COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – After just over a month, witness testimony has finally come to an end in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021. The jury will take a trip to Moselle first thing Wednesday morning to visit the scene of the crimes.
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The state called six rebuttal witnesses Tuesday, and most of the day’s testimony was focused on disproving theories put forth by the defense about how the crime happened.
Dr. Ellen Riemer, the MUSC pathologist who conducted Maggie and Paul’s autopsies, contradicted the defense’s narrative that Paul was shot at contact range in the back of the head. She said that in over 20 years and thousands of autopsies, she has never seen a contact-range shot that did not blow the victim’s face off. She said Paul’s injuries were consistent with the wound to his head being an exit wound.
Dr. Kenneth Kinsey debunked several suggestions by a defense witness, including that the shooter was inside the feed room and that the shooter couldn’t have been taller than around 5’2. Attorney general Alan Wilson made his first appearance in the case to question Kinsey.
The defense worked to discredit state witnesses, at one point even moving to have the expert qualifications of Paul McManigal revoked. McManigal was asked by the state to conduct physical tests on an iPhone investigating the raise to wake feature. Defense argued he was qualified as an expert in cell phone forensics such as extracting data, not conducting physical tests on phones. That motion was denied.
Defense also called into question several witnesses’ motives for testifying against Murdaugh, including his longtime friend and former law partner, Ronnie Crosby. Harpootlian suggested that Crosby was testifying against Murdaugh because he was angry about having to help pay back all the money Murdaugh stole, and for the havoc he wreaked on their law firm. Crosby denied the accusation and said he found it very offensive.
The state also called another former law partner of Murdaugh, Mark Ball, and former Hampton County Sheriff TC Smalls to the stand.
The jury will visit Moselle first thing Wednesday morning. Jurors were instructed not to discuss the case on the way to and from Moselle and will not be allowed to ask anyone other than Judge Newman questions while at the property. Judge Newman hopes to resume court by around 11:00 a.m., at which point the jury will be charged and hear closing arguments. Depending on how long closing arguments take, the jury could begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday evening.
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5:15 p.m. – Court resumes. There will be no more witnesses.
Judge Newman says the jury will visit Moselle first thing Wednesday morning. He says they are not allowed to talk about the case with anyone, including among themselves. At the scene, they will not be allowed to ask anyone questions except Judge Newman. Judge Newman reminds them that it has been over a year since the crimes and the scene has likely changed.
Judge Newman administers an oath to the deputies that are transporting the jury. They are sworn to take the jury at Moselle and return them to the jury room and allow no person, including themselves, to talk to the jury while the jurors are in their custody.
After the viewing, the jury will return for charges and closing arguments.
Court is expected to resume around 11:00 a.m. Wednesday.
Judge Newman says deliberation could begin Wednesday depending on when closing arguments end.
4:47 p.m. – The state rests. The jury is sent to the jury room for a break.
4:07 p.m. – Court resumes.
Griffin asks Kinsey how much he is being paid for his testimony. He says he has a personal retainer fee of $2,5000, plus $100 per hour and he estimates he’s logged over 100 hours. He says he stopped charging last week and is working through a mutual aid agreement.
Griffin asks about Paul’s injuries. Griffin asks Kinsey to demonstrate where he thinks Paul was in relation to the door of the feed room. Kinsey and Griffin demonstrate. He believes Paul was in the doorway drooped and the shooter was possibly up against a wall outside the door with the muzzle of the gun around two and a half feet away. Griffin asks how the shell could’ve ended up inside the feed room from that angle. Kinsey says it is possible.
Griffin asks if around 75 pellets would’ve come out the top of Paul’s head. Kinsey says yes. Griffin points out that only one indentation was noted on the door. Kinsey says there was more than one defect on the door. One pellet was lodged in the very top of the doorframe. It was found by Palmbach.
Griffin asks how it could’ve gotten there based on Kinsey’s theory. Kinsey says it came out the top of Paul’s head and lodged in the door jam.
Kinsey testifies that on average, around 8-10% of whatever is shot blows back in bloodspatter. He says that he sees less bloodspatter on the door, but he does not consider it a void area. If the shooter was standing against the door, there would’ve been a complete void.
Griffin asks if investigators used chemicals to look for latent footprints. Kinsey says not to his understanding. Griffin asks if more should’ve been done. Kinsey says it depends.
Griffin shows a photo showing marks on the ground outside the feed room door. He asks Kinsey if they could be from pellets. Kinsey says they could be, or they could be from a pressure washer. He says he would need to see the surrounding cement to see how it is weathered.
Griffin asks if Kinsey agrees with Palmbach that the shooter would have bloodspatter on them. Kinsey says yes, he believes so. The shooter likely would’ve been hit with brain, blood, and skull fragments.
3:48 p.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room for a 15-minute break.
3:29 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
Griffin asks if Kinsey reviewed Dr. Riemer’s findings. He said he looked at some of it and also went to the scene and reviewed crime scene photos himself. Griffin asks if Kinsey reviewed Dr. Eisenstat’s theory that Paul was shot in the back of the head. Kinsey said he is familiar with the theory and doesn’t agree with it.
Griffin asks who took the measurements at the quail pen that Sutton used to come to his conclusions. Kinsey agrees that they were taken by SLED and that they are accurate to some extent, but he still is hesitant to put much confidence in the angle of the bullet swipe in the cardboard because cardboard is such a malleable material.
Griffin backtracks on Sutton’s analysis that the shooter had to be around 5’2. He says that Sutton didn’t say the height was absolute, but that anyone much taller would’ve had to be in an unnatural position to make the shot. Kinsey says that is not how he understood Sutton’s testimony, and that he also doesn’t see how Sutton could testify on what is and isn’t natural. Crime scenes are dynamic.
2:27 p.m. – Court resumes. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson calls Dr. Kenneth Kinsey to the stand.
Kinsey is a crime scene reconstruction expert. He previously testified about how he thinks the murders happened.
Wilson asks about defense’s theory that the shooter had to be around 5’2. They present a rendering created by defense’s expert Mike Sutton. Sutton said he used trigonometry based on where projectiles landed to trace back and determine where the shooter was likely standing, and the likely height of the shooter. Kinsey says that he thinks Sutton’s intentions were good but his methods were flawed.
Wilson asks how confident Kinsey is in the angle determined using a bullet defect in a piece of cardboard on the quail pen, which is what Sutton used in his analysis. Kinsey said he is in agreement with the direction from which the bullet was fired, but has zero confidence in the angle. He says that there are several factors that could impact the trajectory of the bullet and it may not travel in an exact straight line.
Kinsey also says that crime scene examiners can influence the appearance of bullet defects in soft objects like cardboard when they are using dowel rods as they collect data. He demonstrates that if someone pulls on the dowel rod (because they aren’t expecting anyone to come back behind them and try to measure again), the bullet defect is manipulated.
Kinsey says that he is much more confident in Sutton’s analysis of a bullet defect found in the dog house because the dog house is made of wood and the bullet defects are not easily manipulated.
Wilson presents the rendering of the angles with animated shooters depicted. Kinsey says that Sutton placed the shooters along the green lines because that is where the trajectories of the bullet defects crossed and the location matched with a pile of shell casings. Kinsey says that there are too many variables to make that determination.
Wilson says to assume the angles are correct for argument’s sake. He asks Kinsey if people at different heights could shoot at the same angle based on distance. Kinsey says yes and demonstrates. He says that it is entirely possible for someone who is 6’4, 7’4, or 4’4 to have been the shooter. Kinsey says there are too many unknowns for the defense to be able to exclude anyone as the shooter based on height.
Wilson asks if Kinsey is familiar with contact wounds to the back of the head. Kinsey says he is. Wilson asks Kinsey to describe the kind of trauma, specifically to the face, that would result from a contact wound to the back of the head. Kinsey says that the forehead and facial features are shredded.
Wilson shows a photo of Paul. Kinsey says the injuries are not consistent with a contact wound to the back of the head.
Wilson asks about defense expert Timothy Palmbach’s theories about how the shooting took place. Palmach theorized that the shooter was behind Paul in the feed room and was shot in the back of the head.
Kinsey and Wilson use the camo Benelli shotgun and demonstrate the defense’s theory in a doorway of the courthouse. The door they use is a couple of inches wider than the feed room door.
Kinsey says the theory is preposterous. He lists several reasons why, including that there were no defects in the floor, which he says there would have been if the shot was in a downward direction. He also says that the steel pellets from the shotgun will not turn around 180 degrees and fly back in the other direction. Kinsey says it also just doesn’t make sense.
Wilson asks about the 300-Blackout shells found near Maggie’s body that appear to match other shells found around the house and shooting range on the property. A ballistics expert testified that the casings were loaded into and fired from the same weapon. Wilson asks what Kinsey can infer from that information. Kinsey says he can infer that a family weapon was used.
Wilson asks about John Marvin Murdaugh’s testimony that the crime scene was not cleaned up the next morning. He asks Kinsey if it is the responsibility of law enforcement to clean up crime scenes. Kinsey says it is not law enforcement’s responsibility. In fact, law enforcement is not allowed to clean up/collect/transport bodily items. There are companies that are contracted to clean up crime scenes so families don’t have to.
12:53 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch and will resume at 2:15 p.m. Prosecution says they have one or two more witnesses.
Waters asks if we have a plan for when the jury will view Moselle. Judge Newman says after the state rests. If they rest early enough today, it may be this afternoon.
12:36 p.m. – Defense asks if Ball has talked to Murdaugh since the confrontation about the stolen funds before Labor Day Weekend of 2021. Ball says he talked to him on Labor Day, but not since then.
Defense points out Murdaugh hasn’t had a chance to tell Ball anything about the kennels because they haven’t talked since September.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh ever expressed that he felt Paul had been wrongly charged in the boat case. Ball says yes. Griffin asks if that indicates mistrust of law enforcement. Ball says Murdaugh never specifically blamed any agency.
Griffin asks about Murdaugh’s emotions. Ball agrees that Murdaugh is an emotional person in general.
Griffin brings up the SLED/Colleton County Sheriff’s Office statement released on the morning of June 8 saying there was no threat to the public. Ball says it was very concerning to him. He says he called the sheriff and asked why they would release that. Later, he got a call back from someone else saying that law enforcement had no evidence of credible threats to anyone else.
12:27 p.m. – The state calls Mark Ball to the stand.
Ball is a former colleague and friend of Murdaugh. He previously testified.
Waters asks if Murdaugh ever expressed distrust for SLED prior to Maggie and Paul’s murders. Ball says no. He says he thought Murdaugh had a good relationship with law enforcement.
Waters asks if Ball, who was at the scene the night of the murders, had conversations with Murdaugh about the events of the night. Ball says yes, several.
Ball says he recalls Murdaugh saying he checked Maggie and then Paul before calling 911, then his story changed to going to Paul first. Ball says he didn’t know if maybe Murdaugh just misremembered. But he says it was clear to him that he checked the bodies then called 911.
The first time Ball head Murdaugh admit that he was at the kennels the night of the murders was when Murdaugh testified.
12:14 p.m. – Defense asks if McManigal recorded any of the experiments so he could show his results. McManigal said it didn’t even cross his mind.
The defense asks if McManigal brought the phone he used for testing with him today. McManigal says no.
Defense asks if someone is going to throw a phone out the window, don’t they have to pick the phone up to throw it? McManigal says yes, but it will not wake if the phone is picked up aggressively.
Defense asks if anyone was with McManigal to confirm his results. McManigal says no.
Defense asks if McManigal has ever performed an experiment like this before. McManigal says no. Defense asks if McManigal is an engineer or has any more knowledge on conducting a physical experiment on a phone than anyone else. McManigal says no to both.
Defense moves to strike the expert qualification. They say they agreed that McManigal is an expert in extracting data from cell phones, not in conducting physical experiments on phones. The motion is overruled.
12:05 p.m. – The state calls Paul McManigal to the stand.
He is an expert in cell phone forensics and a sergeant with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. McManigal previously testified. He redacted Murdaugh’s cell phone records to remove attorney-client information.
The state questions McManigal about the “raise to wake” function on an iPhone, which turns the screen on when the phone is picked up.
Prosecution asked McManigal to look into the “raise to wake” function more after testimony from the defense’s cell phone forensic expert, Micah Sturgis.
McManigal tested whether the phone wakes up when the phone is picked up or moved “aggressively.” He did tests with an iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is the same phone as Maggies. The iOS software on his phone was slightly newer than Maggie’s.
McManigal said he tested various movements; he threw the phone like a frisbee, tossed it end over end, etc. He said the results were not the same every time.
He said that based on his results, the screen does not turn on most of the time when the phone is tossed like a frisbee.
12:00 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
They confirm that Smalls has known Murdaugh for years.
Griffin asks if Smalls knew that Murdaugh was issued a badge for his position as assistant solicitor. Smalls says he did not know that.
Griffin asks if Smalls knows if Anthony Russel (a captain during Small’s time and the current Hampton County Sheriff) gave Murdaugh permission. Smalls says he doesn’t know.
Griffin asks if Smalls knew that several people in his agency were very close to Murdaugh. Smalls says that he knew they knew each other, but he didn’t know how close they were.
Smalls reiterates that he did not, at any point, have any knowledge that Murdaugh had blue lights in his vehicle.
11:57 a.m. – The state calls TC Smalls to the stand.
Smalls is the former Hampton County Sheriff.
Waters asks if Smalls ever had a conversation with Murdaugh about installing blue lights in their personal vehicle. Smalls says no, he has never had a conversation with anyone about that.
Smalls says that Murdaugh never approached him about threats related to the boat case either.
11:17 a.m. – Court resumes. Harpootlian presents an autopsy photo taken by Riemer.
The photo is of the wound to Paul’s left shoulder, which Riemer describes as an entrance shotgun wound. Harpootlian asks about packing material Riemer explains that packing material, along with wadding, helps keep shotgun pellets together before they spread out. There is packing material present in the photo. Riemer did not note it in her autopsy report. She says she doesn’t write every little thing in her report because it would go on forever. She says the wadding was not particularly important to her, but she believes it supports her theory of it being an entrance wound.
Harpootlian asks if any of the material was removed for forensic examination. Riemer says no.
Harpootlian asks if Riemer took a photo of the brain or X-rays of the brain. Riemer says no. She says she does regret not taking more photos, but taking an X-ray of the brain was not necessary because she felt confident in her conclusion. Harpootlian asks how many cases Riemer has been involved in that weren’t suicides where the brain was completely blown out of the head. Riemer says very few.
Harpootlian begins asking about the number of pellets in a shotgun and about ballistics. Dr. Riemer says that she does not feel comfortable answering questions about that topic because it is outside of her area of expertise.
Harpootlian asks why Riemer didn’t shave the head. She says she didn’t because she was confident the wound to the top of the head was an exit wound. Harpootlian says that had she shaved the head, she could’ve seen if there was stippling or soot. She says she did not investigate further because she was confident it was an exit wound.
Harpootlian asks if an autopsy report should be able to be read by an independent pathologist to verify conclusions. Riemer says yes. She says if other people don’t agree with her findings, she is okay with that, because she doesn’t have to convince people. She says a reasonable pathologist would likely come to the same conclusion.
Harpootlian asks if Riemer has met with Dr. Kinsey to discuss his findings. She says she did once. She says she told Kinsey that she had already come to her conclusions based on the autopsies.
10:57 a.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room for a break.
10:47 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. Harpootlian confirms that Riemer took pictures. Riemer says yes, and now she wishes she took more.
They discuss notes and autopsy diagrams. She says that the notes and diagrams are not meant for other people. They are more for her while she is conducting the autopsy. She says that sometimes they are not even accurate because she might write something down that she later discovers is incorrect.
Harpootlian asks about the contact wound theory put forth Monday by Dr. Eisenstat. She says that her findings on Paul are not consistent with a contact wound. She says that her findings are not theoretical.
10:26 a.m. – The state calls Dr. Ellen Riemer to the stand.
Dr. Riemer is the MUSC pathologist who performed Maggie and Paul’s autopsies. She has previously given extensive testimony.
They confirm that Riemer performed the autopsies at the request of the Colleton County coroner, not the prosecution or defense.
Waters asks Riemer to explain why Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, who testified yesterday, was wrong. First they go over Maggie.
Riemer and Eisenstat agreed on almost all aspects of Maggie’s wounds, except for the path of one wound. Eisenstat believed it went in through her head from a downward angle and exited under her breast. Riemer believes the wound came in under her left breast, went into her chin, and exited through her head. Riemer says that she was able to observe things during the autopsy that someone not doing the autopsy would not see. She says that she noted those findings in her report, but Eisenstat must have overlooked them or not considered them.
They discuss Paul. Eisenstat said that it was clear to him that the fatal wound to Paul was a contact shotgun wound to the back/top of the head that exited under his ear and went through his shoulder. Riemer says that is backward. She believes the shot grazed his shoulder, went in his jaw/under his ear, and exited the back of his head. She says the fact that his forehead and some delicate bones in the face were not fractured is evidence that it was not a contact wound. She says that the damage to Paul was severe, but a contact shotgun wound would’ve produced even more catastrophic damage.
10:08 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. Harpootlian asks if Crosby has ever ridden Moselle with Murdaugh.
Crosby says he has been dove hunting and ridden around the property. Harpootlian asks if they carried weapons. Crosby says yes. Harpootlian asks if they carried weapons suited for hogs. Crosby says no. Harpootlian asks if it would be unheard of to ride around the property without a weapon suited for hogs. Crosby says no.
Harpootlian asks about Murdaugh’s story the night of the murders. He asks if, because of the traumatic experience, Murdaugh could’ve gotten some things in his story wrong. Harpootlian asks if, in Crosby’s line of work dealing with personal injury cases, people sometimes get things wrong. Crosby says that can be the case. However, he says in his experience, people try to be accurate with details because they know it is important to their case. Harpootlian points out that typically those interviews aren’t conducted right after the traumatic experience, at the scene of the traumatic experience. Crosby agrees that is true, but says they also use interviews conducted directly after by agencies like Highway Patrol.
Harpootlian asks how much Crosby has had to pay back out of pocket to cover Murdaugh’s stolen funds. He asks if Crosby is angry at him. Crosby says he was angry, but he has found a way to move past it. He says that he doesn’t have any feelings because he doesn’t want to carry around that anger with him. Crosby says that if Harpootlian is implying he is trying to shade the truth because he is angry about money, he is wrong.
Harpootlian asks if Crosby was aware of Murdaugh’s drug problem. Crosby says he was not.
Harpootlian asks about Murdaugh’s emotions when trying a case. Crosby says Murdaugh, his father, and his grandfather were all theatrical in the courtroom.
9:52 a.m. – The jury is brought in. The state calls Ronnie Crosby to the stand.
Crosby is Murdaugh’s longtime friend and former law partner. He previously testified as a state witness.
Waters asks if Crosby has ridden properties looking for hogs with Paul. Crosby says that he has mostly ridden with Paul on his property. He says they generally took a rifle while looking for hogs. Paul was fond of the 300-Blackout, according to Crosby.
Waters asks if Murdaugh had a good relationship with law enforcement. Crosby says that he believed Murdaugh did.
Waters asks if Crosby, who was at the scene the night of the murders, went over the events of that night with Murdaugh. Crosby said he did several times. He said Murdaugh told him he checked the bodies before calling 911.
Crosby says that the first time he heard Murdaugh admit that he was down at the kennels around 8:44 p.m. was during his testimony.
Waters asks about Murdaugh’s relationship with Barrett Boulware, a business partner, friend, and someone Murdaugh stole money from. Crosby said that Boulware had colon cancer and was going to die. He says Murdaugh knew it was bad and still stole money from Boulware. Crosby says that more money was taken even after Boulware died.
Waters asks if Crosby has tried a case with Murdaugh. Crosby says he thinks just one. Waters asks if Murdaugh got emotional during closing arguments. Crosby says that Murdaugh was “a theatrical presence in the courtroom.”
9:43 a.m. – Court is in session.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian informs Judge Clifton Newman before the jury is brought in that defense has just learned the state plans to call seven reply witnesses.
On Monday, state prosecutor Creighton Waters said he would call four, maybe five.
Harpootlian said that some, like Dr. Ellen Riemer and Dr. Kenneth Kinsey, will be repeat witnesses. Harpootlian says that there is precedent for defense to then be allowed to call additional sur-rebuttal witnesses. He asks when it will end.
Judge Newman says the state cannot retry the entire case, but it has the right to contradict certain issues brought up by the defense. Judge Newman says that it should be finely tailored so that we do not create a situation where the court will be compelled to allow sur-rebuttal by the defense. Judge Newman says that there has been so much testimony, he can’t make a prior ruling on what will be allowed. He has to deal with it on a case-by-case basis.
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