Alex Murdaugh trial: Raincoat, Murdaugh's hands, shirt, shorts positive for gunshot residue
Brick by brick, the state is building its house of circumstantial evidence in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, and gunshot residue is the cement holding together Tuesday's testimony.
Megan Fletcher, SLED Trace Evidence Analyst and forensics expert, testified Tuesday afternoon about the gunshot residue evidence that the state is using in the double murder trial of Murdaugh, who is charged with the June 2021 killings of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul.
However, a "significant amount" of GSR was found on a blue, poncho-like raincoat found in September at Murdaugh's mother's home in Almeda, Hampton County. A witness, Murdaugh family caregiver Mushelle Smith, testified that she saw Murdaugh walk into the home roughly a week after the killings carrying a blue, vinyl object upstairs, which is where the raincoat was later found.
Alex Murdaugh murder trial:Key revelations and unanswered questions after Week 2.
Fletcher testified that there were 38 confirmed particles of GSR, with many other particles possible but unconfirmed, located on the inside of the rain jacket. Two particles were found inside the hood of the coat, and at least one found on the outside. One particle of GSR was found on Murdaugh's seatbelt.
When Assistant Attorney General John Meadors asked if wrapping a recently fired firearm inside of the rain coat could produce such a large particle reading, Fletcher replied that it was definitely possible.
Murdaugh defense attorney Jim Griffin will begin cross examination of Fletcher when court resumes at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
The video below will play a replay of today's proceedings.
Alex Murdaugh's former law partner Ronnie Crosby offers emotional, but expletive-laced testimony
Ronnie Crosby, a managing partner at Parker Law Group (formerly known as PMPED), testified about the days leading up to the killings, as the law firm began to question Murdaugh's alleged misappropriations, and the days after when police began investigating.
Crosby discussed Murdaugh's desperate financial condition that began when the real estate market crashed in 2008/2009, and echoed previous testimony from PMPED CFO Jeannie Seckinger about his alleged thefts.
On a more powerful level, Crosby gave emotional testimony about his close relationship with Paul. At one point, Crosby was getting choked up while Murdaugh and his sister, Lynn Murdaugh Goettee, began weeping. Also in court were Murdaugh's surviving son, Buster, and his brothers, John Marving and Randy Murdaugh.
Crosby, like two previous state's witnesses, identified Murdaugh's voice in the background of the video as "100 percent" positive.
"He specifically said he did not go down to the kennels prior to finding them," added Crosby. The bodies were reportedly discovered near the family's dog kennels by Murdaugh, who called 911 around 10:07 p.m.
Crosby testified that Murdaugh told him, on the night of the murders, that he fell asleep on the couch around 8 p.m. and then went to his mother's house at 9 p.m., and was never at the crime scene until he found the bodies after 10 p.m. This contradicts cell phone video and audio evidence that puts Murdaugh at the scene with the victims around 8:45 p.m.
Crosby used some strong, expletive-laced language when recalling what he said upon being told the Murdaugh was trying to hide his money because of a pending wrongful death civil suit in the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, as well as when he was told about the missing legal fees.
He also described how the deaths of Paul and Maggie caused his law firm to temporarily stop its probe into the missing fees, which collaborates with the state's theory that Murdaugh killed them to distract from his many alleged financial crimes.
"There's no way we are going to talk about money in the wake of the tragedy of June 7," said Crosby. "I trusted Alec and I said, just let it go."
In previous testimony, Seckinger also said, "Everyone rallied to Alec's aid ... We weren't going to harass him when we were primarily concerned about his mental status, with his wife and child getting killed."
Seckinger also said that, as CFO, she took Murdaugh's "betrayal of trust" personally. "I don't think I ever really knew Alec Murdaugh. I don't think anyone really did."
What is the status of the Murdaugh murder trial?
Fletcher's cross examination kicks off Wednesday's testimony, but prosecutors wouldn't give The Hampton County Guardian/USA TODAY Network an indication of what witnesses are next, saying that it is a "fluid" trial and anything can happen.
To date, the state has called 35 witnesses before the jury, with others testifying during in-camera hearings with the jury absent, and have roughly 400 pieces of evidence, said prosecutors Tuesday.
Murdaugh attorney Jim Griffin and lead prosecutor Creighton Waters each independently told the media they expect the trail to last until sometime the week of Feb. 20, but that it is hard to predict.
Tuesday a.m. updates from the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial
A day after Judge Clifton Newman gave the state a big win by allowing evidence of Murdaugh's many alleged financial crimes, he also decided Tuesday morning to allow disputed gunshot residue evidence even as witnesses began painting a vivid picture of Murdaugh as a sloppy thief and people manipulator who used his pen and his power to betray the trust of his victims.
The third week, Day 12, of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial continued Tuesday with testimony about the discovery of Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes, which prosecutors say pressured him to murder his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, on June 7, 2021, at their Colleton County home in an effort to distract and delay inquiries and gain sympathy.
Judge Clifton Newman rules gunshot residue test results on blue raincoat admissible
In a brief session Tuesday morning, with the jury box empty, Judge Newman heard arguments from both sides before ruling that gunshot residue test results and testimony concerning a blue raincoat found at Murdaugh's mother's home were admissible, which is another blow to the defense.
Smith, a caregiver for Murdaugh's mother, Libby, at her Almeda home, testified Monday that roughly a week after the killings she saw Murdaugh bring a blue vinyl object like a tarp into his mother's home and then go upstairs. In September of that year, state police found a blue tarp and a large, poncho-like blue raincoat inside that home.
Murdaugh's defense team objected to hearing a SLED officer testify about gunshot residue on the coat because Smith, who appeared shaken and rattled on the stand, had told police she saw a tarp and then later testified that she had never seen that raincoat when it was opened up.
Newman, however, ruled the GSR evidence admissible because the item had already been entered into evidence, and because when the court looked at Smith's inconsistent testimony "as a whole," it was evident that she possibly could have mistaken a large poncho as a tarp.
SLED forensics expert Megan Fletcher is expected to testify as early as Tuesday afternoon on the gunshot residue tests.
Witness' financial crimes testimony offers insight into Alex Murdaugh's methods, personality
Jeannie Seckinger, CFO of PMPED, now the Parker Law Group, testified that Murdaugh took advantage of his family's prominent name, and the atmosphere of "trust and brotherhood" at his family law firm, to use his pen and power in a decade-long effort to allegedly steal millions from partner, brother, friend and client.
Seckinger, stern-faced, testified how Murdaugh didn't just steal money, he stole the same funds twice, stole from his own brother, and even used stolen money to pay back money he had previously misappropriated.
Seckinger, who used the words "stole" numerous times, stated that the full extent of Murdaugh's theft was uncovered in part by the fact that he left incriminating checks and bank statements from his "fake" bank accounts just lying on his desk at the law firm.
Her testimony also gave insight into her perception of his personality and methods of operating. She described Murdaugh as always loud, always in a rush and "last minute, who, unlike the other lawyers, often came in late and then worked late.
"Alec was successful, not because of his work ethic, because of his ability to manipulate people into a settlement," said Seckinger. "He did it through the art of bullshit, basically."
She added that he had a lucrative, often 7-figure practice because he was able to read the clients, and take advantage of their emotions - using personality more than technical skill or legal prowess.
Check back for updates.
What are Alex Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes?
Along with facing murder charges in the death of his wife and son, Murdaugh faces a slew of other charges when it comes to finances.
As the news of Paul and Maggie's deaths began to be known on June 8, 2021, no one knew it would lead to multiple indictments of Alex Murdaugh and more than 100 charges ranging from tax evasion, breach of trust, obtaining signature or property by false pretenses, money laundering, computer crimes and more. Not to mention a tale that had media and true crime buffs across the nation wondering, what's next?
Greenville News has kept up to date every step of the way in the unfolding of this saga. Take a look at past reporting here.
Looking back at Monday in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial
Judge Clifton Newman has had a lot of pretrial and sans jury decisions to make as the ground rules are laid for the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial, and he isn't done yet. Newman is expected to make a decision Tuesday morning on whether or not gunshot residue evidence on a certain questionable garment will be admissible as evidence before the Colleton County jury.
At the heart of the matter is testimony from a Murdaugh family caregiver that, combined with SLED forensic evidence, could have been a bombshell dropped in the lap of the Murdaugh defense team - but the accuracy of what the witness saw, and her testimony, have been called into question.
Around midday Monday, Mushelle "Shelley" Smith, the private home caregiver for Murdaugh's ailing, elderly mother, Libby Murdaugh, testified about interactions with Murdaugh on the night of the murders and after. Murdaugh had told police, and stated in his alibi defense, that he had visited his mother at the Almeda home and was there at the time of the murders.
Smith testified about the "unusual" late night visit on June 7, 2021 - the night Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were shot and killed - as well as interactions with Murdaugh roughly a week after the killings. Smith said that on June 16, three days after the funeral of Murdaugh's father, former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III, Murdaugh returned to Almeda carrying a blue vinyl object like a tarp wadded up in his hands, then went upstairs.
During state police interviews, and even during her testimony, Smith, who appeared quiet spoken, nervous, and emotional at times, said it looked like a blue tarp. Later, however, on cross examination, as Murdaugh attorney Jim Griffin asked if she saw a tarp or a raincoat, she replied, "It was balled up, I don't know."
SLED served a search warrant on the Almeda residence and seized both a blue tarp and a large, poncho-like blue raincoat from the upstairs of the house, where no guns were found. The raincoat tested negative for possible blood or DNA, but reportedly tested positive for "very high levels" of gunshot residue particles. That information was revealed in the absence of the jury, and Griffin has objected to entering the gunshot residue report into evidence before the jury, calling it "extremely prejudicial."
Griffin contends that the witness, Smith, identified a blue "tarp," and not a raincoat, and when investigators show her a picture of the blue raincoat opened and unfolded, she testified that she had never seen that before. However, when asked by the state if the "balled up" raincoat in a coat closet was what she saw, she said "yes."
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters pointed out that because the raincoat is so large, it could easily be mistaken as a tarp, and that when the witness saw it the item was balled up.
Judge Newman is expected to review the witnesses testimony and offer a ruling Tuesday when court resumes at 9:30 a.m. If he overrules the objection, and denies the Murdaugh team's motion to exclude this evidence and testimony, then the jury may hear more gunshot residue testimony Tuesday from SLED forensic analysist Megan Fletcher.
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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Alex Murdaugh murder trial: Witness calls defendant thief, manipulator