Murdaugh prosecutors reveal flurry of steps after killings
Alex Murdaugh’s cellphone showed a sudden flurry of activity just before he drove away in his SUV some 16 minutes after investigators think his wife and son were killed, a state agent testified Friday at the disgraced South Carolina lawyer’s double murder trial.
GPS data from Murdaugh’s SUV and cellphone data also shows Murdaugh tried to call 911 but misdialed less than 20 seconds after he arrived at the kennels where the bodies of his son and wife were, a short distance from their home. After about another 20 seconds, Murdaugh completed the emergency call and told the 911 operator he checked them to see if they were alive.
Murdaugh, 54, is standing trial in the killings of his 52-year-old wife Maggie and their 22-year-old son Paul on June 7, 2021, at their home in Colleton County. He faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted.
Prosecutors rested their case Friday after presenting 61 witnesses and introducing more than 550 pieces of evidence over 17 days of testimony.
They ended with a detailed to-the-second, 43-page color-coded timeline of everything that happened with the cellphones of Murdaugh, his wife and son during the six hours leading up to and after their deaths. Murdaugh’s phone settings didn’t record specific location data,
The timeline includes the 16 minutes between when investigators think Paul Murdaugh was killed at close range with two shotgun blasts and Maggie Murdaugh was shot four or five times with a rifle — because their cellphones stopped being used at that point — and when the GPS data in his SUV showed Murdaugh left the home to visit his ailing mother.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters pointed out that Murdaugh’s phone had shown no activity for an hour, and then suddenly came back to life before he drove away. It showed him taking more than 70 steps a minute for about four minutes, well over the pace he had walked any other time that evening. Exactly where he was walking wasn’t captured.
“He was a busy guy right then, was he?” Waters asked State Law Enforcement Division agent Peter Rudofski.
“It appears,” Rudofski replied.
In cross examination, defense attorney Phillip Barber pointed out the step data didn’t include the distance walked and criticized the analysis of how fast Murdaugh was walking since it wasn’t compared to data any other day.
“He was going particularly fast for him, unusually slow for him or the same speed which he usually goes — did anyone look at that?” Barber asked.
“All we have here is the data that is on that sheet,” Rudofski said.
The timeline also marked that the backlight on Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone turned off at about the same time Alex Murdaugh’s SUV drove by the spot on the two lane highway not far from the family’s home where his wife’s phone was found the next day.
Murdaugh told police that he tried to call and text his wife and son after he returned home that night and didn’t see them, so he got back into the SUV to go down to the kennels to look for them, a drive that can take a minute or more.
Prosecutors pointed out Murdaugh unsuccessfully tried to call 911, but put in an extra one, 20 seconds after he SUV stopped at the kennel. He retried and was successful about 20 seconds later.
Barber played a 20-second timer on his phone to show how long that was and pointed out the SUV’s headlights likely illuminated the bodies before Murdaugh stopped the vehicle.
Barber spent much of his cross-examination asking Rudofski questions like when Murdaugh’s SUV data showed he going 80 mph, could he be passing a car? Rudofski said he couldn’t know. Several other questions by the defense specified that data can be interpreted in different ways.
Earlier Friday, defense lawyer Dick Harpootlian, for the first time in front of the jurors, mentioned that Murdaugh has been held in jail without bail for nearly two years and won’t walk free even if he is found not guilty of murder because of all the other crimes he is charged with, ranging from stealing from clients and his family law firm to money laundering to tax evasion.
“Was he indicted on 90 charges of financial fraud for which he faces life without parole?” Harpootlian asked another state agent.
Prosecutors objected and the judge sustained it, meaning jurors are supposed to ignore the question. But it was already out there.
Prosecutors ended their questioning of Rudofski by asking him to identify a few other items agents pulled off Maggie Murdaugh’s iPhone.
The first was a recent picture of her and her sister in evening dresses. The second was a photo of her and her two sons — the first one introduced in the trial that didn’t also include Alex Murdaugh.