‘He’s presumed innocent’: Murdaugh’s murder trial begins

(NewsNation) — Opening arguments in the double-murder trial of Alex Murdaugh began Wednesday with the prosecution and the defense addressing the newly seated jury.

In his opening remarks, the state’s lead prosecutor, Creighton Waters, laid out a timeline of events and described evidence collected from the night that Maggie, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were killed. 

Waters said Alex Murdaugh lied about his whereabouts, attacking his credibility as the high-profile trial got underway.

“What you’re going to do in this particular case is determine credibility, or the believability of witnesses,” Waters told the jury. “So, your job is to look at the evidence, the exhibits in the case, but also the witnesses, and decide if it’s true, if you believe it, if you can rely on it.”

Waters also said the evidence would show that both the victims were shot at close range with no defensive wounds, “as if they didn’t see a threat coming from their attacker.”

Waters listed the types of evidence he said jurors will hear about over the course of the trial.

“There is going to be a lot of forensic evidence in the case,” Waters said.

Gunshot residue, DNA and cellphone evidence were among those listed.

Waters called the cellphone evidence key to the case and would show Murdaugh was at the kennels right before his wife and son were fatally shot, contradicting what he had told others in the wake of the incident.

In the defense’s opening remarks, attorney Dick Harpootlian called the cellphone records incomplete.

“Maggie’s phone was thrown out on the side of the road about a quarter of a mile away,” Harpootlian said. “They found it by using Find My iPhone.”

Harpootlian argued that Murdaugh had no reason to murder his wife and son on the family’s property in June 2021.

Harpootlian said the brutal fashion in which they were “executed” makes Murdaugh’s involvement “not believable.”

“I want you to hear that 911 tape,” Harpootlian told the jury. “It is a man hysterical in grief.”

He said the evidence will show investigators did not find any blood on Murdaugh’s clothes.

“You would be covered from head to foot in blood,” he said. “He didn’t do it. He didn’t kill … butcher his son and wife.”

Harpootlian also stressed the lack of proof and “direct evidence” that Murdaugh committed the crimes.

“There’s no eyewitnesses. There’s nothing on camera. There’s no fingerprints. There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None,” Harpootlian said. “He’s presumed innocent. You cannot convict him unless the state proves it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The jury in the trial was seated earlier on Wednesday, after three days of intense questioning, with 12 jurors and six alternates selected.

The jury includes eight women and four men. Ten of the jury members are white and two are Black.

Jury selection began on Monday as prosecutors and defense attorneys sifted through some 700 summonses. More than 200 people were brought in for a first round of questioning that lasted nearly three hours, but only about 30 were deemed qualified for the pool of potential jurors.

Potential jurors faced a battery of questions, including whether they knew any of the nearly 200 law officers, friends, bankers and others on the witness list, as well as whether they had heard about or followed the case.

The trial is taking place in Colleton County, South Carolina, part of the state’s Lowcountry, where the Murdaugh family has been influential for decades. A portrait of Alex Murdaugh’s father usually hangs in the courtroom, but the judge ordered it removed for the trial.

Alex Murdaugh is charged with two counts of murder for the deaths of his wife and son, and the judge in the case has set aside three weeks for the trial. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were found shot to death in the basement of the family’s estate in June of 2021. Law enforcement reportedly viewed Alex Murdaugh as a suspect from the beginning but didn’t arrest him until July of 2022.

Shortly after Maggie and Paul’s deaths, Alex Murdaugh was shot in the head by a man who claimed Alex Murdaugh hired him to kill him, in what authorities say was an attempt at insurance fraud.

More twists and turns in the case unfolded as time went on. The family was linked to several mysterious deaths, including that of Mallory Beach, who was killed in an accident involving the family’s boat. Her family accused Paul Murdaugh of being responsible for the crash.

Then there was the family’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in an accident at the family’s home.

There was also Stephen Smith, a young man whose death was officially ruled a hit-and-run but whose family said was not properly investigated. Smith was rumored to be linked to the oldest Murdaugh son, Buster.

Authorities also found evidence that Murdaugh was involved in a number of financial crimes, including tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. He faces 100 counts in those cases, which have been postponed until after the murder trial.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Murdaugh Murder Trial

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