COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The jury in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial heard new evidence Thursday about his September 4, 2021, roadside shooting in a botched suicide-for-hire scheme.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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The decision to allow the roadside shooting testimony came after Judge Clifton Newman previously ruled it would not be allowed because it lacked sufficient relevance to this case. After questioning by the defense brought up Curtis Eddie Smith, Judge Newman reversed the decision, saying the door had been opened.
SLED agent Ryan Kelly, who investigate the roadside shooting, testified Thursday, and a recording of a September 13, 2021 interview he conducted with Murdaugh and Murdaugh’s lawyers was played in court. During that phone call, Murdaugh admitted to orchestrating the scheme. It was the same weekend he was fired from his law firm for stealing client funds and the same day he was confronted by Chris Wilson about the missing Farris fees. Murdaugh said that he knew he was about to lose everything and he thought his family would be better off without him, so he asked his longtime drug dealer, Curtis Eddie Smith, to shoot him on the side of the road.
The prosecution hopes to show a pattern of violence and deceit by Murdaugh, especially when he is backed into a corner. They also hoped portions of the testimony would debunk a theory introduced Wednesday by the defense suggesting a local drug gang killed Maggie and Paul. In the interview, Kelly asks Murdaugh if he owes money to any drug gangs and if there may be a threat to Buster. Murdaugh says no.
However, Griffin is quick to point out in the interview that whether Murdaugh owes someone money is dependent upon whether Smith was paying all of what Murdaugh gave him.
Defense is expected to pick up cross-examination of Kelly at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Prior to Kelly’s testimony, the jury heard from Dr. Kenneth Kinsey, a crime scene expert. He gave physical reenactments and representations of the night of the murders to try and give the jury a better idea of Maggie and Paul’s last moments.
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4:03 p.m. – Defense decides to hold off on cross-examination since there is a 4:30 p.m. cutoff today. Court is in recess until 9:30 a.m. Friday.
2:25 p.m. – Court is back in session. The state calls SLED senior special agent Ryan Kelly to the stand.
Kelly responded to Murdaugh’s September 4, 2021 roadside shooting.
He said when he arrived, he saw that one of the tires on Murdaugh’s Mercedes was flat. The tire was a run-flat, meaning it was meant to operate even when flat. Kelly said it appeared to have a small puncture wound from some sort of blade.
Kelly explains what Murdaugh said in the 911 call. He told the dispatcher he got a flat, pulled over, someone stopped to help, then shot him.
The call is played in court.
Prosecution introduces body camera video from inside the ambulance.
Murdaugh tells the interviewer that he was on the side of the road when a truck passed him then doubled back and pulled over to help him. He said the guy seemed nice, then he turned his head and “boom.”
Kelly interviewed Murdaugh later at a hospital in Savannah. Murdaugh gave the same account and provided a description of the person he said shot him.
On September 5, agents returned to the scene. They tried to locate the piece of debris that caused Murdaugh’s tire to go flat, but couldn’t find anything. They did find a folding knife on the opposite side of the road from where Murdaugh had parked. DNA testing was conducted on the knife. Profiles of both Alex Murdaugh and Curtis Eddie Smith were identified.
Kelly said that he learned Murdaugh had a confrontation with Chris Wilson about missing funds just hours before the roadside shooting.
On September 6, SLED sent a composite artist to render a sketch of the person Murdaugh said shot him.
Randy Murdaugh called SLED agent David Owen the night of September 6 to let Owen know that Murdaugh had been making calls from the hospital to an unknown number. He also said Murdaugh was trying to convince/bribe staff members to let him use the phone. They found out the person Murdaugh was calling was Smith.
SLED collected surveillance video from businesses around the area of the shooting. They saw a blue pickup truck followed by Murdaugh’s car, then a few minutes later the blue pickup truck was seen driving away. SLED traced the pickup truck back to Smith.
SLED conducted a search warrant on Smith’s residence and they found a small amount of narcotics in his garage. They also found what Kelly described as a “drug reference guide” with notes made by Smith about various pills and a ledger of what appeared to be transactions.
SLED noticed several large deposits in Smith’s bank accounts. They traced the funds back to Murdaugh.
On September 7, 2021, Kelly reached out to Harpootlian for another interview with Murdaugh. Murdaugh was in rehab at that point. They conducted a telephone interview on September 13, 2021.
A recording of the phone call is played in court.
Griffin, Harpootlian, and Murdaugh are heard in the interview.
Murdaugh says that he had been recently fired from his law firm for stealing funds and had been confronted that day by Chris Wilson about the missing funds. He says he was in a bad place and thought it would be better if he was dead. He said that he thought his family would get a generous life insurance payout, but not if he committed suicide, so he called Smith and asked him to meet him. They met at a gas station and Murdaugh asked Smith to shoot him. Murdaugh says that he told Smith things were going to get really bad and that he needed him to shoot him.
Murdaugh says he gave Smith the gun, told Smith he would stop to fix a flat tire, and that Smith could shoot him in the head.
Murdaugh says Smith missed. The shot didn’t kill him, but he says it caused him to lose his vision.
Two cars went by. One stopped to help. He says that car was crowded, so one of the people got in his car and was going to drive him to the hospital, but it had a flat tire. He then got in their car and they took him to meet the ambulance.
Harpootlian asks Murdaugh how much time passed between when he asked Smith to shoot him and when Smith shot him. Murdaugh estimates it was not more than half an hour. He says Smith never tried to convince him to change his mind.
Kelly begins to question Murdaugh. Murdaugh apologizes for lying in the hospital and says he was in a bad place.
Kelly asks how long Murdaugh has known Smith. Murdaugh says for over a decade.
Murdaugh says he and Smith would talk frequently on the phone about getting pills and that he would pay Smith several times a week. He says it would be mostly in cash or checks from his Bank of America Accounts (including the fake Forge account) and some from the Palmetto State Bank account.
Murdaugh says that he also bought drugs from someone named Kenny Hughes and a lady named Barbara that worked at his mom’s house (on very few occasions).
Kelly asks if Murdaugh knows what Smith did with the gun. Murdaugh says no.
Kelly asks if anyone in the family has talked to Smith lately. Murdaugh says he doesn’t think so. Kelly says that when SLED interviewed Smith, he said he had to talk to his attorney and named Murdaugh. SLED said that wasn’t possible, so he said Randy was his attorney. Murdaugh said Randy wouldn’t represent him.
Kelly asks where the funds for the drugs were coming from. Harpootlian says that is not an area they want to talk about, but the majority of the clients were not legitimate. Murdaugh says the majority of the funds were client funds.
Kelly asks if Murdaugh paid Smith to shoot him. Murdaugh says no.
Kelly asks the last time Murdaugh paid Smith. Murdaugh says several days before the shooting and he doesn’t remember how much.
Kelly asks if Murdaugh owes money to any drug dealers. Murdaugh says no. Kelly says so there’s no threat out there to Buster? Murdaugh says no. Griffin notes that’s assuming Smith passed all the money along. Murdaugh says to the best of his knowledge, he doesn’t owe anybody.
Kelly asks about a property in Huger. Murdaugh says he owns the property with a bunch of other people and Smith did some work digging ditches on the property.
Kelly asks if Murdaugh is right-handed. Murdaugh says yes. Kelly asks if he shot himself. Murdaugh says no.
Kelly asks why Murdaugh wasn’t truthful from the start. Murdaugh says he doesn’t have a good reason, he was in a bad place.
1:01 p.m. – Judge Newman appoints juror 826 as the foreperson of the jury. That person has the responsibility of speaking for the jury, presiding over deliberations, and reading the verdict once it is reached.
Court is breaking for lunch and is expected to resume at 2:15 p.m.
12:04 p.m. – Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian begins cross-examination.
Kinsey says that he believes the footprints in the feed room belonged to Paul.
They diagram the trajectory of Paul’s fatal shot. He believes that if the Benelli shotgun in evidence was used, the barrel of the shotgun was around 30 inches away from Paul when he was first shot. The shooter was holding the gun parallel to the ground. For the second shot, Kinsey thinks that the shooter was holding the gun at a low angle pointing up.
Harpootlian asks why the shooter would’ve been at a low angle for the second shot when shotguns are typically shot from the shoulder. Harpootlian says a normal-height person would have to bend or crouch, or the shooter would have to be very short. Kinsey says he can’t give an explanation for the reasoning.
Harpootlian brings up the Bevel report. Kinsey says he did read it. He says he also reviewed several SLED reports, lab reports, photos, and body camera footage.
They discuss the impression on Maggie’s leg.
Harpootlian asks if a 90-degree shot of either the impression on her leg or the ATV tire were taken. Kinsey says no, that is why he can’t say for absolutely certain that the ATV tire was what caused the impression. He says he would’ve needed scaled photos to call it definitively.
11:43 a.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room for a break.
10:14 a.m. – Court is back in session. The state calls Dr. Kenny Kinsey.
Kinsey is the Chief Deputy at the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office and crime scene investigation expert.
Kinsey reconstructed the crime scene from Maggie and Paul’s murders.
They discuss Paul’s injuries. Kinsey says the first was a shotgun wound to the chest, which was not immediately fatal, and the second was a shot to the shoulder that went up through the chin and out the top right side of his head.
At the time of the first shooting, Kinsey believes Paul was standing in the middle of the feed room. Prosecution shows a photo of the feed room taken the night of the shooting, which Kinsey photoshopped a pair of legs into to show Paul’s position.
90-degree blood drops on the ground of the feed room indicate Paul stood in the middle of the room after he was hit for some time, then began slowly moving towards the door.
Kinsey says that he can’t say for sure how away the shooter was, but he believes the ejection port was inside the doorframe of the feed room for the first shot.
Kinsey believes Paul was positioned partially outside the feed room for the second shot with his feet likely still inside the door. He was likely drooped, according to Kinsey, favoring the arm that had previously been shot.
Kinsey says that after the second shot, Paul did not walk or move voluntarily. He immediately died and fell to the ground.
The shooter was likely standing a few feet away outside the door. Kinsey says the shooter likely would have been covered, at least to some extent, in biological matter.
He says he sees no way the shot could’ve come from behind and entered through the top of Paul’s head, as defense attorney Dick Harpootlian previously suggested.
Kinsey says the first shot was a buckshot and the second shot was a birdshot. There are nine larger pellets in a buckshot and around 150 smaller pellets in a birdshot.
They move on to talk about Maggie’s injuries.
Kinsey says she suffered three non-fatal injuries and two fatal wounds.
The nonfatal wounds were to her thigh, abdomen, and wrist. The abdomen and thigh wound had stippling, meaning the shooter was fairly close. Kinsey says she likely bent over or fell to the ground and was on her hands and knees when the first fatal wound was delivered.
The first fatal wound came in under her breast and continued through her jaw into her head.
The second fatal wound was delivered to the back of the head from a closer distance.
Kinsey demonstrates the trajectory of the fatal wounds on waters, who is on his hands and knees in the courtroom.
Waters asks about the shell casings found around the body. Kinsey says guns are inconsistent with how they eject casings, so he doesn’t put much stock in that.
They discuss the unknown impression found on Maggie’s calf. Kinsey says blood from the thigh wound is visible near the impression, which indicates she stood for some amount of time because the blood dripped down.
Kinsey compared the impression to the wheels of an ATV found near Maggie’s body. Kinsey said he saw what appeared to be biological matter on one of the tires of the ATV in crime scene photos.
In his opinion, the mark on the back of Maggie’s leg came from the ATV tire or a tire just like it. Kinsey identified unique characteristics of the tire tread that matched unique characteristics of the impression on Maggie’s leg. He said that his analysis was peer-reviewed.
Kinsey says he saw no evidence Maggie was run over. At some point, her calf bumped into the tire.
Prosecution presents a photo of Paul’s phone found on his back pocket. Kinsey says he doesn’t believe Paul’s phone could’ve popped out and landed in that position. He believes the phone was placed there by someone else.
Waters asks Kinsey if there is forensic value in swabbing areas of a residence like a bathroom and sink if the family lives there. Kinsey says no, there will likely be traces of blood in those areas from everyday things like shaving or brushing teeth, so it would be hard to distinguish.
9:56 a.m. – Court is in recess while both sides determine what evidence from the roadside shooting will be allowed.
9:34 a.m. – Court is in session. Before the jury comes in, Defense attorney Jim Griffin explains his previous objection to allowing evidence about the roadside shooting.
Judge Clifton Newman says that while he previously agreed with the defense and thought the testimony lacked relevance to this case, the defense’s line of questioning opened the door.
Judge Newman said that he felt the topic was “a bridge too far,” but the defense “built a road over that bridge.”
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