WALTERBORO, S.C. – Opening statements began in the double murder trial of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of killing his wife and son in 2021.
The remarks by prosecutor Creighton Waters and defense attorney Dick Harpootlian on Wednesday foreshadowed what promises to be an emotional trial at the Colleton County Courthouse. Murdaugh, 54, is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and his son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, on June 7, 2021, on the family’s property, The State newspaper of Columbia reported.
Waters alleged that Alex Murdaugh fatally shot his son in the doorway of a dog kennel’s feedway with a shotgun and then used a rifle to kill his wife with execution-style shots to the back of her head, according to The New York Times.
“He was the storm,” Waters told the jury, according to The State. “The storm came for them.”
Waters claimed that Paul Murdaugh had sent a cellphone video to a friend at 8:44 p.m. EST, three minutes before he was killed, in which his voice and those of his parents could be heard, People reported. Three minutes later, Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone was locked and not used again that night, according to the magazine. Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone was locked about 40 seconds later, according to The State.
Waters argued that the video is significant because Alex Murdaugh had previously denied being near the dog kennels. Murdaugh then called his wife twice and received no answer, the Times reported. He texted his wife’s phone to tell her he was going to check on his mother, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The prosecutor said Murdaugh’s actions were a calculated effort to “manufacture an alibi.” He added that Murdaugh called five other people as he drove to and from his mother’s home, according to the newspaper.
Harpootlian countered by claiming that there were no eyewitnesses and nothing that directly tied Alex Murdaugh to the shootings.
“I will do something that irritates you. I will do something that irritates you or angers you. … Don’t hold that against Alex; hold that against me,” Harpootlian said, according to The State. “He didn’t do it. He is innocent. He would require a verdict of not guilty from you. That’s the law. That’s your oath.
“There’s no direct evidence. There’s no eyewitnesses. There’s nothing on camera. There’s no fingerprints. There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None.”
Prosecutors argued that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy after he committed a host of other financial crimes, The Associated Press and The Post and Courier reported. He faces nearly 100 other charges in addition to murder. Among the allegations, prosecutors have accused him of stealing millions of dollars from his clients and attempting to arrange for someone to kill him to allow his surviving son to collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
The trial marks the long downfall of Murdaugh, who comes from a family that had dominated the legal system in neighboring Hampton County for generations as prosecutors and private attorneys, The Associated Press reported. His grandfather’s portrait hung in the courtroom where Wednesday’s trial began but was ordered to be taken down when proceedings began, the Times reported.
Murdaugh has denied the allegations. He called 911 on the night his wife and son were killed, at about 10 p.m. EST.
In his opening statement, Waters offered a timeline that traced Alex Murdaugh’s alleged actions against his wife and son, The State reported. Waters said that Murdaugh’s son was shot first with a shotgun in the chest and head. His wife was shot twice in the leg, and then two more times in the head from an AR-15-style rifle.
“Pow! Pow!” Waters slammed the table to mimic the shots, according to the newspaper. “Two shots in the head did catastrophic damage.”
Waters added that bullet casings found elsewhere on the family’s property match those found around Maggie Murdaugh’s body, suggesting she was killed with “a family weapon,” the Times reported. Waters said that empty boxes of ammunition were found on the property that was of the same brand and type as those fired into the victims.
According to The State, Harpootlian portrayed Alex Murdaugh as a loving husband and father. He added that his client has been railroaded by authorities who decided he was guilty since the night of the murders.
“They’ve been pounding that square peg in the round hole since June 2021,” Harpootlian told jurors.
Hartpootlian added that it was more likely there were two shooters, and nothing that ties Alex Murdaugh to the crimes.
“The cellphone records would indicate he would have had less than 10 minutes to kill them, get up to the house, get in the car and crank it up,” Harpootlian said, according to the Times. “He’d be covered in blood.”
Harpootlian added that the white T-shirt that Alex Murdaugh was wearing that night had no blood on it.
“Where are the bloody clothes?” Harpootlian asked the jurors.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.