Friends testifying against Murdaugh makes case ‘much more real’ for jury, SC defense attorney says
They are regular folks caught up in what could be reasonably described as America’s biggest trial obsession, so big a woman posted on Facebook Monday, “I don’t know what I’ll do when this is over.”
For Rogan Gibson and Will Loving it is personal. They have testified in recent days for the prosecution against someone they have known, respected and loved for years — Alex Murdaugh.
They were long-time friends of Murdaugh’s son, Paul.
Alex is charged with shooting his wife, Maggie, and Paul to death on June 7, 2021.
Their testimony provided two key pieces of the prosecution’s case. Gibson testified about a video recorded by Paul just before the murders, in which a man’s voice can be heard. Gibson identified he was 100% sure it was Alex, putting him at the scene of the crime moments before it was committed.
Loving received a Snapchat video an hour or so earlier of Alex wearing different clothes than what he had on when law enforcement arrived. The clothes he was wearing when the investigation began were clean, which calls into question Alex’s statement that he checked the bodies to see if they were alive.
The scene was bloody and gruesome. Part of Paul’s head was blown off with a shotgun, his brain on the ground. Maggie was shot in the head and back with an AR-style weapon.
Such testimony impacts a jury, longtime defense attorney Jack Swerling said. Not only is it crucial to show Murdaugh there, it is coming in from a person who talked about what a great guy Alex Murdaugh was.
Swerling is not involved in the case. He was asked by The State to provide analysis about how the case is going. He also knows all the parties involved and for eight of his 50-year career he was in a law practice with Dick Harpootlian, Murdaugh’s lead attorney.
“When you start bringing in friends and family, it makes it much more real, more personal to the jury,” Swerling said.
Gibson and Loving described a life of hunting and fishing on the Murdaughs’ 1,700-acre estate in Islandton. They rode around on ATVs at night, searching for wild boars to kill. Guns and shooting were pastimes, and Paul usually kept a shotgun on the back seat of his truck.
They spent time at the Murdaugh beach house on Edisto Island. They described it as an idyllic time with people who loved each other and enjoyed being together.
They said Alex and Maggie seemed to have a loving relationship and Paul and Alex were exceptionally close.
As they testified, Alex’s face became red, he put his head down and seemed to weep. He rocked back and forth.
Gibson, who now works as a farmer, said he had known Paul since he was 11 or 12. He kept Cash, his dog, at the Murdaugh kennels while he was working on St. Helena during the week. That was the basis of the video Paul sent him because there was something wrong with Cash’s tail.
Gibson also testified his last call with Paul was at 8:40 p.m for four minutes. Subsequent texts were not read or responded to, setting up the idea that he was killed shortly after the last call.
Alex has said he was napping at the house some distance from the kennel at that time and then left to visit his mother. He said he found the bodies when he returned around 10 p.m. and called 911.
At the end of Loving’s testimony, the defense showed a video of Paul’s friends at Edisto on Memorial Day weekend. It was Alex’s birthday and everyone sang Happy Birthday to him as a cake was brought out. Alex thanked them all. Everyone seemed so happy.