The Lyin’ Scion – Chapters 1-3

Day 1

Opening statements

Jan. 25, 2023

Speakers: Creighton Waters (prosecution) and Dick Harpootlian (defense)

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED TRIALS in South Carolina history began on a blustery January day at the Colleton County Courthouse with Judge Clifton Newman presiding.

Creighton Waters, Chief Attorney, State Grand Jury Section at South Carolina Office of the Attorney General, gave opening remarks for the state. Dick Harpootlian, who had celebrated his 74th birthday two days earlier, represented the accused, Alex Murdaugh. Each introduced a team of attorneys who would take turns interviewing witnesses and presenting evidence.

Waters went first. A local podcaster dubbed his clipped, direct manner of speaking and animated style as Big Creighton Energy. He laid out the kind of evidence the state had compiled in its exhaustive investigation, noting it was a circumstantial case that would rely heavily on cell phone records.

“The law says that circumstantial evidence is just as good as direct evidence,” he said. “The key piece of forensic evidence you’re going to hear in this case is the cell phone evidence. Alex’s cell phone. Maggie’s cell phone. Paul’s cell phone.”

Waters mentioned the state had evidence to contradict Alex’s alibi he had not been at the scene of the murders until he discovered their bodies.

The Lyin’ Scion is available on Amazon as an e-book and in paperback and hardback. It is free for Amazon Kindle subscribers.

“Evidence will show that he was there, with Maggie and Paul, just minutes before their cell phones go silent forever,” Waters said. “Despite what he told people, ‘I was never at those kennels,’ the cell phones will show otherwise.”

Waters said the family owned a rifle that fired the “exact brand, exact model” of ammunition that killed Maggie and investigators found boxes of the same shotgun shells that killed Paul scattered throughout the property. He said there was gunshot residue found on Alex and in his car and on a mysterious blue raincoat found at his mother’s house.

“There’s a lot of factors in this case,” he said. “But like a lot of things that are complicated, when you start to piece them together like a puzzle, all of a sudden a picture emerges. Once we get to the end of that journey, and you get a chance to deliberate, the evidence is going to be such that you will reach the inescapable conclusion that Alex murdered Maggie and Paul.”

Other members of the prosecution team included South Carolina’s Attorney General, Alan Wilson, veteran prosecutor John Meadors, Savanna Goude, who worked for two years in the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office before becoming an Assistant Attorney General, David Fernandez and John Conrad.

Harpootlian began his remarks by saying it was an “honor to represent Alex Murdaugh” and portrayed the Murdaughs as a loving family. “You’re not going to hear a single witness say their relationship, Maggie and Alex’s relationship, was anything but loving,” he said.

With his folksy delivery and fancy suits and frequent bouts with technology, Harpootlian played the part of the genteel Southern lawyer to the hilt (think Jim Trotter III in “My Cousin Vinny”). His rambling remarks frequently wandered off target, but he always returned to his point.

He said the police zeroed in on Murdaugh on the night of June 7. “He’s being questioned, and the questioning is pretty aggressive,” he said. “They suspected him. They decided that night he did it. They’ve been pounding that square peg into the round hole since June 2021.”

He pointed to a press release issued the day after the murders that said there was no threat to the public even though no arrest had been made and one would not be made for more than a year. He said data the state relies on showed Alex had less than ten minutes to kill Maggie and Paul, return to the house, clean up, and then get in his car for the drive to his mother’s house.

He discredited the state’s evidence his client lied about his whereabouts on the night of the murders. “Whether he’d been down to the dog pens that night or not didn’t matter,” he said. “It really didn’t matter.”

Harpootlian also attacked the state’s evidence. “There’s no direct evidence,” he said. “There’s no eyewitness. No camera. There’s no fingerprints. There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None.”

Harpootlian introduced a team of attorneys that would help him present the case. Jim Griffin, a friend of Alex Murdaugh, served as co-defense counsel. Phillip Barber and Margaret Fox were the other members of the team.

Summary: Harpootlian’s statement “it really didn’t matter” if his client was at the scene of the murder just minutes before the killings occurred was a bit of a head scratcher. That seems kind of important.

Guilty-meter: 0 percent.

Day 2

The story unfolds

Jan. 26, 2023

Witnesses: Daniel Greene (Colleton County Sheriff’s Office), Barry McRoy (Colleton County Fire & Rescue), Jason Chapman (Colleton County Sheriff’s Office); Chad McDowell (Colleton County Sheriff’s Office), Denise Bryson-Smith (Hampton County e911), Angela Stallings (Colleton County Sheriff’s Office)

SIX WITNESSES WERE CALLED on the second day of the trial. Sergeant Daniel Greene of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office was the initial first responder to arrive at Moselle, and he was the first witness. All witnesses called were either first responders from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office or Colleton County and Hampton County e911 centers.

Throughout Greene’s time on the stand, Prosecutor Creighton Waters played footage recorded by Greene’s body camera on June 7. He stopped often to ask Sergeant Greene to explain what was happening.

Greene testified when he arrived, Paul’s body was to his left and Maggie’s on his right. He confirmed their deaths to dispatch without checking the bodies and approached Alex, who stood in the distance next to his car.

“His immediate reaction was to start telling me about an incident that had happened with his son with a boating accident,” Greene said.

Indeed, within one minute of Greene exiting his patrol vehicle, Alex begins his story.

“My son was in a boat wreck months back,” Murdaugh said. “He’s been getting threats. Most of its been benign stuff we didn’t take seriously. He’s been getting punched. I know that’s what it is.”

This was not the first time Murdaugh mentioned the boat crash that night. He had already told a 911 operator Paul had been punched several times because of the boat crash.

Greene asked Murdaugh to tell him what happened.

“I went to the house and they weren’t home, which is odd,” he said. “I tried to call. I knew they had been down here before I left to go to my mom’s.”

At this point in the video, Greene distracted Murdaugh when he placed the shotgun leaning next to Murdaugh’s car in his patrol vehicle. Alex had already alerted Greene to the presence of the weapon.

Later, Murdaugh returns to explaining his version of events. “I was probably gone an hour and a half to my mom’s, and I saw them about forty-five minutes before that,” he said. This would mean Murdaugh left Moselle around 8:30 p.m. and he last saw Maggie and Paul around 7:45 p.m.

Greene said Murdaugh was upset, but “he did not appear to be crying. I did not see any visible tears.”

Another prosecution witness, Colleton County Sheriff’s Captain Jason Chapman, agreed. “He was sweating, but he wasn’t crying,” Chapman testified.

Chapman said his staff did not attempt to collect evidence, instead waiting for SLED’s crime scene unit to arrive. “What we did do was identification of any potential evidence, we marked that potential evidence, if time had allowed it would have been photographed and then from that point simply protected,” he said. “Absolutely zero collection of anything was done by my staff with the exception of one GSR kit that was instructed by SLED.”

One of the strangest moments captured by Greene’s bodycam involved another deputy, Chad McDowell, who was the second Colleton County Sheriff’s Office member to arrive. As McDowell walked near where Greene and Murdaugh stood, Murdaugh casually said, “How you doing?” like he was greeting an acquaintance at a backyard barbecue.

Waters stopped the recording and replayed that clip for the jury.

Paul’s IPhone

Greene and others testified both bodies were facedown. Paul’s arms were trapped underneath his body, but his cell phone was “laying on top of Paul” near the back pockets of his shorts.

Alex had told Greene and the 911 caller he had attempted to turn Paul’s body over and that he tried to check for a pulse on both Paul and Maggie. With the massive amounts of blood on and around both, it seems likely Murdaugh would have gotten blood on his hands or shoes as he knelt next to the bodies and felt for a pulse.

“There was no blood on him (Alex) that I could see,” Greene said. “There was a pool of blood around each of the bodies that extended out from the body.”

As more officers arrived on scene, some speculated Paul might have killed Maggie and then killed himself. With his arms trapped underneath his body, they wondered if a rifle might be under there as well.

At one point, Greene attempted to look under Paul’s body to see if he saw a Blackout 300. “The whole purpose for trying to look up under him was to determine if there was an additional firearm on the scene already, possibly under Paul,” he said. “We were trying to rule it out as a possibility, that he could have shot Maggie and shot himself.”

At one point, a deputy is heard on Greene’s bodycam asking if he was familiar with the Murdaugh family.

The defense

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian wasted little time in his cross-examinations to make two elements of the defense’s strategy clear. He wanted to put the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office on trial for how it handled the crime scene investigation, even though it was SLED’s responsibility, and SLED for targeting Alex Murdaugh.

He asked how many times Greene had met with the prosecution to review his bodycam footage and why Greene had never returned Harpootlian’s phone calls.

Greene said he had met three or four times with the prosecution and he did not receive any voicemails from Harpootlian.

Harpootlian asked why he had not taken photos of the tire tracks he had seen, why he did not take photos of footprints another first responder had told him about and why another deputy had been allowed into the small room where Paul was shot. Greene said it was not part of his job that night.

On redirect, Waters asked Greene if his duties included crime scene investigation. Greene said “not at all” and reiterated his job was to secure the crime scene and not conduct an investigation.

Harpootlian tried to have it both ways in his interrogation of the Sheriff’s personnel. After criticizing Greene for not conducting a proper investigation, he asked McDowell why he marked the shell casings visible near Maggie Murdaugh’s body. At one point he suggested the investigators should have waited until daylight because it was so dark at the kennels they risked trampling evidence.

Summary: The first day of testimony nudged the needle slightly in favor of the prosecution. Alex was a little too eager to say the murders were because of the boat crash. He said this to a 911 operator and almost immediately to Greene when he arrived. His casual greeting to Deputy McDowell seemed out of place considering what had happened. His claim he checked both Paul and Maggie for a pulse and somehow managed not to get any of their blood on his clothes is suspect.

Guilty-meter: 5 percent.

Day 3

Alex’s alibi

Jan. 27, 2023

Witnesses: Laura Rutland (Colleton County Sheriff’s Office), Melinda Worley (SLED).

Alex’s first official interview occurred the night of the murder, with Colleton County Sheriff’s Investigator Laura Rutland assisting SLED agent David Owen. Alex’s personal lawyer, Danny Henderson, sat in on the interview, which occurred after midnight on June 8, around 1 a.m.

The interview was shown to jurors during Rutland’s testimony. The interview itself lasts about half an hour and is not very revealing. Alex lays out his alibi and breaks down a few times but always quickly composes himself.

Owen did not press or try to pin him down for specifics or act as if he considered Alex a suspect in any way, other than asking about the nature of his relationship with Maggie and Paul. Owen even attempted to comfort Alex when he would be overcome with emotion.

This treatment runs contrary to Dick Harpootlian’s opening statement, when he said police had questioned Alex “aggressively” and focused in on him as a suspect from the start. Much of this interview involved Owen trying to get Alex to think about potential suspects not named Alex Murdaugh.

There is no doubt Murdaugh would be considered a suspect, but Owen was not singularly focused on Alex or hostile.

Alex received deferential treatment, most likely due to his family legacy, his standing as a volunteer solicitor (prosecutor) and familiarity with law enforcement in the Low Country region.

The biggest issue to arise out of this interview was the sequence of events Alex related in his first call to 911. The prosecution spent considerable effort trying to show this as another part of Alex’s shifting story, but examining the evidence presented to the jury, it is difficult to tell what Alex said he did that night.

During the interview, Alex says he got out of the car, checked both Paul and Maggie for a pulse and then called 911. “I pulled up and I could see them,” he said. “I ran out and I knew it was really bad. I could see his brain. I think I tried to turn Paul over first. His cell phone popped out of his pocket. I tried to do something with it. Then I put it back down really quickly. Then I went to my wife. I could see. I touched them both. I tried to do it as limited as possible. I tried to take their pulse on both of them.”

Later on in the interview, he says, “I called 911 pretty much right away.”

Alex’s Alibi

Alex then laid out his alibi again, sticking with what he had told the initial officer to arrive. He stayed behind when Paul and Maggie left the house and took a nap on the sofa. When he woke up, no one was in the house. He called and texted Maggie but got no response.

“I left the house and went to my mom’s,” he said. “I tried to call her (Maggie) when I left. Texted her, no response. When I got back to the house, obviously nobody was in there. So I figured they were still up here fooling around. I came back up here. I drove up and saw, and called.”

This is the part of the interview where he seems to indicate he called 911 as soon as he drove up. The 911 call also seems to bolster this. A little more than one minute into the call, Murdaugh says, “I’ve been up to it now, and it’s bad.” This implies he had not already checked the bodies.

Red herrings

Alex threw out a couple of red herrings during the interview.

When asked by Owen if he had any ideas who could have done this, he immediately brings up the boat crash.

“What comes to my mind, my son Paul was in a boat wreck a couple of years ago,” he said. “He was arrested for being the driver. There’s been a lot of negative publicity about that.”

Owen asks if Paul had been having any issues with specific people, including the other people on the boat. Alex does not mention any names, just vague incidents and threats.

“I don’t know of any direct threats between any of the people on the boat,” he said. “Most of this was stuff from people that Paul didn’t really know. He went out in Charleston a couple of months ago and came back (with) a black eye.”

Alex then mentions he was having some issues with his recent hired hand. CB Rowe had been working for the family for about eight weeks. He had apparently accidentally killed a field of sunflowers, which was why Paul had come back to Moselle. Alex wanted him to replant the sunflowers, which are used as bait for deer and quail.

“I can’t tell you anybody I’m overly suspicious of off the top of my head,” Murdaugh said. “I just hired a guy out here. He wasn’t cutting the mustard, but I haven’t told him this yet. Paul’s been working with him a lot. He killed the sunflower seeds in our dove field just recently, which is why Paul was here.”

Curiously, Alex suggests Rowe as a suspect and then undercuts himself when he admits he hadn’t told Rowe he “wasn’t cutting the mustard.” Rowe wouldn’t have reason to be angry if he had no idea he wasn’t performing up to expectations and might lose his job.

Alex then relayed an unrelated incident between Paul and Rowe. “He told Paul a story the other day about how when he was in high school, he got into a fight with some black guys,” Murdaugh said. “An FBI undercover team observed him fighting those guys and put him on an undercover team with three Navy Seals. And their job was to kill radical Black Panthers, and they did that from Myrtle Beach to Savannah. That’s just really weird. I really do not think in all honesty it’s him, but I know ya’ll got to check him out.”

But the weirdest part of the Rowe discussion was the last question. Alex told Owen he had briefly spoken with Rowe that night while driving back from Almeda after visiting his mother, prompting the detective to ask about Rowe’s demeanor on the phone.

“It seemed normal,” Alex said. “I asked him about the sunflowers. I’m sure he’s a little bit …”

Alex stopped in midsentence, and Owen immediately moved on to the next question without asking Alex to finish his thought. Rowe was a “little bit” what? Was Alex about to say Rowe was a “little bit” shocked to learn Paul and Maggie were dead, even though this conversation occurred before Alex returned home to “find” the bodies?

Owen asked if Alex had noticed any trespassers on the property lately. Alex said no.

Owen asked when Paul and Maggie arrived at the property.

“He (Paul) got here pretty early,” Alex said. “He and I rode around looking at everything for a little while, 45 minutes to an hour. She got back here fairly late.”

Owen asked if they routinely kept weapons at the kennels.

“We don’t store them, but they are frequently out here,” Alex said. “I know there was a 12-gauge shotgun out here. I think it got put up, but I’m not positive. I don’t think it was out here recently, but I’m not positive.”

This is when Alex admits he went to the house and retrieved a gun after calling 911, but then added he was “probably overreacting.” Considering his wife and son had just been gruesomely shot, this is hardly an overreaction, unless he knew the killer or killers were not a threat to him.

In fact, you have to wonder why he did not grab a shotgun when he left the house at Moselle to come to the kennels upon returning from his mother’s. After all, he had called or texted Maggie six times since nine o’clock and called Paul once without receiving a response. For a family with a big target on its back, shouldn’t his anxiety level have been rising?

He again repeats his story, but adds he was and was not concerned about their lack of response.

“I laid down, took a nap on the couch for probably twenty-five, thirty minutes,” he said. “I got up, called Maggie, didn’t get an answer. I think I texted her. She’s very good about answering the phone or calling me back, so that was odd, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. I left to go to my mom’s.”

This prompts yet another interesting exchange. Owen asked Alex when he called Maggie. Alex pulls out his phone and reads off the times of the calls and texts.

“I texted her at 9:08 and texted her at 9:47,” he said. “That’s when I started to come back. I think I called her before that. I called her at 9:45 and then I tried Paul.”

He appears to get confused when he tells Owen about a call at 10:06 p.m. He stops speaking but continues scrolling through his phone. He leans out the door and spits a few times, then asks Owen if he could have a piece of gum. After popping the gum, he asks for a bottle of water. Owen has a case in the back of his car and asks Rutland to get him one. After all this is completed, Owen does not revisit the issue of the contacts with Maggie.

The interview wraps up a short time later with Alex thanking Owen and Rutland. “Thank ya’ll for everything ya’ll are doing,” he said.

Rutland arrived late on scene because she had been instructed to obtain a search warrant for the property. Before the interview, which took place inside Owen’s car due to rain, she said she noticed Murdaugh did not have any bloodstains on his shoes, shirt, shorts or hands. “He was clean,” she said. Once inside the car, she said his clothes looked and smelled “fresh.”

Crime Scene investigator Melinda Worley testified about the amount of ammunition found all over the property and in almost every vehicle. They found ammo that matched the ammo used to kill both Paul and Maggie in many rooms at the main house and at the kennels, in Alex’s Suburban, Paul’s F150 truck and the F250 truck they kept at Moselle. In other words, it was everywhere.

Worley also testified about all the evidence collected, including weapons, rounds, spent shells, Alex’s clothes, Paul and Maggie’s clothes, etc. Harpootlian made a lot of technical objections and ultimately asked for the trial to recess for the weekend before Worley finished testifying.

Summary: The prosecution attempted to portray Alex as lying about the sequence of events around the 911 call, but his answers are vague and can be interpreted both ways. It is hard to determine what exactly happened and, more importantly, if it really mattered.

He seemed remarkably composed during the interview, breaking down a few times but quickly gathering himself. He never asked for a tissue to wipe tears from his eyes or blow snot from his nose. The only time he seemed to suffer a genuine breakdown was when he received a call at the end informing him Buster had arrived or was close, and he told whoever was on the phone not to let Buster come up to the kennels. Alex then broke down in what appeared to be his most genuine outburst of the night, although he again recovered quickly.

The exhaustive catalog of all the ammunition found throughout the property was an attempt to show Alex would have easy access to weapons and ammunition for whenever he put his plan into action. It also played into the defense’s contention a gunman or gunmen could have shown up, found weapons and ammunition lying around, and killed Paul and Maggie before disappearing into the night. Alex even seems to plant the notion a 12-gauge shotgun might have been left at the kennels.

The needle moved slightly in the prosecution’s favor. Alex seemed very calm for someone who had just suffered this tragedy. He often paused answering what seemed to be straightforward questions, as if he was weighing how to respond so it would fit with his story. All of that could also be attributed to the shock he felt when discovering the bodies, of course, so it is not a real slam-dunk. His admission he picked up Paul’s cellphone when it fell out of his pocket as he was attempting to roll him over (and he later said he did not roll Paul over) was also disconcerting. Why did he stand over his dead son and mess with his phone?

Guilty-meter: 10%.

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