Alex Murdaugh murder trial opens with strong statements. Here's what you need to know.
The Greenville News and USA Today Network-South Carolina will be in the courtroom to give you the latest updates until a final verdict is reached in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh. The video feed at the top of the story provides a live and replay stream of the trial.
WALTERBORO, SC - One of the most highly publicized trials in modern South Carolina Lowcountry history got underway Wednesday in Colleton County with strong, but graphicly descriptive opening statements from both the S.C. Attorney General's Office and Richard "Alex" Murdaugh defense attorney Richard Harpootlian.
Chief prosecutor Creighton Waters told the court that the state has a variety of strong evidence that will prove that Murdaugh murdered his wife and son on the night of June 7, 2021, while Harpootlian questioned the reliability of that "circumstantial" evidence and insisted that Murdaugh was a "loving father" who is "innocent" of the murder charges.
The trial continues Thursday at 9:30 a.m. with the first witnesses and testimony.
Waters Wednesday afternoon indicated that the first witness would be the first officer on the scene the night of the murders, and the first exhibit of evidence would be the body cam footage from that officer.
State lays out its case and evidence in opening remarks
Waters vividly described the events that took place on the night of June 7, 2021, at the Murdaugh estate, Moselle. He described how Murdaugh allegedly shot his son, Paul, twice with 12 gauge buckshot, and Maggie six times with a rifle, causing "catostrophic damage."
"They were shot at close range and did not have any defensive wounds," said Waters.
"Pow! Pow!" he added for effect as he address the jury. After the killings, Murdaugh repeatedly told "everyone who would listen" that he wasn't there when the shootings happened, but the state has video evidence that puts him at the scene and shreds his claim, said Waters. "Cell phones tell a different story, that he was there!"
Waters urged the jury to "rely on good old fashioned common sense" when considering all the evidence.
"It was a family weapon that killed Maggie," said Waters. "You are going to see what he did to Maggie and Paul, and it is going to be gruesome ... This has been a long, exhaustive investigation, but you will reach an inexcusable conclusion, that he murdered Maggie and Paul."
Alex Murdaugh murder trial: Catch up on everything from the beginning
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Murduagh trial opening statements
What evidence does the state have on Alex Murdaugh?
Waters gave the jury a glimpse of the evidence they could expect to see and hear.
That evidence will include:
⊳The 911 call from Murdaugh on the night of the murders.
⊳Statements and video body cam footage from responding officers.
⊳Three recorded statements Murdaugh gave to law enforcement Ballistics evidence that shows matches from ammo at the crime scene to other ammo on the property, suggesting it was a "family gun" that killed them GPS location data from Murdaugh's vehicle Cell phone data from Murduagh's phone, as well as both of the victims' phones.
⊳A rain coat covered with gunshot residue found at Murdaugh's parents' home, and a witness who saw him put it there.
⊳Gunshot residue on Murdaugh's clothing and the seatbelt of his vehicle.
What is Alex Murdaugh's opening defense?
Harpootlian opened Murdaugh's defense with even more graphic and shocking language than Waters used, while disputing the reliability of the state's evidence and calling its facts "theories."
Harpootlian described how the buckshot from the shotgun struck Paul and "entered his skull cavity, and the gases from the shot literally exploded his brain, like a watermelon."
He also described how the killer "put one in the back of the head" and "executed" Maggie.
Murdaugh's lead defense attorney then countered those graphic images by describing Murdaugh as a "loving father" and a "loving husband" who would never kill "the apple of his eye."
He also told the jury that no murder weapons have been found, there were no witnesses to the killings, and Murdaugh was not covered in blood despite the point-blank, explosive nature of the bullet impacts, while questioning why it took law enforcement more than a year to charge Murdaugh with the murders.
"They (police) decided that night that he did it ... they have been pounding that same square peg into a round hole for quite some time .... It's much more likely two people did it," Harpootlian said.
Harpootlian stressed Murdaugh's innocence until proven guilty over and over to the jury, adding, "He didn't do it. He didn't kill - butcher - his son and his wife, and you need to put out of your mind any speculation that he did."
Murdaugh speaks with multiple family members in court
One of Murdaugh's family members - his sister, Lynn Murdaugh Goettee - attended court on Tuesday, and on Wednesday there were several family members present, including his son, Richard Alexander "Buster" Murdaugh Jr., and his brothers, John Marvin Murdaugh and attorney Randolph "Randy" Murdaugh IV.
During recesses, and after the day's session, Murdaugh briefly spoke with his son and one of his brothers.
Tuesday's recapJudge rules crucial ballistics evidence is admissible.
Wednesday a.m. updates from the Colleton County Courthouse
Prosecutors huddled around a pile of juror forms, as 80 potential jurors from all walks of life sat nervously, filling up the rear half of the Colleton County Courthouse. Most appeared anxious, impatient, worrying if they would get back to their jobs and families, or be forced by civic duty to judge the guilt or innocence of accused killer Richard "Alex" Murdaugh.
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Just after 1 p.m., attorneys for the State of South Carolina and the defense picked the 12 jurors and six alternates who will decide if Murdaugh is guilty of killing his wife and child, and Judge Clifton Newman swore them into to service.
The jury consists of four white men, six white women, and two Black women, while the alternates consist of two white men, one white woman, one Black man, and two Black women.
In a noticeable, apparent display of strategy, during the selection process Murdaugh's attorneys used several of their strikes on middle aged white men, who appeared as if they could be fathers.
Most of the jury appeared to be between the ages of 30 and 55, with only two that appeared to be older than 55.
Attorneys close to case say jury is strong, but pro-prosecution
Two attorneys close to the Murdaugh case and involved in civil suits against Murdaugh, sat in the courtroom on Wednesday and offered reporters assessments of the final jury panel.
Attorney Eric Bland, who represents the Satterfield Estate in a civil action against Murdaugh, assessed the jury as a "strong, decisive jury that seemed to favor the prosecution" based on the demographics of the panel.
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"There are a lot of lions on that jury, and no sheep," said Bland.
Attorney Justin Bamberg, who represents several of Murdaugh's alleged financial victims, echoed that assessment.
"I think they have selected a jury that will do a good job and be pretty balanced," said Bamberg. "I think it's a good jury, but a strong jury for the prosecution, but at the end of the day the jury has to hear the evidence and make their decision." Bamberg cited the makeup of the jury - mostly younger women - for his assessment.
Judge seals graphic evidence to protect victims, families
After the jury was seated, Judge Newman approved a motion by the defense to seal sensitive, graphic evidence, such as autopsy and crime scene photos or videos, in order to protect the privacy of the victims and prevent emotional distress for their families.
According to the judge's order, the jury can see this evidence during the trial, and the media can inspect it after the trial, but it can not be released to the public unless a further court order is granted.
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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Alex Murdaugh trial: Here's what's happening on Day 3