Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.
Jurors in the murder trial of disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh heard Monday about autopsy evidence on a day the court also publicly released body camera videos from law enforcement officers who arrived the night his wife and son were killed in June 2021.
The video had been shown to the jury in January, but Monday was the first time the public could watch Murdaugh’s actions as deputies arrived at his home on the family’s estate after he placed a 911 call.
In one video, Colleton County sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Greene encounters Murdaugh, who is dressed in a white T-shirt and cargo shorts, outside the property’s kennels. As Green arrives, Murdaugh, standing near the bodies – which are blurred in the video and are situated yards apart – tells him “because of the scene, I did go get a gun and bring it down here.”
The deputy asks where the gun is, and Murdaugh tells him it is leaning against Murdaugh’s vehicle. The deputy checks Murdaugh’s shirt before talking further.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the killings of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and his 22-year-old son Paul on June 7, 2021.
Murdaugh called 911 the night of the killings to report he’d found his wife and son shot at the kennels at the family’s estate in Islandton, South Carolina – a property known as Moselle. The defense has portrayed Murdaugh as a loving father and husband being prosecuted after a poorly handled investigation while the real killers are at large.
Prosecutors accuse Murdaugh of committing the killings to distract attention from a series of alleged illicit schemes he was running to avoid “personal legal and financial ruin,” per court filings.
The video shows that as the deputy talks to Murdaugh, he crosses his arms and appears to be sobbing or sharply breathing.
While Murdaugh appears to be upset, Greene testified in January he didn’t see any tears.
“It’s bad,” Murdaugh says early in the encounter as he doubles over, the video shows. His voice breaks as he says, “It’s bad. I checked the pulses.”
About 30 seconds after Greene and Murdaugh begin talking, the deputy asks him whether the gun he brought to the scene was from inside the home. Murdaugh says yes, and then offers his own reasoning as to why someone would kill his family.
“This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck … months back. He’s been getting threats,” Murdaugh says. “Most of it’s been benign stuff. We didn’t take serious, you know, he’s been getting like punched. Um, I, I know that’s what it is.”
In the video Murdaugh is heard several times asking whether his wife and son are dead. At one point he asks, “They are dead, aren’t they?”
“Yes, sir, that’s what it looks like,” Greene replies.
Murdaugh lets out anguished sobs, and he walks away while he appears to be talking to someone on a cell phone.
When Greene asked Murdaugh when he was last with the pair, Murdaugh answered, “earlier tonight,” before explaining that at one point that evening he’d left the home to visit his mother, who lived about a 15-minute drive away.
“I was probably gone an hour and a half from my mom’s, and I saw them about 45 minutes before that,” Murdaugh said.
Prosecutors have sought to place Murdaugh at the scene of the killings, in part with with testimony from several witnesses who said Alex Murdaugh’s voice can be heard on a video that authorities say Paul Murdaugh started recording on his phone at 8:44 p.m., shortly before authorities believe the killings happened.
A law enforcement expert has testified Paul’s video appeared to have been recorded around the kennels, where Paul’s and Maggie’s bodies would be found. Murdaugh has maintained in interviews with law enforcement he was not at the kennels before he found the bodies. Police said he called 911 at 10:07 p.m.
At the time of the killings, Murdaugh was facing a lawsuit stemming from a boat crash in February 2019 that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Murdaugh owned the boat and Paul Murdaugh was allegedly driving it at the time of the accident.
Alex Murdaugh was scheduled to face a hearing in that case on June 10, 2021 – and that could have led to the disclosure of his accounts and revealed his alleged financial misdeeds, the state has contended in pre-trial filings. But after Maggie and Paul were killed three days beforehand, the hearing was canceled.
Graphic testimony about autopsies
Also Monday, under questioning from the prosecution, Ellen Riemer, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, gave graphic testimony Monday about the injuries suffered by Maggie and Paul and their autopsy results.
Riemer discussed pictures of the bodies and the injuries; the pictures were angled so they were visible to jurors but not the courtroom cameras.
Alex Murdaugh cried when Riemer detailed the extent of the wounds to his son and wife, and dabbed his eyes and clenched his jaw. He shook his head as he listened.
Paul Murdaugh was shot twice with a shotgun, Riemer said. The first shot went through part of the left side of his chest and left arm and was not fatal, though it damaged his lung, Riemer testified. The second shot entered through the top of his left shoulder and entered the left side of his neck and head and came out the right side of the top of the head.
That indicates to her, Riemer testified, that Paul’s head was turned partially to the left, and would have been facing his attacker.
The force of the shot caused his brain to be ejected, Riemer said, and it arrived to the autopsy separately. At this testimony, Alex Murdaugh was visibly upset, and grabbed a tissue and wiped his eyes and nose.
“I don’t see anything on his hands that would indicate he had his hands up to his face in anticipation of the injury that was about to happen,” Riemer testified. “That first shot, his arm was down, and I don’t see any evidence of injury to his hands from the second.”
Maggie Murdaugh was shot at least four times with a different weapon – an “assault rifle,” Riemer testified. The first two shots were fired from the front while Maggie was standing, Riemer said; one went through her abdomen and the other went through the inside of her left thigh.
The next shot went upward, starting at Maggie’s chest and going through the left side of her face. Riemer said she attributed that to the first two shots causing Maggie to double over, with her head bent over. This wound would have been immediately fatal, she said. The last gunshot, Riemer testified, was to the back of the head.
“This is the most likely sequence of shots that she sustained,” Riemer said.
Maggie Murdaugh had a fifth wound – a gunshot through her left wrist, which could have been from a fifth shot or as she was doubled over.
During testimony about his wife’s wounds, Alex Murdaugh wiped his eyes and appeared to cry.
Riemer is expected to return to the stand Tuesday for cross-examination by the defense.
Covid concerns for jury
Two jurors who tested positive for Covid-19 were released from duty, court officials said Monday morning. Three alternates now remain.
The remaining jurors were tested Monday and will be tested again Wednesday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys discussed with the judge postponing the day’s proceedings, but Judge Clifton Newman said jurors would wear masks and “they have a positive attitude.”
CNN’s Randi Kaye reported from court in Walterboro and CNN’s Alta Spells and Steve Almasy reported in Atlanta. CNN’s Dianne Gallagher, Eric Fiegel, Jason Hanna and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.