns
SLED investigators identified traces of fingerprints on Paul Murdaugh’s phone and guns retrieved from Moselle, but were unable to identify anyone based on the prints.
SLED fingerprint examiner Thomas Darnell testified he examined the weapons retrieved from Moselle after the murders and Paul’s cellphone.
The swabs returned a “no value for comparison” result, Darnell said, meaning there were traces of fingerprints on the items, but too little detail to identify who they belonged to.
11:42 a.m. — Jury returns to court, fingerprint examiner on stand
SLED fingerprint examiner Thomas Darnell has taken the stand. Jurors have returned to court.
The jury had been absent throughout the morning for a hearing on evidence related to Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes. Judge Clifton Newman has not ruled if the evidence will be admissible in the jury trial.
11:20 a.m. — Financial testimony continues with SC accountant
Carson Burney, a forensic accountant with the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, has taken the stand.
Burney said he investigated Alex Murdaugh’s bank accounts and transactions throughout the double-murder investigation. He was brought on to trace the money Murdaugh allegedly stole from his own clients using a fake Forge Consulting account.
10:45 a.m. — Son of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper testifies
Michael Satterfield, the son of the Murdaugh family’s late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, took the stand.
Gloria Satterfield died after a fall at Moselle in 2018. The State Law Enforcement Division began investigating her death in September 2018, after Hampton County Coroner Angie Topper noted Satterfield’s cause of death was ruled “natural causes” and an autopsy was not conducted.
Her two sons later sued Alex Murdaugh over an alleged plan to steal millions of dollars meant for Satterfield’s estate.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said Murdaugh had already earned two separate settlements, one for $505,000 and another for $3.8 million. Michael Satterfield testified Murdaugh never transferred that money.
“Did you ever get one cent from Alex Murdaugh before all of this happened?” Waters asked.
“No,” Satterfield said.
“And it took all of this happening and a legal process for that to happen, correct?” Waters said.
“Yes,” Satterfield confirmed.
Satterfield left the stand after a brief cross-examination.
10 a.m. — Alex owed millions to Palmetto State Bank
Palmetto State Bank CEO Jan Malinowski testified Alex Murdaugh was deeply in debt after Maggie and Paul’s murders.
In August 2021, Malinowski said Murdaugh’s debts to the bank climbed to a staggering $4.2 million.
Murdaugh’s account was in overdraft by $350,000 on Aug. 9, 2021, Malinoswki said.
The bank’s former CEO, Russell Laffitte, transferred $400,000 to Murdaugh’s account to cover the shortfall, Malinowski testified. Murdaugh then wired $350,000 to Chris Wilson’s law firm on July 15, 2021, Malinowski said.
“Was there any loan documentation, loan application, any sort of paperwork whatsoever justifying Palmetto State Bank sending $350,000 to Chris Wilson?” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters asked Malinowski.
“No, sir,” Malinowski said.
“Whose benefit was this sent for?” Waters pressed on.
“Alex Murdaugh’s,” Malinowski said.
9:45 a.m. — Court begins with financial testimony
Prosecutors have called Jan Malinowski, the president and CEO of Hampton-based Palmetto State Bank.
Alex Murdaugh is accused of using Palmetto State Bank’s services to steal lawsuit settlement funds owed to his clients. He has not been convicted of the financial crimes he was indicted on.
Russell Laffitte, the bank’s former CEO, was in November convicted on white-collar charges. Testimony at his trial said he helped Murdaugh siphon the money.
Malinowski also testified at Laffitte’s federal trial last year.
9:30 a.m. — More financial witnesses to take the stand
Alex Murdaugh was facing a mountain of financial pressure prior to the deaths of his wife and son.
Now, Judge Clifton Newman must decide whether some of that pressure, or all of it, should be shared with a Colleton County jury, who so far has been dismissed from the courtroom as witnesses detail the hours and days leading up to Maggie and Paul’s deaths.
On Thursday, Newman heard from Jeanne Seckinger, the CFO for Murdaugh’s former law firm, now known as Parker Law Group. Earlier June 7, 2021, Seckinger confronted Murdaugh in his office about money missing from the firm’s accounting.
On May 27, 2021, Seckinger sent an email to one of Murdaugh’s paralegals requesting financial documents related to a case Murdaugh worked on with Chris Wilson, an attorney and longtime friend of Murdaugh’s.
Seckinger said the company had received an expenses check for the case, but never received a fees check from Murdaugh.
The missing fees were a staggering $792,000, and Seckinger testified she was originally concerned Murdaugh was attempting to “hide” the money from the legal fall out over the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.
“That would’ve been wrong, and we didn’t want any part of that,” Seckinger said.
Wilson also testified Thursday. At times dabbing his eyes with a Kleenex, Wilson said he last saw Murdaugh in September 2021, when he demanded to know what else Murdaugh hadn’t told him.
“I mean, I loved the guy for so long, and I probably still loved him a little bit. But I was so mad,” Wilson testified.
Wilson said Murdaugh admitted to struggling with an opioid addiction for two decades, and to taking money from the firm.
“He was concerned about me getting my $192,000 back, or seemed concerned,” Wilson said. “I told him I wasn’t worried about that, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t something else.”
The jury is expected to be back in the courtroom at 11:30 a.m.