Jury will visit family estate where the Murdaugh murders took place

Alex Murdaugh accused of killing Maggie, Paul Murdaugh

ByEric Levenson, Alta Spells and Dianne Gallagher, CNN, CNNWire
Monday, February 27, 2023
Alex Murdaugh murders trial
Alex Murdaugh murders trial

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. -- Jurors in Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial will be allowed to visit the family's sprawling estate in South Carolina where Murdaugh's wife and son were shot dead, Judge Clifton Newman ruled on Monday.

Murdaugh's defense attorney had requested the jury be allowed to see the estate, known as Moselle, while state prosecutors opposed the trip, saying the property had changed since the June 2021 killings, CNN reported.

Alex Murdaugh murders trial (1 of 56)

The judge did not set a date for the viewing, but it will have to come in the next few days as the trial nears its end. Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said in court the defense expects to rest by the end of Monday, and the prosecution said it will have a few further rebuttal witnesses afterward, with the aim to move to closing arguments on Wednesday.

The defense's case, which began Feb. 17, was highlighted by testimony from Murdaugh on Thursday and Friday in which he forcefully denied that he killed his wife Margaret and his son Paul, who were shot dead at the dog kennels at their family estate on June 7, 2021.

"I didn't shoot my wife or my son, anytime, ever," he testified.

Yet Murdaugh also admitted under oath that he had lied to police when he said he was not at the kennels that night. And he further admitted that he had repeatedly lied to his family, his clients and his law partners and had stolen millions of dollars over the course of roughly two decades as a high-powered lawyer in the region.

Murdaugh blamed his lies to police on "paranoid thinking" related to an opioid drug addiction.

"I wasn't thinking clearly," he testified. "I don't think I was capable of reason, and I lied about being down there, and I'm so sorry that I did."

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the killings. Murdaugh separately faces 99 charges for alleged financial crimes that will be adjudicated in the future.

On Monday, with Murdaugh's testimony in the rearview, the defense called to the stand a forensic pathologist who spoke in detail about the brutal killings, leaving Murdaugh in tears at the defense table.

How the trial has gone so far

The decision to testify in his own defense was a risky but necessary one for Murdaugh, legal experts said.

That's because the prosecution pointed to a huge question throughout the trial that he had to answer: Multiple witnesses identified Murdaugh's voice in a video clip filmed at the family's dog kennels, which authorities say was recorded shortly before the killings and near where the bodies were found.

That video is at the heart of the prosecution's case against Murdaugh. There is no direct evidence -- no witnesses, no smoking guns, no blood-soaked clothes -- proving the disbarred attorney killed his family, so the prosecution has focused on circumstantial evidence about his opportunity and motive.

In particular, they have tried to prove he was at the crime scene that night, worked to show he lied to investigators and painted a picture of a fraudster who killed his wife and son in a desperate bid to distract the investigations into his actions.

Much of the prosecution's evidence -- featuring 61 witnesses over three weeks -- focused on his alleged financial wrongdoing and what they said was the suspicious timing of the killings.

Two investigations in particular that could have exposed Murdaugh's wrongdoing were coming to a head at the time of the murders. For one, the chief financial officer of his law firm testified she had confronted Murdaugh about missing funds on the morning of June 7, 2021, hours before the killings. After the murders, the internal investigation into the funds took a back seat.

"We weren't going to go in there and harass him about money when we were worried about his mental state and the fact that his family had been killed," the CFO, Jeanne Seckinger, testified.

Second, Murdaugh was facing a lawsuit from the family of Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old who was killed in February 2019 when a boat, owned by Murdaugh and allegedly driven by his son Paul, crashed. A hearing in that civil case was scheduled for June 10, 2021, and had the potential to reveal his financial problems, prosecutors argued, but it was delayed after the killings.

Three months after the killings, on Sept. 3, 2021, Murdaugh's colleagues again confronted him about the missing funds and forced him to resign. A day later, Murdaugh was shot on the side of a rural road in what he initially claimed was a random attack -- but investigators eventually determined was part of a bizarre murder-for-hire plot concocted by Murdaugh.

That shooting was followed by a stint in rehab for drug addiction, dozens of allegations of financial crimes, his disbarment and, ultimately, the murder charges.

For the defense, the financial evidence amounts to little more than "speculation" and "conjecture," Harpootlian has argued. They have highlighted Murdaugh's loving relationships with his family, ridiculed the prosecution's focus on what they are framing as irrelevant financial misconduct charges and challenged the thoroughness of the investigation.

"They've got a whole lot more evidence about financial misconduct than they have about a murder and evidence of guilt in a murder case," defense lawyer Jim Griffin said in court.

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