Inadequate investigation? Takeaways at the Murdaugh murder trial

Defense attorneys in the double murder trial of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh say state agents did a poor job of the investigation. Alex Murdaugh is questioned by District Attorney Creighton Waters after he made a statement during his murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, SC on Thursday, February 23, 2023. (Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool)

(AP) – Investigators like to say that in a murder, the crime scene tells the story, even when no one else is doing it.

In the double murder trial of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, his defense attorneys want the jury to believe the crime scene can’t tell them much about the deaths of his wife and son because state agents are doing a poor job of investigating have.

Murdaugh, 54, is accused of killing his wife Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son Paul in kennels near their home on June 7, 2021 as the once-celebrity lawyer’s career and finances collapsed. Murdaugh has denied any role in the fatal shootings. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years to live.

Here are some key takeaways from the 61 prosecution witnesses and 11 defense witnesses summoned so far in the five-week trial, including Murdaugh himself.


The defense has called experts who said investigators didn’t dust for fingerprints, collect and test blood, or photograph evidence with the angles or clarity needed to properly examine it later.

The first officer arrived at the rural Colleton County estate 20 minutes after Murdaugh called 911 while returning home from a visit to his ailing mother. Almost immediately, the local sheriff realized he was dealing with someone whose family had dominated the legal system in neighboring Hampton County for generations, and turned the investigation over to the State Law Enforcement Division.

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It took hours for agents from across the state to penetrate deep into the South Carolina lowlands. During this time, more than a dozen family and friends walked around the scene comforting Murdaugh. Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s bodies were covered with a sheet capable of absorbing liquid instead of a tarp. Then the sheet was not saved, which means that a killer’s hair or DNA could possibly have been lost. It rained intermittently and runoff from the kennel roof fell on Paul Murdaugh’s covered body.

“It’s a crime scene. You don’t want water dripping everywhere. But more importantly, I found it quite disrespectful,” Murdaugh’s former legal partner Mark Ball testified.

When state agents arrived, they sent Murdaugh and his entourage to the house. Witnesses said it was not searched for weapons, bloody clothing or other evidence, or even checked to see if a suspect was hiding inside.

Prosecutors have little direct evidence of Murdaugh’s guilt. The weapons used in the killings have not been found. There’s no blood-splattered clothes or surveillance footage.

Prosecutor John Meadors told one of the experts that investigators did their best under the circumstances.

“They get paid to come here and say they did a bad job,” Meadors said.


He was the 72nd witness at the five-week trial. But everyone was perky on Thursday when Alex Murdaugh took the witness stand.

His defense team wasted no time. Their first questions were whether he killed his wife or his son.

“I didn’t kill Maggie and I didn’t kill Paul. I would never hurt Maggie and I would never hurt Paul – under any circumstances,” Murdaugh said.

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Murdaugh admitted he lied for 20 months when he told police, his family and anyone else who asked him that he wasn’t at the kennel before he found the bodies of his wife and son there. A video on his son’s iPhone, taken minutes before prosecutors believe the murders took place, recorded Alex Murdaugh’s voice. It took state agents more than a year to hack into the phone and find it.

Under cross-examination, Murdaugh admitted to robbing clients and his law firm, which likely sealed his fate for many of the 100 other charges he faces, from theft to insurance fraud to tax evasion.

“I took money that wasn’t mine. And I shouldn’t have done it. I hate the fact that I did it. I’m embarrassed. I am ashamed of my son. I’m ashamed of my family,” Murdaugh said.


Other than Murdaugh and his family, no potential witness has piqued the interest of trial observers like Curtis “Eddie” Smith.

“Cousin Eddie,” as many called him, was the person Murdaugh reportedly called when he wanted someone to kill him three months after the deaths of his wife and son.

The fatal shot just grazed Murdaugh’s head. Smith told reporters that the gun was fired as they were wrestling for the gun and if he had fired at Murdaugh on purpose he would not have missed.

Smith and Murdaugh met about a decade ago when Smith needed an attorney for a workers’ compensation case. Investigators said they ran a check-cashing drug and money-laundering ring with Smith to help Murdaugh hide money he stole from customers.

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In the end, both prosecutors and defense attorneys seem to have decided that Smith could hurt their cases as much as he could help them.

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said Smith had six different explanations for the shooting of Murdaugh “and any other information you ask him about”.

But earlier this month, when prosecutors and Harpootlian discussed with the judge whether Smith would testify, the resolute defense attorney lamented that Smith might not have been subpoenaed.

“I look forward to cross-examining Mr. Smith,” Harpootlian said.