Prosecutors present closing argument in Murdaugh murder case

The closely watched trial centres on Alex Murdaugh, a former South Carolina lawyer accused of killing his wife and son.

Alex Murdaugh in close-up, with his hands close to his face
Defence attorneys for defendant Alex Murdaugh have alleged flaws in the investigation against him [File: Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP]

Prosecutors in a high-profile murder trial in the United States have presented their closing arguments, offering an account of why they believe Alex Murdaugh, a prominent figure in his South Carolina community, killed his wife and son.

Prosecutors described the deaths of Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, as the calculated act of a desperate man looking to shift attention from his financial crimes and opioid addiction.

“As all of these pressures were mounting, the defendant killed Maggie and Paul,” lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said of Alex Murdaugh, 54.

Speaking to a jury in the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina on Wednesday, Waters alleged that Murdaugh — a now-disbarred lawyer from a powerful legal dynasty — drew on his knowledge of criminal cases to execute the crime.

Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot to death near the dog kennels at the family’s rural hunting lodge on June 7, 2021. Alex Murdaugh has denied any involvement in their deaths.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters holds up a composite sketch. We can't see what is on the sketch. Waters has his head tilted slightly down with his eyes cast upwards, above the rims of his glasses, and towards where the jury is likely sitting,
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters presents evidence during closing arguments in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial on March 1 [Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool]

Raising a mobile phone into the air during his closing arguments, Waters referenced a key piece of evidence pulled from Paul’s iPhone to paint the elder Murdaugh as a serial liar.

Federal investigators worked for more than a year to hack into the iPhone, eventually discovering it contained a video recording that captures Murdaugh’s voice near the dog kennels minutes before the phone became inactive.

Prosecutors allege that is when the double murder occurred, though Murdaugh maintains he left before the shooting took place to visit his mother, who suffers from dementia. In early interviews, Murdaugh initially denied being near the kennels on the night of the attack.

“The forensic timeline puts him there,” Waters told the jury on Wednesday. “After an exhaustive investigation, there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes, and also whose guilty conduct after these crimes betrays him.”

The defence will present its closing argument on Thursday. Throughout the trial, it has sought to highlight what it considered gaps in the prosecution’s arguments and flaws in the overall investigation.

Alex Murdaugh sits between his defence lawyers. He is wearing black-rimmed glasses and writing something in a notepad. A lawyer on his right looks to be thinking while mid-way through writing something. Another lawyer to Murdaugh's left is casually slouched in his chair, with his hands folded, looking absent-mindedly at a spot in front of him. There are two water bottles on the bench.
Alex Murdaugh (center) sits between his defence lawyers as closing arguments unfold on Wednesday [Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool]

The firearms used in the shootings have never been recovered, and there is no DNA linking Murdaugh to the killings, the defence team has said. They argued investigators jumped to conclusions about their client without considering other suspects.

Throughout the trial, defence lawyers have also pointed to possible mismanagement of the crime scene, alleging a failure to properly dust for fingerprints and inadequate photography.

The victims’ bodies, for instance, were covered in a fabric sheet rather than a tarp, which could have picked up fluids or hair, the defence team explained. That the sheet was later discarded could mean evidence was lost with it, they said.

Before the prosecution’s closing arguments on Wednesday, the jury also visited the Murdaugh property to examine the crime scene, at the request of the defence.

While prosecutors objected to the visit on the grounds that the crime scene had changed since 2021, Murdaugh’s lawyers hoped the walk-through – which indicated the distance between the two victims’ bodies – would lead the jury to consider alternative theories about who perpetrated the shootings.

Dog kennels on the Murdaugh's Moselle property are to the right of the shot. The door is swung open. A forest of high and thin trees stands behind the kennels.
On Wednesday, jurors toured the dog kennels where the bodies of Paul Murdaugh and his mother Maggie Murdaugh were found [Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool]

This week’s closing arguments culminate a nearly six-week-long murder trial against Murdaugh, which included 800 evidence exhibits and 75 witnesses, including the defendant himself.

If convicted, Murdaugh could face a sentence of between 30 years to life. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case.

The murder trial is only part of Murdaugh’s ongoing legal woes. He has also been charged with more than 100 counts of financial crimes and other misdeeds.

Prosecutors in those cases have accused Murdaugh of stealing $7m from his family’s law firm and $8.8m in legal settlements from his clients, many of whom suffered injuries or had relatives killed in accidents.

Murdaugh was initially arrested in October 2021, on felony charges after millions in settlement funds went missing from his late housekeeper’s family.

A long line forms outside the courthouse
A line forms outside the Colleton County Courthouse in the US state of South Carolina as visitors wait to hear closing arguments in the Alex Murdaugh trial [Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool]

The cases against Murdaugh have brought national scrutiny to rural South Carolina, where Murdaugh’s family has held sway for nearly a century.

Three generations of Murdaughs — the defendant’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather — have all held the elected position of solicitor for South Carolina’s 14th Circuit, which empowered them to prosecute criminal cases across five counties.

Murdaugh called emergency services at about 10:07pm on June 7, 2021, to report the death of his wife and younger son. He claimed to have found them after returning from his mother’s home.

Investigators said Maggie Murdaugh died from four to five rifle shots, while Paul Murdaugh was killed by two shotgun blasts, each with a different-sized round.

Alex Murdaugh was charged for their deaths nearly a year later, on July 14, 2022.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies