By JEFFREY COLLINS Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Months after accusing disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh of killing his wife and son, South Carolina investigators and prosecutors have released few details about the evidence that they believe connect him to the shootings
That’s led Murdaugh’s lawyers to file a flurry of court documents requesting information from the prosecution, seeking to publicly weaken the case before the January trial has begun.
The defense attorneys argue that there was unknown DNA found under Murdaugh’s wife’s fingernails. They also have a different suspect, Murdaugh’s friend Curtis Eddie Smith, arguing that he failed a lie detector test regarding the killings. Murdaugh has already admitted to asking Smith to arrange Murdaugh’s own death to defraud his life insurance company.
Those defense documents even boosted a story from Smith that prosecutors later said had no evidence to back it up — that Paul Murdaugh killed his mother, Maggie, when he caught her with a groundskeeper at the family’s Colleton County hunting lodge and the groundskeeper then shot the son.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, has proclaimed his innocence ever since June 2021, when he found the bodies, each shot several times. He has said through his lawyer he “loved them more than anything in the world.”
It took more than 13 months for authorities to indict Murdaugh on two counts of murder and his trial is set to begin Jan. 23 after defense attorneys asked to hold it as quickly as possible.
Even after the charges, prosecutors and investigators have released little on how they linked Murdaugh to the deaths or why a man who had no criminal history and was part of a wealthy, well-connected family that dominated the legal community in tiny Hampton County might have wanted to kill his own family members.
In the months since the deaths, Murdaugh’s life has crumbled. He was fired from the law firm founded by his family for stealing money and then lost his law license. Prosecutors said he was a drug addict who helped run a money laundering and pain killer ring and stole about $8 million from settlements for wrongful death or injury he secured for mostly poor clients.
As part of the back and forth about evidence in the upcoming murder trial, prosecutors have divulged slightly more of their case. Notably, there is a cellphone video of Murdaugh, his wife and son near dog kennels around 8:44 p.m. the night they are killed. Cellphone data indicates Murdaugh left at 9:06 p.m. and his frantic 911 call to report he found the bodies near the kennels came at 10:06 p.m.
Murdaugh’s attorneys have requested a FBI report analyzing all the cellphone data, saying such records are crucial to their defense.
“There is nothing to indicate … in the next 20 minutes, he butchers his son and wife, executes both of them in a brutal way,” defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said. “He’s then on the phone talking to another lawyer from his car in a very convivial way.”
The defense also said they needed more complete gunshot residue reports after a few particles were found on Murdaugh. His attorney claim the particles likely landed on his clothing when he picked up a gun to protect himself after finding the bodies.
Authorities have not tested Smith’s DNA and the defense said it has no findings from the source of genetic material found on the clothing of the victims.
Murdaugh’s defense also wants complete notes from a blood spatter report after a small amount of his wife’s blood was found on his shirt. The lawyers said the blood came when Murdaugh “frantically attended his wife’s bloody corpse.”
Prosecutors insisted they turned over every bit of evidence they have and what’s missing is mostly incomplete reports. They said the defense was aware of that when they had a friendly conversation just before the motions were filed.
“This manner of conducting litigation says a lot about the defense’s true motives,” South Carolina Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters wrote in his response.
It’s clear from the pretrial back-and-forth that the prosecution does not have any eyewitnesses or video of how Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, were killed on June 7, 2021. But prosecutors said people are frequently convicted through scientific evidence and circumstances that put them near the scene or give them a motivation for wrongdoing.
“If every murder case needed a confession and an eyewitness, it would be open season out there,” Waters said in court Thursday.
In the months before his murder trial, Murdaugh’s lawyers are focusing on Smith, who authorities said was supposed to shoot Murdaugh on the side of a lonely highway in September 2021.
Murdaugh allegedly planned his own killing so his surviving son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. In the end, Smith said the gun fired as he and Murdaugh fought over the weapon, the bullet only grazing Murdaugh’s head.
Smith’s attorneys say he did not kill Maggie or Paul Murdaugh. They argue Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers are looking for anyone else to blame for the killings, so they have seized on a lie detector test where Smith allegedly showed a reaction when asked if he shot the victims or was present when they were killed.
Murdaugh’s lawyers said Smith knew the area around the dog kennels where the bodies were found because they were a drug drop. They also point out Smith’s DNA had not been tested as of mid-October.
“I’m not saying he did it. I’m just saying it certainly sounds like he could have done it,” Harpootlian said.
Prosecutors have pointed out that spike during the test could have been an emotional reaction as a result of Smith feeling guilty about the circumstances leading up to the crime, even if he had no involvement. They said Smith’s DNA is being tested now and results of lie detector tests aren’t admissible in court by themselves.
Murdaugh’s attorneys also used court papers to make public a story Smith said he heard about Maggie Murdaugh’s affair directly leading to the killings. It didn’t explain how the groundskeeper avoided arrest or detection in the 16 months since.
Prosecutors in court papers called it “salacious scuttlebutt that is offensive to the memory of his victims.”
“It’s very telling they want to make this case about Eddie Smith,” Waters said.