Jurors and alternates returned to the Colleton County Courthouse on Tuesday morning as prosecutors continued to present the state’s case against Alex Murdaugh over the brutal double murder of his wife and son at the family’s hunting lodge in early June 2021.
During a Monday pre-trial hearing, Judge Clifton Newman dealt the defense a substantial setback, ruling that various financial crimes by the defendant are “so intimately connected” to the state’s theory of the case that proof of them “is essential to complete the story.”
The 54-year-old disgraced legal scion – disbarred as the murder allegations and those alleged financial improprieties came to light – is accused of shooting and killing his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and their youngest son Paul Murdaugh, 22.
The pre-trial decision on those financial crimes – some admitted; some alleged – capped nearly a week-long series of hearings away from jurors’ ears. In the end, the court said those crimes could be mentioned by prosecutors in order to show motive.
“While motive is not a necessary element, the state must prove malice, and evidence of motive may be used to prove it,” Newman said. “And, in this case, since the identity of the perpetrator is a critical element that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, evidence of motive may be used in an attempt to meet that burden.”
As jurors returned, they heard from the state’s 28th witness, home health care aide Shelley Smith, the caretaker of the defendant’s ailing mother, Libby Murdaugh, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
A key aspect of Alex Murdaugh’s defense is the timeline – based on the state’s own cellular phone evidence.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian has previously suggested his client was not near the dog kennels on the family’s massive hunting lodge at the time of the murders – or at least that he was not there long enough to kill his son with a shotgun, switch to an AR-style rifle to kill his wife, hide and clean up all of the evidence, then visit his mother, and then return to Moselle in the time frame suggested by that data.
Smith, through halting and tearful testimony that was at times unclear, appeared to testify that Alex Murdaugh later pressured her to say – or suggested that she should say – he was at his mother’s house for longer than he actually was on the night in question.
UPDATE: It appears the testimony was not IF he was at his mom’s side the night of the murder but HOW LONG he was there. #AlexMurdaugh told Smith he was there 30-40 mins. He was there 15-20 mins, but Smith told SLED 30-40 mins, assuming because of the convo Alex had with her. https://t.co/bnpAl9a4AS
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) February 6, 2023
On Tuesday jurors heard from Jeanne Seckinger, then-chief financial officer of the since-defunct Murdaugh family law firm, PMPED, which was started by his great-grandfather over 100 years ago.
“I think Alex was a successful lawyer more from his ability to establish a relationship and to manipulate people into settlements,” she told jurors. “He did it through the art of bull—- basically.”
The former CFO of PMPED, the law firm #AlexMurdaugh was formerly involved with, detailed how the disgraced lawyer manipulated his clients for financial gain. “He did it through the art of bullsh*t,” Jeannie Seckinger said. #MurdaughTrial pic.twitter.com/S4d6HgtnMI
— Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) February 7, 2023
Seckinger said she was the person who confronted the defendant about stealing $792,000 from the law firm. Those allegations were made, she said, on the morning of June 7, 2021 – the same day Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were brutally murdered.
“He looked at me with a pretty dirty look, one I had not seen before, and said ‘What do you need now?’” Seckinger told the jury. “My concern was that he had stolen fees and they were paid to him personally.”
The conversation, she further testified, was cut short when the defendant said he had just received word his father was critically ill and had been taken to a hospital.
Additional financial crimes testimony later came from another former PMPED employee, attorney Ronnie Crosby.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) February 7, 2023
After getting some financial crimes testimony out of the way, the state was back to forensics, bringing South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Trace Evidence Analyst Megan Fletcher to the stand.
The forensic expert testified that a “significant amount” of gunshot residue, or GSR, was found on a blue, poncho-like raincoat that was found in September at the home of Alex Murdaugh’s mother in Almeda, Hampton County, S.C.
Fletcher and Hall turned the jacket inside out. Took swabs. "I would say there were a significant number of particles on the inside of the jacket." 38 found on the inside of the rain jacket, Fletcher says @LawCrimeNetwork
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) February 7, 2023
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters presaged the blue poncho evidence in the state’s opening statement, saying a witness told police they saw the defendant going upstairs to his mother’s home about a week after the slayings with something that looked like a blue tarp.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) February 7, 2023
The defense will cross-examine Fletcher as trial begins again at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
[image via The State/Pool]
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