BLOG: Day 4: 911 calls, emotions fill first day of testimony
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Emotions, tire impressions, shoe impressions and 911 calls filled the first day of testimony in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.
As the trial entered its fourth day, witnesses were called to the stand for the first time.
The state called six witnesses, two Colleton County deputies, the Colleton County Fire-Rescue fire chief, two E911 dispatchers and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office’s lead investigator.
Thursday’s testimony began with Sgt. Daniel Greene taking the stand. Greene was the first person to arrive at Moselle on the night of the murders.
The court was shown Greene’s body camera footage in full. At times the footage was shielded from both Murdaugh and those inside the courtroom.
Greene is asked by the state to walk the court through the footage. He describes a grisly scene as he recalls seeing Paul and Maggie’s bodies laying in pools of blood.
The pure gruesomeness of the scene was reiterated by Colleton County Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy.
McRoy describes Paul’s injuries as “substantial damage to his head” with lots of blood and says the blood around Maggie’s face was already congealed when he arrived on the scene.
Testimony from the first responders centered around evidence found at the scene on the night of the killings along with Murdaugh’s emotional state.
“In your interactions with Mister Murdaugh, was he able to understand your questions and respond appropriately to what you were asking?” Waters asked Greene.
“Yes,” Greene said.
“Was he panicking in any way?” Waters asked.
“He seemed upset, but I wouldn’t say panicky,” Greene said.
Dispatchers from Hampton and Colleton counties were also called to the stand during Thursday’s testimony. The original 911 call made by Murdaugh was routed to Hampton County. Tinish Bryson-Smith, who’s over the day-to-day operations told the court it wasn’t an unusual occurrence and the call would route to the nearest center. If that call was for another country then the center would transfer the call. The portion of Murdaugh’s 911 call from Hampton County until the time of transfer is played out in court.
Colleton County’s Administrative Services Captain Angela Stallings was also called to the stand. The full 911 call is played. In the call, you can hear Murdaugh say his wife and son had been shot.
The dispatcher asks if the wounds could be self-inflicted.
“Oh no, hell no,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh can be heard pleading with the dispatcher to hurry and send help before telling the dispatcher that he’s going to the house to grab a gun.
It’s during the initial 911 call that Murdaugh first makes mention of the Beaufort County boat crash involving Paul. He tells the dispatcher that Paul had been receiving threats and Paul knew who had been making the threats, but he did not.
Once, Greene arrived on the scene and approached Murdaugh he’s told about a shotgun that’s leaning against Murdaugh’s vehicle before Alex again mentions the boat crash and Paul receiving threats.
Another insight into the mind of Murdaugh on the night of the murders comes from Capt. Jason Chapman, who oversees the sheriff’s office’s special operations.
“I didn’t see him cry. Not everyone cries,” Chapman said. “I don’t have an issue with that.”
He says Murdaugh would sometimes change when asked a question.
“There are times that when we got to certain places or ask certain questions that you could see a slight demeanor change or body language shift,” Chapman said.
He said Murdaugh remained on the scene.
“He remained in the scene. He wasn’t forced to stay. He was cooperative, but there were times that you can see reactions to different things,” Chapman said.
Chapman says that based on the limited body cam footage he has seen it appears that Murdaugh focused more on Paul than Maggie, but said it was a very limited observation.
The actions of Murdaugh on the night of the murders would again be questioned when Chapman was cross-examined by Harpootlian.
Chapman previously said Murdaugh’s demeanor changed when detectives were investigating tire impressions found at the scene.
Harpootlian asks if the change of demeanor mentioned could be because Alex thought they were finding clues about the killer.
Chapman says it was “just a change in demeanor.”
The impressions were mentioned by every first responder called to the stand Thursday.
Body camera footage showed a series of tire impressions near Murdaugh’s black Suburban.
Murdaugh admitted on camera that he drove from the kennels to the house and back to the kennels owning some of the tracks.
Others tracks were found near Maggie’s body.
Chapman said investigators tried to follow each set of impressions and match them to vehicles on the property.
Chapman testified that when asked about how Maggie and Paul would have gotten to the kennels, Alex told investigators that they were probably in Paul’s white F-250. The F-250 was not on the property and was later found just inside Hampton County.
Chapman was also questioned about a set of shoe impressions that he reported as “pacing.”
Chapman said that without actual testing the impressions seemed to be similar to the shoes worn by Maggie the night she was killed.
The defense paints picture of sloppy evidence gathering, contaminated crime scenes
As Harpootlian cross-examined Greene at the beginning of the day, the subject of tire tracks and not photographing and preserving crime scenes comes up.
“Were you told by fire and rescue to a set of prints behind the trailer?” Harpootlian ask.
“Yes,” Greene says.
“Did he tell you that they attempted to not disturb those footprints in any way,” Harpootlian continues.
“I don’t recall exactly,” Greene says.
“He [Murdaugh] talked about the tire tracks coming and going, and he told you those weren’t his tire tracks correct,” Hapootlian asks.
Greene tells him, yes, he did say that.
Harpootlian continues to push Greene on crime scene preservation asking about steps taken to secure the scene beyond putting up yellow tape.
Greene says that’s about the extent of his job.
The other responding deputy, Cpl. Chad McDowell reiterated Thursday they were only there to secure the scene and preserve as much as possible for investigators.
Harpootlian asks who was the scene supervisor when McDowell arrived.
He says Sgt. Greene was the supervisor initially.
Harpootlian asks what McDowell’s role was in the response.
He says it’s to secure the scene.
The conversation shifts to Paul’s body and McDowell entering the feed room.
Says to his knowledge he did not disturb anything.
Harpootlian says there’s no way to know if microscopic evidence was preserved.
McDowell says his role was to move the sheet covering Paul as detectives searched for a second weapon under his body.
Harpootlian asks why the search for shell casings couldn’t wait until morning.
He asks if McDowell was instructed to mark casings and why it couldn’t wait until morning.
McDowell says he wasn’t instructed to search for casings but wanted to mark them so other responders wouldn’t disturb them.
“You don’t know what your role was there?” Harpootlian asked.
“I was a first responder,” McDowell said.
Harpootlian would later push Chapman on the role of investigators in preserving evidence was following the search warrant.
Harpootlian again brings up the footprints behind the hanger. Says the report says the looked like “pacing.”
Chapman explains it’s worded like that because they appear to go down and back.
Harpootlian says a blown-up image shows an REI logo over the top of the flat impression.
Chapman says the prints were only the flat shoes when they followed the prints. Says the prints that crossed over would not be his or the other detective’s.
He’s asked if he would be happy if one of his detectives had walked across a crime scene.
Chapman says he would be upset if one of his detectives had crossed the path.
Harpootlian asks if Murdaugh was a suspect Chapman left that morning.
Chapman says he wasn’t the primary investigator at that point and didn’t know.
The investigation had been turned over to SLED and the search warrant had been handed over.
Harpootlian asks if the house was searched.
Chapman says he personally did not go in the house and none of his detectives went at his directive. Says he doesn’t know if SLED entered the home.
Harpootlian leans into Chapman about the searches performed by SLED through the search warrant.
Chapman says he isn’t aware of what they did after being given control of the scene. Says the search warrant would allow them to check every structure and all of the 1700 acres.
Harpootlian ends the day by saying the detective that helped Chapman with the footprints would take the stand on Friday and he would ask her about the search warrant because she was the one who secured it.
Wednesday ended with opening statements presented to the newly-seated, newly-sworn jury. Those statements differed in what they expect the evidence will say about Murdaugh’s actions that evening. But they clearly agreed on the gruesomeness of the crime scene and the injuries to the two victims.
Murdaugh himself became emotional as lead prosecutor Creighton Waters and defense attorney Dick Harpootlian described the graphic nature of the killings and in particular the extent of the injuries.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Waters opened the trial with three minutes of graphic description of the scene where the bodies of Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and her son, Paul, 22, were found shot with at least one bullet to the head by two different guns, pointing to Paul Murdaugh’s head and calling it “catastrophic damage.”
“It’s going to be gruesome. No other way around it. What he did,” Waters said. “You’re gonna see crime scene photographs. You’re going to see the traumatic injuries and their suffering.”
READ MORE: Judge orders crime scene, autopsy media into sealed evidence in Murdaugh trial
Harpootlian went even further, saying Paul Murdaugh’s head “literally exploded” from the shotgun blast and that whoever fired was “probably no more than three feet away.”
“You would be covered in blood from head to foot, in blood,” Harpootlian said, adding that Murdaugh’s clothes, which agents with the State Law Enforcement Division seized that night, were not covered in blood.
“They didn’t find any blood on him,” Harpootlian said. “SLED’s testing indicated 12 different places on his shirt and pants. No human blood detected, period. You’ll see pictures, a white t-shirt. No blood on it. Those are facts. Those aren’t theories.”
Opening statements begin with cellphones, bullets
There was gunshot residue on a seat belt, bullets pulled from bodies that matched ammunition boxes from around the home and cellphones never used again just a few minutes after Murdaugh, his wife and son were all heard in a cellphone video, prosecutor Creighton Waters said in his opening statement.
“It’s complicated. It’s a journey. There’s a lot of aspects to this case,” Waters said. “But like a lot of things that are complicated, we start to put them all together, piecing together like a puzzle — all the sudden, a picture emerges.”
READ MORE: Murdaugh openers paint different, but graphic pictures of night of killings
Harpootlian said prosecutors incorrectly locked in on Murdaugh’s guilt from the start and have spent all that time trying to jam bits of evidence that can be explained away or leave an incomplete picture into a story that frames the wrong man.
“There’s no direct evidence. There’s no eyewitnesses. There’s nothing on camera. There’s no fingerprints. There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None,” he said. “Alex was the loving father of Paul and the loving husband of Maggie. You’re not going to hear a single witness say that their relationship was anything other than loving.”
It was the start of what is expected to be a three-week trial at the Colleton County Courthouse.
Murdaugh also faces about 100 charges related to other crimes, including money laundering, stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, tax evasion and trying to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. He was being held in jail without bail on those counts before he was charged with murder.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.