Alex Murdaugh 'wants' to take stand in his own defense, source says

Mark Ball, a former colleague of Alex Murdaugh, testifies during Murdaugh's murder trial in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Wednesday, February 22, 2023.

(CNN)Alex Murdaugh "wants" to take the stand in his murder trial, but whether he actually will testify remains a "gametime" decision, a source with direct knowledge of the defense's legal strategy told CNN on Wednesday.

A second source told CNN "the final decision is only certain when his hand hits the Bible." The final decision on whether Murdaugh will testify, the source said, has not been made.
"In this case, it's a decision Alex Murdaugh will be pondering tonight in jail," said the second source, adding, "Lawyers can only recommend, but ultimately, as in every case, it's the client's decision to make."
      Wednesday began with the defense seeming to have the intent to call Murdaugh to the stand, but hoping the judge would curb the scope of the cross-examination. The judge declined.

        Former law partner testifies about handling of crime scene

          Defense attorneys Wednesday sought to advance their theory that investigators did not properly handle the scene of his wife and son's killings, as one of Murdaugh's former law partners testified about seeing perceived errors or missteps while at the crime scene in the hours after the fatal shootings.
          The Murdaughs' Islandton, South Carolina, property was not cordoned off when the partner, Mark Ball, arrived the night of June 7, 2021, he said, soon after the bodies of Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh were discovered. There were no barricades or police tape blocking the entrance to the property, known as Moselle, he recalled, as people continued to arrive in cars and walk around the scene.
          There was also a light rain that evening, and Ball, the defense's fifth witness, recalled watching water roll off the roof of the dog kennels where the bodies were found and how it fell onto Paul's body, which was covered by a sheet, though Maggie's was both covered and under a tent.
          "It's a crime scene. You don't want water dripping all over the place," Ball said. "But more importantly, I thought it was pretty disrespectful. Paul was a good young man and, quite frankly, it just pissed me off."
          Ball's anger was compounded when he returned to the property the next day -- after he'd been told investigators had released the scene, he said -- and peered into the feed room where Paul was fatally shot.
          "There was a piece of Paul's skull about the size of a baseball laying there," he said. "It just infuriated me that this young man had been murdered and there was still his remains there."
          Alex Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the killings, which the state contends Murdaugh committed to distract from his alleged financial crimes. But the defense has portrayed Murdaugh as a loving father and husband wrongfully accused of murdering his 52-year-old wife and 22-year-old son after a shoddy investigation by law enforcement.
          Ball was just one member of the law firm -- then known as PMPED but since renamed to Parker Law Group -- who gathered at Moselle soon after Maggie and Paul were killed, he said.
          The coroner, citing instructions from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators, eventually told the group to gather at the house, which concerned Ball. He was worried about whether it was safe and whether the house was part of their crime scene, wondering if their presence there might impede the investigation.
          "Where does the crime scene start and stop?" Ball wondered, adding it did not appear investigators had searched the house.
          Alex Murdaugh listens during his murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse on Wednesday.
          The defense worked to bolster Ball's observations with the testimony of Kenneth Zercie, an expert witness in crime scene examination.
          After watching body camera footage from the scene, Zercie noted sheriff's deputies on the scene stepped inside the feed room without wearing booties or shoe cots to cover their feet. That should have been done, Zercie said, to avoid contaminating the scene with their foot prints.
          Zercie additionally said he would not have used a sheet to cover Paul's body, in part due to the absorbent nature. Additionally, the sheet should have been preserved for further analysis, but Zercie said that in the records he reviewed, he saw no indication the sheet had been saved.

          'No doubt' Murdaugh's voice is heard in crucial video, partner says

          Ball also countered a state investigator who testified for the state he believed Murdaugh inadvertently confessed to the killings in an emotional interview with state investigators in the days after the killings.
          The two sides have sparred over footage played in court, in which the state claims Murdaugh said, "I did him so bad," in reference to Paul's injuries. But the defense maintains Murdaugh said, "They did him so bad."
          Ball testified he agreed with the latter interpretation. Additionally, he said that at the scene the night of the murders, a "devastated" Alex told him, "Look at what they did. Look at what they did to them."
          Under cross-examination by prosecutor Creighton Waters, Ball testified Murdaugh repeatedly said he had not been at the dog kennels that night.
          Ball acknowledged he now knows that to be untrue, after seeing a video filmed by Paul at the kennels minutes before the state says the killings occurred, in which the voices of Paul, Maggie and Alex can be heard in the background.
          A slew of witnesses have testified Murdaugh's voice is heard in that video, which the state says places him at the scene at the time of the murders, despite his claims to law enforcement he was elsewhere.
          Murdaugh was clear that he never went to the kennels after dinner that night, Ball testified, saying Murdaugh told him that "at least three times."
          "Now you know that's not true from seeing the kennel video, right?" Waters asked.
          "Right," Ball said, noting he had "no doubt" it was Murdaugh's voice heard in the footage.

          Defense asks judge to limit state's questioning if Murdaugh testifies

          Earlier Wednesday, Judge Clifton Newman declined to issue a ruling limiting prosecutors' ability to question Murdaugh if he chooses to testify about his alleged financial crimes, which have played a prominent role in the case. Murdaugh faces 99 charges stemming from those alleged misdeeds separate from the murders.
          Newman previously ruled to allow the evidence after prosecutors argued Murdaugh killed Maggie and Paul to distract attention from his purported misconduct, which the state contends was about to be revealed at the time of the 2021 fatal shootings. The defense, meanwhile, argued to exclude the evidence, saying it was irrelevant.
          Defense attorney Jim Griffin addresses Judge Clifton Newman on Wednesday about the possibility of his client, Alex Murdaugh, testifying in his double murder trial.