Day 7: Witness says someone held Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone around time of death
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
5:45 p.m. — Court adjourned
Judge Clifton Newman has adjourned court with Dove still on the stand.
Court will resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, when Lt. Dove with SLED will resume his testimony, and later the defense will start cross-examination.
5:30 p.m. — Witness: Maggie’s phone showed activity after death
Phone activity consistent with someone picking it up and attempting to unlock it occurred after the last time Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone was unlocked, Lt. Dove said.
According to the data pulled from Maggie’s phone, Dove said the camera activated itself at 8:54 p.m. the night of her death on June 7, 2021. It was on for one second, which Dove said is similar to a phone attempting to recognize someone’s face for facial recognition unlock.
Dove also said the phone recorded steps taken and distance traveled sometime around 9 p.m., but said the steps were recorded “in a range” rather than a specific time. The phone also recorded several orientation changes after Maggie’s phone unlocked for the final time, changes that Dove said were consistent with someone “picking it up” and being held in someone’s hand.
Maggie’s phone was found hundreds of meters from her body, a previous SLED witness, Jeff Croft, confirmed.
One orientation change occurred at 9:06 p.m. — the same time Alex Murdaugh made one of several phone calls to Maggie’s phone.
4:50 p.m. — Prosecution shares Maggie Murdaugh’s final texts, calls
The state presented a report pulled from Maggie Murdaugh’s phone detailing the final text messages and phone calls received before her death, using the data to support prosecution’s timeline of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s murders.
In opening statements, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters claimed that Maggie’s phone “went silent forever” at 8:49 p.m. on June 7, 2021, placing her time of death around then.
At 8:31 p.m. the night of her death, Maggie received a text message from Alex Murdaugh’s brother, John Marvin. The text, Dove testified, reads, “I plan on going over to visit dad tomorrow afternoon, is anyone else planning to go?”
Alex Murdaugh and John Marvin Murdaugh’s father, Randolph Murdaugh, was in poor health and died shortly after Paul and Maggie were killed.
Maggie read the message at 8:31 p.m., Dove said. At 9:08 p.m., Maggie received a text message from Alex Murdaugh that was never read.
Maggie received another text message at 9:34 p.m. from Rogan Gibson, a friend of Paul’s, who was attempting to contact Paul. It was left unread.
Roughly an hour before prosecution says she was killed, Maggie had a phone call with a contact, “Barbara,” that lasted nearly three minutes. That was the final phone call that Maggie answered. She later missed five phone calls from Alex Murdaugh at 9:04, 9:06, 9:06, 9:45 and 10:03 p.m. the same night.
Dove also said the report noted Maggie’s phone was unplugged from a power source at 8:17 p.m.
4:07 p.m. — Court on break, Maggie Murdaugh’s cell data introduced
Judge Clifton Newman has sent court into a 15-minute break.
Prior to the recess, the state introduced a call log from Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone from June 5, 2021, to June 7, 2021.
So far, Dove has testified that when he received Maggie’s phone, there were five missed calls from Alex Murdaugh and two missed calls from his brother, John Marvin Murdaugh. He has not shared when those calls were received, but the call log introduced prior to the break could specify.
The phone was received in airplane mode, Dove said, and the location services option was set to “on.”
3:17 p.m. — Next witness SLED computer crimes agent
Lt. Britt Dove, a SLED agent specializing in internet and computer crimes analysis, has taken the stand.
Dove is one of numerous names listed in the chain of custody for Paul Murdaugh’s phone, which sparked a brief debate between prosecutors and the state just before jurors returned from lunch.
Prosecutors teased that the contents of Alex, Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s phones may place Murdaugh at the crime scene during the murders on June 7, 2021. Murdaugh has denied that extensively.
The locations of Paul and Maggie’s phones — particularly Maggie’s, which one SLED witness testified was found hundreds of meters from her body — have been long-standing mysteries surrounding the killings.
Dove is the 15th witness called by the state.
2:40 p.m. — Witness who gave Alex Murdaugh assembled guns testifies
John Bedingfield, a state Department of Natural Resources agent who Alex Murdaugh asked to construct two .300 Blackout rifles for his sons to hunt hogs, has taken the stand. Bedingfield and Murdaugh are related. Their grandmothers were sisters, he said.
Bedingfield testified he assembled two .300 Blackout rifles for Murdaugh, which were given to Buster and Paul Murdaugh as Christmas gifts in 2016.
A .300 Blackout rifle was seized from Moselle during investigation and presented to the jury Monday.
Bedingfield said he’d known Murdaugh “all his life,” and testified he’d gone camping with him in the past, though not often. Murdaugh’s relationship with his sons, Bedingfield said, was positive.
“It was always good. When he called me he was excited about getting these (rifles) for his boys,” Bedingfield said.
Bedingfield said he spoke with Murdaugh about assembling .300 Blackout rifles for Paul and Buster since the ammunition is well-suited to hunting wild hogs, which Murdaugh said his sons often did.
The first two rifles bought as Christmas gifts in 2016 cost $9,188, Bedingfield said. A third rifle Murdaugh bought in 2018 cost only $875. Bedingfield testified the price discrepancy came from the third rifle being “as basic as you could buy,” while the first two had thermal optics and special finishes.
In cross-examination, Bedingfield said he often sold .300 Blackout rifles to people in the region hunting hogs or protecting property from them.
The defense suggested .300 Blackout ammunition is not as rare as prosecutors have said when attempting to tie the ammunition specifically to Murdaugh’s family weapons.
“They’re (hogs) a severe nuisance in this region,” Bedingfield said.
“Do you have any idea how many (.300 Blackout rifles) you’ve sold?” defense attorney Jim Griffin asked.
“It’s a lot, but I don’t know how many,” Bedingfield answered.
2:30 p.m. — State, defense debate ‘fungibility’ of cellphone evidence
Prior to the jury returning to the court room after lunch, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian and state prosecutor Creighton Waters argued their cases for the validity of using Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone as evidence without having every individual in the chain of custody testify the phone was not tampered with.
Waters said case law supports the prosecution’s approach so far.
The security of the evidence has been established through testimony from officers who first recovered the cellphone on the scene, SLED agents who transferred the phone to federal agents, including Van Houten, and a well-documented chain of custody naming all individuals who held the phone at any point.
Harpootlian insisted testimony must be given by each individual named in the phone’s chain of custody to validate the evidence for use in court.
“It’s an iPhone 11, you can’t tell the difference ... until it’s unlocked,” Harpootlian argued.
“We have every single person who’s ever analyzed it,” Waters retorted, “and I think that’s entirely sufficient for its admissibility.”
Newman denied the defense motion to exclude further testimony on the phone and the phone’s use as evidence.
“There was analysis done with the cellphone, but the testimony … sufficiently establishes this phone was not tampered with, could not be tampered with, and I believe the state has sufficiently established a chain of custody to the degree necessary,” Newman said.
12:57 p.m. — Court recesses for lunch
Judge Clifton Newman sent the court to recess until 2:15 p.m. following Van Houten’s testimony. The defense had no questions for Van Houten on cross-examination.
12:45 p.m. — Secret Service agent takes the stand as 13th witness
Jonathan Van Houten, an agent with the U.S. Secret Service, has taken the stand.
Van Houten was also involved in analyzing cellphones from the scene of the crime and people of interest.
12:34 p.m. — 12th witness takes the stand
Paul McManigal, a U.S. Secret Service task force member and sergeant with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, has taken the stand. McManigal was provided phone records from Alex Murdaugh’s cellphone, and testified he helped redact information potentially related to attorney-client privilege.
12 p.m. — State introduces phone data evidence
Knecht has so far identified information Verizon shared with investigators after the murders from cellphones belonging to the Murdaugh family.
Verizon’s records show when a text or call was received, which user sent or received the call and the nearest cell tower that received the call, among other data, Knecht said.
In opening statements, prosecutor Creighton Waters indicated the state would place Alex Murdaugh at the crime scene using his phone’s locational data and a Snapchat video Paul Murdaugh took minutes before he was killed. Alex Murdaugh has maintained he left Moselle to visit his mother when the murders took place.
11:40 a.m. — State calls 11th witness, Verizon Wireless employee
Anthony Knecht, a senior analyst with Verizon Wireless, has been called to the witness stand.
Knecht said the Murdaugh family used Verizon and has identified phone numbers belonging to Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh.
11 a.m. — SLED investigation ‘absolutely not just focused on Murdaugh
Prosecutor Creighton Waters shot back at Griffin’s criticism of SLED’s interviews with Alex Murdaugh during redirect, particularly the defense questioning why Croft didn’t follow up with Murdaugh after investigators said they heard him say, “I did him so bad” when asked about his son’s death.
“When you are that early in an interview and you are interviewing someone that might be in the circle, as Mr. Griffin describes it, are you trying to keep your ears open,” Waters asked. “Are you trying to keep lines of communication open. Are you going to confront somebody that early on, or are you gonna try to keep the dialogue going?”
Croft testified the interviews were focused on “information gathering,” and were not “an interrogation.”
Waters pointed out that SLED special agent David Owen provided grief counseling resources to Murdaugh during the investigation, and that SLED had interviewed more than 100 other people to counter the defense suggestion that no other suspects were considered.
“(The investigation) was absolutely not just focused on Mr. Murdaugh,” Croft said.
Who ‘did him so bad’ in Paul Murdaugh’s murder? Defense, witness dispute what Alex said
10:50 a.m. — Cross-examination of Croft ends, redirect to prosecution
After Griffin ended cross-examination, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters quickly hit back at the suggestion .300 Blackout rounds are commonly used, a key detail of the defense’s argument of a killer outside the family.
“How many murders have you worked where .300 Blackout was used?” Waters asked.
“None,” Croft responded.
Griffin previously asked whether .300 Blackout was easily found, and Croft testified it was more rare than smaller bullets, such as 5.56, .223 and .308 rounds.
Waters hinted it would have been especially difficult to get rare types of ammunition during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Croft confirming the pandemic made buying ammo more difficult due to supply issues.
10:30 a.m. — SLED recollection of Murdaugh interview questioned
Griffin challenged Croft on Monday’s contentious audio recording between SLED agents and Alex Murdaugh, in which Croft testified Murdaugh said, “I did him so bad” after he was asked about Paul Murdaugh’s body, a phrase suggested to be an admission of guilt or involvement in his wife and son’s deaths.
“Now, are you 100% confident that Alex said, ‘I did him so bad,’ rather than, ‘They did him so bad?’” Griffin asked.
“I am 100% confident in what I heard, what I understood him saying,” Croft responded.
Griffin pressed on, asking Croft to explain how he’d taken notes during the interaction and if he’d followed up in future interviews to clarify what Murdaugh had meant or said.
“So it’s possible that you’re sitting there, with a guy who’s now been charged with murder, on June 10 and interviewed the father, the only one in the (investigative) circle,” Griffin asked, “and he says, ‘I did him so bad,’ and you can’t tell the jury you even wrote it down on a piece of paper?”
“I don’t recall that I ever made a physical note of it, sir,” Croft said.
The defense later played the audio clip at one-third speed, but Croft again testified he Alex Murdaugh say, “I did him so bad.”
10:20 a.m. — SLED did not check Alex Murdaugh’s alibi, defense claims
Alex Murdaugh claims to have been visiting his mother, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s, on the night Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed. In his cross-examination, Griffin seemingly criticized SLED agents for not searching the home the day after Paul and Maggie were murdered.
“On the (June) 8th, SLED knew from interviews with Alex that he left Moselle shortly after 9 p.m., went to visit his mother in Alameda, stayed for a while and came back,” Griffin said. “Did anybody at SLED the morning of the (June) 8th hightail it over to Alameda and search the house for any evidence whatsoever?”
“I did not go,” Croft said. “There were a number of agents at work and I cannot testify to what other agents did.”
That same morning, several lawyers close to Murdaugh were present at Moselle, including Lee Cope, Chris WIlson, Mark Ball and Ronnie Crosby. Cope, Ball and Crosby are partners in what was Peters Murdaugh Parker Elztroth & Detrick, or PMPED, Murdaugh’s former law firm.
“Alex wasn’t lawyering up on the (June) 8th. Those were his friends that came over to help him, correct?” Griffin asked.
“They were giving counsel to Alex as far as what we were doing, they were making calls to his (Alex’s) counsel,” Croft testified.
9:50 a.m. — Defense seeds doubt ‘family weapon’ killed Paul, Maggie
Prosecutor Jim Griffin opened the seventh trial day cross-examining Croft. He immediately began questioning Croft on the ammunition found at the crime scene and the weapons SLED seized from Moselle during their investigation.
None of the shotguns SLED agents presented in court Monday, Griffin said, were capable of firing the 3-inch shotgun shells used to kill Paul Murdaugh. Croft confirmed the shotguns were only capable of firing shells up to around two and three-quarter inches.
Murdaugh’s defense floats 2 shooter theory, as prosecutors take aim at alibi
Griffin also suggested that .300 Blackout rounds are commonly used in hunting, and wouldn’t be uncommon in rural areas, such as Colleton and Hampton counties, and could be reasonably found outside the Murdaugh family’s collection.
Croft said a .300 Blackout rifle wouldn’t be “as common” as other, smaller caliber weapons.
Despite seizing the weapons and diving for evidence in nearby waterways, Griffin hammered the point that a murder weapon has never been recovered.
“Have you ever found the murder weapons, to your knowledge?” Griffin asked.
“Not that I’m aware of, sir,” Croft said.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson was seen in the court room again Tuesday sitting behind prosecutors.
9:30 a.m. — SLED senior special agent under cross-examination
Jeff Croft, a senior special agent with the State Law Enforcement Division, is back on the stand this morning under cross-examination by defense attorney Jim Griffin.
Croft testified first Monday, the trial’s sixth day.
Croft is one of the first SLED agents to interview Murdaugh after his wife and son were killed on June 7, 2021.
The interview spawned one of the most contentious points of testimony in the trial thus far. While questioning Murdaugh, Croft asked how he attempted to roll his son’s body over after he found them dead on the property the night of June 7, 2021. Before answering, Murdaugh broke into sobs and muttered a phrase that became a sticking point for prosecutors.
In the somewhat unclear audio, Murdaugh was heard to say either, “I did him (Paul Murdaugh) so bad,” or “They did him so bad.” On the stand, Croft testified that Murdaugh said, “I did him so bad.”
After the testimony, reporters in the courtroom and those watching the trial livestream said they’d noticed Murdaugh shake his head and appear to mouth the words, “That’s not what I said.”
The interview is likely to play a major role in Croft’s cross-examination.
Murdaugh told Croft in the same interview his relationship with wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, was as “good as it could possibly be,” and that the family “didn’t have much to argue about.”
Murdaugh also shared that before the murders, he’d moved the family’s guns from a smaller gun case to the larger Moselle gun room, since Maggie’s parents needed space to stay. Investigators discovered .300 Blackout rounds, the same ammunition used to kill Maggie, outside the gun room, near the Moselle home and in various places across the property.
The casings weren’t an unusual find, Murdaugh said, as Paul would often use his brother’s .300 Blackout rifle to ride around the property and shoot wild hogs after misplacing his own rifle. The lost weapon was never officially reported, Murdaugh said, but he told investigators he did tell some law enforcement that it was missing “in case it turned up in a drug thing.”
Without a murder weapon, but knowing a rifle of the same caliber has been missing for some time, prosecutors leaned heavily on suggesting it was a “family weapon” that killed Maggie and Paul, rather than another suspect from outside the estate.
Gunshot residue was also found on Murdaugh’s seatbelt and inside a coat found at his mother’s house around a week after the killings, witnesses testified last week.
Defense has countered by offering a “two shooters” theory based on the angle of the shots that killed Maggie and Paul, and the fact two weapons were used. A previous witness, SLED analyst Melinda Worley, testified the different angles could also result from a single killer moving between shots.