Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced former South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son in an attempt to turn the spotlight away from his financial crimes, broke down in court on Thursday as jurors watched graphic body-camera footage of the grisly June 2021 crime scene.
The first prosecutorial witnesses in the highly anticipated murder trial, several Colleton County Sheriff’s Office first responders walked jurors through body-cam footage of the murder scene at the dog kennels at the Murdaugh estate. The public and media were only allowed to hear the footage on Thursday after both sides asked for only the jury to watch the video due to its graphic nature.
As Sgt. Daniel Greene described the pools of blood “as well as brain matter” around Paul and Maggie’s bodies, Murdaugh was seen at the defense table with his head down crying and shaking his head. Murdaugh’s face was notably flushed red and he wiped his tears throughout the morning testimony with a wadded-up tissue as jurors watched the footage, in which barking and howling from several dogs in the kennels could be heard in the background.
Prosecutors allege that on June 7, 2021, Murdaugh fatally shot his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and his 22-year-old son, Paul, amid swirling questions about his years-long scheme of allegedly stealing millions from his clients and former law firm.
Murdaugh’s emotional reaction on Thursday was notable, given it was starkly different than the reaction he displayed to Green and the other officers when he arrived at the crime scene after 10 p.m., about two hours after prosecutors allege the murders occurred.
“[Alex Murdaugh] was upset but I did not see any visible tears,” Green said on Thursday, adding that Murdaugh was “nervous, anxious and upset.”
The footage shown Thursday is the first crucial piece of prosecutorial evidence in a case seen by local media as the “trial of the century” in South Carolina. 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 connection with the double homicide. He is also separately named in a slew of lawsuits and is facing over 80 financial charges after allegedly engaging in a years-long scheme to steal over $8 million to maintain his status as a member of a prominent legal dynasty in the Lowcountry.
If convicted, Murdaugh faces 30 years in prison. His defense lawyers on Wednesday maintained their client’s innocence, stressing that the prosecutors have no concrete evidence or motive tying Murdaugh to the murders.
During opening statements on Wednesday, state prosecutor Creighton Waters argued that Murdaugh first murdered his son before turning a gun on his wife in an attempt to gain sympathy from the community and shift the focus away from his financial crimes.
Those crimes, prosecutors argue, were threatened to be exposed by civil litigation in connection with a February 2019 boat crash. At the time of the murders, Paul was facing trial after allegedly drunk crashing a boat that resulted in the death of his friend, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, and injuring two others.
In a 10:07 p.m. 911 call that was played in court Thursday, Murdaugh is heard telling dispatchers to come to his house quickly because his wife and his son have been shot.
“Did they shoot themselves?” the dispatcher asks Murdaugh.
“Oh no! Hell no!” Murdaugh responds, before saying that Paul was “shot bad” in the head. (As the recording played in court, Murdaugh was once again seen crying and looking down toward the defense table.)
Murdaugh, in another 911 call, tells dispatchers that he last spoke to his wife “in person” about an hour and a half to two hours prior. Prosecutors noted on Wednesday that after allegedly murdering his family, Murdaugh called his wife at least twice.
Telling the dispatcher he is going to the house “to get a gun, just in case,” Murdaugh is then heard on the call bringing up the boat crash.
“My son has been threatened for months and months and months. He’s been hit several times,” Murdaugh is heard saying, adding that he doesn’t know who threatened Paul.
Green noted Thursday that soon after arriving at Murdaugh’s home on June 7, 2021, Murdaugh brought up the boat crash as a possible motivation for the murders.
“This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck months back. He’s been getting threats…I know that’s what it is,” Murdaugh is heard saying in the body-camera footage. In the recording, Murdaugh sounds upset but does not appear to be crying.
Later in the footage, Murdaugh is heard asking: “They aren’t dead, are they?” Green responded to Murdaugh that “that’s what it looks like.”
Colleton County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Chad McDowell also testified on Thursday about his interactions with Murdaugh at the crime scene. In the footage, Murdaugh can be heard asking McDowell, “How are you?” as the deputy approached.
But unlike his colleague, McDowell said that Murdaugh did appear visibly upset at the scene—though noted he did do one “quip” that made him pause.
“How you doing?” Murdaugh is heard asking McDowell in the footage, sounding calm as the officer approaches the scene.
Colleton County Maj. Jason Chapman, who arrived at the scene later than his colleagues, told jurors on Thursday that while Murdaugh was upset but dry-eyed—he did not find that unusual because “not everyone cries” in a traumatic situation. He added that Murdaugh’s demeanor changed when his team began looking at tire impressions near Maggie’s body.
“The breathing slowed, and he began to watch us work more closely, sometimes out of the corner of his eye,” Chapman said. He added that when his team moved away from the tire markings, Murdaugh resumed being distraught.
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