The state of South Carolina is methodically making its case against Alex Murdaugh – the erstwhile influential attorney who stands accused of savagely slaying his wife and son nineteen months ago in a crime which has drawn international attention.
The investigation into this graphic double homicide – and multiple other lines of criminal inquiry tied to Murdaugh and his associates – is being run by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
I say “is” because the murder investigation is ongoing …
To recap: At approximately 8:49 p.m. EDT on June 7, 2021, state prosecutors say Murdaugh savagely dispatched his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and their younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, near the dog kennels on the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property – known locally as Moselle.
Paul Murdaugh was hit by a pair of shotgun blasts on that fateful evening – one to the head, the other to the arm and chest. Maggie Murdaugh was killed by multiple rounds from a semi-automatic rifle around the same time her son was killed. Those gunshots did catastrophic damage to both victims – something the jury saw up close and personal on body-worn camera videos and still photographs from the crime scene.
As the prosecution worked to establish its case – and as defense attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin started pushing back with their own counter-narratives – the vast majority of early witnesses have been procedural in nature.
After hearing from first responders – the Colleton County deputies who were called to Moselle following Alex Murdaugh’s fateful 9-1-1 call – prosecutors began questioning witnesses who collected, processed and analyzed various pieces of evidence taken from the crime scene, from autopsies of the victims and from other locations pertinent to the investigation.
As proceedings wore on Friday, the state’s case – which started with a bang courtesy of lead prosecutor Creighton Waters – settled into a trudging and pedantic plodding, a halting progression of mostly abbreviated, evidence-based testimony from witnesses who were called to verify various items and confirm their chain of custody so they could be admitted into evidence.
One particular witness who fielded the vast majority of this evidence was special agent Melinda Worley, a forensic scientist at SLED who was part of the crime scene unit which responded to Moselle. Worley was on the stand for more than four hours as assistant attorney general Savanna Goude led her through the introduction of several dozen pieces of evidence.
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“There’s a lot of mechanical witnesses – I wouldn’t call them boring – but they are necessary to introduce evidence,” a prosecutor familiar with the status of the case told me.
“In order to tell a story you have to put a thousand puzzle pieces on the table,” the prosecutor told me. “Those pieces may not make sense when you first see them – but they’re all going to make sense when they’re tied together in a story.”
“Once you see how it all fits together, you see the full picture,” the prosecutor added. “But first, we’ve got to cover every last little blade of grass.”
Prosecutors certainly covered plenty of real estate on Friday afternoon.
As Goude led Worley through this voluminous evidence, Harpootlian twirled his glasses and repeatedly rested his eyes – making no attempt to hide his boredom from jurors. As for Murdaugh, he displayed a wide range of emotions – breaking down in tears on several occasions as swabs taken from the bodies of his dead wife and son were admitted into evidence.
Later, though, Murdaugh was seen joking and gesturing with Harpootlian and Griffin.
While Waters laid out a timeline and touched on motive in his opening statement, so far no one has laid out the investigatory process that led the state to present probable cause affidavits seeking warrants for Murdaugh’s arrest.
Will that change soon?
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Yes, I am told …
“You are going to see the lead investigators come in and start telling the story,” the prosecutor told me.
According to my sources, the most critical witness for SLED will be David Owen, a senior special agent who is the lead case agent on the Murdaugh murder investigation. Another critical witness will be Ryan Neill, SLED’s Lowcountry regional captain. Neill supervises all cases in the fourteenth judicial circuit and reports directly to SLED headquarters in Columbia, S.C.
For those of you interested in SLED’s organizational structure, there are special agents, senior special agents, lieutenants, captains, majors, an assistant chief and (obviously) chief Mark Keel, who runs SLED as an appointee of South Carolina governor Henry McMaster.
According to my sources, the prosecution’s direct examination of Owen will take at least one full day – but unlike Friday afternoon’s mostly perfunctory testimony, it will tell a story based on the evidence already introduced.
“He is going to be responsible for presenting the investigative case,” another source familiar with Owen’s testimony told me.
Owen and Neill are also expected to carry the weight of rebutting Harpootlian and Griffin’s theory that the state “rushed to judgment” in accusing Murdaugh of these crimes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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