Alex Murdaugh’s attorneys consider putting him on the stand in double murder trial, source says, as state nears end of its case
(CNN) -- With prosecutors nearing the end of their case, attorneys for Alex Murdaugh are strongly considering putting the disgraced former South Carolina attorney on the stand in his own defense in the trial for the murders of his wife and son, according to a source familiar with the defense’s thinking.
The defense is expected to make the decision in the next couple of days, the source said. But the decision will be made late and perhaps at the last second, the source said, after the prosecution is done presenting its case at some point this week. No final decision has been made, the source said.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the killings of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and son, Paul Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021, at the family’s home in Islandton.
Murdaugh contends he called 911 after returning home from a visit to his mother and finding his wife and son dead of gunshot wounds. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office -- which is prosecuting the case because of the Murdaugh family’s ties to the local solicitor’s office -- has accused the 53-year-old of carrying out the murders to distract attention from a series of alleged financial crimes he was committing.
Separate from the murders, he faces 99 charges stemming from those alleged schemes.
Testimony continued Tuesday with Roger Dale Davis Jr., who twice daily cleaned the Murdaugh’s dog kennels, near where the bodies were found.
He described the routine, noting that part of cleaning involved hosing the kennels down with a hose that he would then roll up in a coil and hang outside -- carefully, so as to avoid kinks or breaks in the hose.
Davis testified he went to the property twice the day of the murders, as usual -- once in the morning and once that afternoon, around 4:30 p.m. But when shown a photo of the crime scene taken that night, Davis told the court the hose had not been properly stored.
“I’m very particular how I rolled that hose up, and it’s kinked up,” Davis said of the photo. “If you notice, there’s pressure on that hose. Somebody used that hose after I did because it’s twisted.”
Under cross-examination, Davis acknowledged the hose could be seen on the floor of the kennels in the video Paul filmed the evening of the murders. Paul, Davis testified, was not as meticulous about properly rolling up the hose as he was.
Davis also became the latest witness to identify Alex Murdaugh’s voice alongside those of Maggie and Paul in a cell phone video that a law enforcement witness testified Paul filmed in the area of the kennels at 8:44 p.m. that evening, minutes before the state says the murders occurred.
Prosecutors have sought to place Murdaugh at the scene of the killings using the video, contradicting his statements in interviews with law enforcement that he was not at the kennels prior to finding the bodies. Police said he called 911 at 10:07 p.m.
The defense team Tuesday questioned Davis about his perception of the Murdaugh family and Alex Murdaugh in particular. Davis had earlier made comments referring to Alex and his wife as “lovey dovey,” he acknowledged, and testified under cross-examination he had never seen Alex Murdaugh raise his voice at Maggie.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin also asked Davis about an instance when one of the dogs was badly injured in the kennels. The decision was made to put the dog down, Griffin said, which Davis agreed with.
“And Mr. Alex couldn’t shoot that dog,” Griffin said, “and he asked you to do it, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” Davis said.
Paul’s injuries not consistent with a suicide, pathologist says
Earlier Tuesday the court heard the cross-examination of Dr. Ellen Riemer, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina who testified a day earlier about the victims’ fatal injuries, during which Murdaugh appeared visibly upset.
Margaret Murdaugh was shot at least four times with an “assault rifle,” Riemer said, while Paul Murdaugh was shot twice with a shotgun: The first shot went through part of the left side of his chest and left arm, while the second went through his left shoulder, entered the left side of his neck and head and came out the right side of the top of his head.
Paul’s hands were down when he was shot, Riemer testified, telling the court, “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.
During the cross-examination Tuesday, defense attorney Dick Harpootlian pressed Riemer on the possibility that the shot Paul suffered to the head was a contact wound. He cited a book on gunshot wounds highly regarded among pathologists that described injuries resulting from shotgun contact wounds that Riemer acknowledged were similar to Paul’s. But she reiterated she did not determine Paul’s injuries were contact wounds.
On re-direct, Riemer underscored she did not find soot on Paul’s skin as would have been expected from a shot fired from a barrel no further than six inches from the wound. She did find stippling on the wound to Paul’s chest, she said, indicating a weapon fired at close range with the barrel up to three feet away. But the stippling was not present on his other wound.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters also appeared to try to head off any insinuation that Paul Murdaugh might have died as a result of a suicide.
“A lot of what was in that book when they’re talking about those contact wounds, they’re exploring someone using a shotgun to commit suicide, correct?”
“Frequently contact wounds do indicate a suicide, but potentially people can be shot by another also at contact range,” Waters said said, noting Riemer’s finding for Paul’s manner of death was homicide.
“I did not believe that it was at all consistent with a suicide wound,” Riemer said.
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