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May 28, 2023

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Prosecution wraps its case at Alex Murdaugh murder trial

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Evidence shown in Alex Murdaugh's trial for murder shows the Colleton County property where the Murdaughs lived, at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C. on Thursday, Feb.  2, 2023. The judge has agreed with a defense request to let jurors ride 40 minutes to see the sprawling property.  The exact date and time of the jury trip has not been scheduled because it is dependent on how many witnesses the prosecution calls in its reply case.  (Andrew J.
Evidence shown in Alex Murdaugh's trial for murder shows the Colleton County property where the Murdaughs lived, at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C. on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The judge has agreed with a defense request to let jurors ride 40 minutes to see the sprawling property. The exact date and time of the jury trip has not been scheduled because it is dependent on how many witnesses the prosecution calls in its reply case. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool) Photo Gallery

Alex Murdaugh’s theft of millions of dollars was about to be revealed so he killed his wife and son to buy time to figure a way out, a prosecutor said Wednesday during closing arguments in the disgraced South Carolina attorney’s murder trial.

Murdaugh’s fear that his decade-long theft would be exposed and his desire to maintain his lofty standing in the community led him to make sure his wife and younger son were at the family’s Colleton County home on June 7, 2021, so that he could kill them as part of a clever plan aided by his knowledge of how criminal cases are constructed, prosecutor Creighton Waters told jurors.

“The pressures on this man were unbearable. And they were all reaching a crescendo the day his wife and son were murdered by him,” Waters said. The defense would get to sum up its case later Wednesday.

Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of either murder count. Investigators said his 22-year-old son, Paul, was shot twice with a shotgun and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle outside of the kennels on their property.

Jurors began the day with a visit to the crime scene, where a pool reporter said at least one of them carefully inspected the door frame of a storage closet where Paul Murdaugh was standing when he was killed.

The key piece of evidence connecting Alex Murdaugh to the killings is a video Paul Murdaugh shot from the kennels about five minutes before he last used his cellphone. It took more than a year for federal agents to hack into the young man’s locked iPhone and find it.

Before the trial, Alex Murdaugh repeatedly told investigators that he hadn’t been at the kennels on the night of the killings, but while testifying in his own defense, he admitted that he lied and that he had been there.

Although the weapons used to kill the victims haven’t been found, an expert testified that the markings on the bullet casings found near Maggie Murdaugh’s body matched those found on casings at a shooting range on the family’s property.

But there was no blood spatter or DNA linking the killings to Alex Murdaugh or anyone else, and prosecutors never laid out how they think Murdaugh could have killed his family, cleaned himself up, disposed of the clothes and weapons, and composed himself in the 15-minute window before GPS data shows he left the property to visit his ailing mother.

The prosecution’s star crime scene expert said there isn’t enough evidence to definitely say whether there were one or two shooters at the kennels.

Still, Waters said there is enough evidence to link the killings to the financial crimes and to Alex Murdaugh being the only person with the means and opportunity to kill his wife and son.

“As all of these pressures were mounting, the defendant killed Maggie and Paul,’ Waters said, pulling out his cellphone and waving it. ”The forensic timeline puts him there. The use of the family weapons collaborates it. And his lies and his guilty actions afterward confirm that.”

Waters said Alex Murdaugh has been lying for years to cover up his opioid addiction and theft of money from his law firm and clients, so it would be easy to lie about being at the kennels and killing his family, and to lie while testifying in his own defense last week.

“Always having to stay one step ahead of the game. Always have to literally beg, borrow and steal for over a decade to have the truth from being exposed,” Waters said.

The defense has said state agents conducted a poor investigation that focused too quickly on Alex Murdaugh and missed evidence such as fingerprints and shoe prints that could have led to the real killers.

They asked for jurors to be allowed to visit the property in order to help them understand how small the storage room is where Paul Murdaugh was killed and the distance between the two bodies.

Prosecutors opposed the visit, saying the scene looks different than it did in June 2021, as trees and vegetation have grown and no one has lived on the property since the killings.

Judge Clifton Newman allowed the visit but cautioned jurors about the differences in how the property looks now. They were also cautioned to watch for snakes.

Once closing arguments are finished, the jurors will get their instructions and begin deliberating what they learned during a trial that has included more than 75 witnesses and lasted more than six weeks. They will be able to review about 800 documents, photographs, videos of police interviews of Alex Murdaugh and other exhibits while deciding on a verdict.

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