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‘Murdaugh Murders’ Trial: Math Lesson, Chilling Forensic Testimony

More puzzle pieces …

Prosecutors hoping to convict disbarred South Carolina Alex Murdaugh of the murders of his wife and son dropped a ton of additional puzzle pieces onto the table Monday – including extensive DNA evidence taken from the graphic crime scene near Islandton, S.C.

As with much of the evidence and testimony previously submitted, though, there was limited narrative accompaniment … meaning jurors in this case are still waiting on witnesses to walk them through the state’s case

Who is going to put those puzzle pieces together?

As noted in previous coverage, that job would appear destined to fall to senior special agent David Owen – the lead case agent for the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Owen conducted all three law enforcement interviews with Murdaugh in the aftermath of the savage slayings of his family members.

The video from Murdaugh’s second interview with Owen (conducted on June 10, 2021) was released by the court on Monday, incidentally. News of this interview was first reported by this news outlet the day after it took place.

(Click to view)

(FITSNews/ YouTube)

At the time of the interview, Murdaugh’s attorneys told us SLED was speaking with him “just to tie up some loose ends” – giving Murdaugh the opportunity to provide answers to a few “open-ended questions” regarding the slayings of his wife and son.

“They are closing the book on him as any sort of suspect,” an attorney close to the Murdaugh family said at the time.

Clearly not …

To recap: Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and youngest son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on his family’s hunting property in Colleton County, S.C. on June 7, 2021. He pleaded not guilty to those charges and is currently standing trial in Walterboro – part of the Lowcountry region of the Palmetto State which the Murdaugh family ruled like a fiefdom for more than a century.

Three generations of Murdaughs served as S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor from 1920-2006, and Alex Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor at the time of the killings.

As evidence was introduced in court on Monday, Owen was hard at work on his laptop editing a document entitled “Murdaugh Murder Investigative Timeline.”

When will he be called to testify to that timeline? We shall see … but time is running out for the state (and the pressure is on to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt).

Owen’s direct examination is expected to take at least a day, we are told. Nonetheless, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters indicated to presiding judge Clifton Newman that the state was still on track to conclude its case against Murdaugh sometime Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime, assistant attorney general Savanna Goude spent several hours eliciting voluminous DNA testing results from SLED forensic scientist Sara Zapata.

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Prosecutor Creighton Waters, Prosecutor Savanna Goude and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson listen to testimony in the Alex Murdaugh trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. Grace Beahm Alford/The Post and Courier/Pool

Zapata testified that she received 24 buccal swabs for comparison in the Murdaugh case, and proceeded to detail each one of them as she identified which of the individuals tested “contributed to the mixture.” Zapata then outlined the probabilities associated with each test result, introducing jurors to some numbers they had likely not heard before including “sextillion,” “octillion,” “decillion,” “duodecillion” and “tredecillion,” among others.

Little context was provided as to what these numbers meant, however.

“Missing from the state’s presentation of DNA are relatable comparisons of the significance of the numbers,” our researcher Jenn Wood noted. “The significance of all these numbers is going to be lost on the jury if they don’t explain the gravity of them.”

Murdaugh attorney Phil Barber also delivered an extremely effective cross-examination of Zapata – raising the fact that “unidentified male DNA was found under Maggie’s fingernails.” That DNA did not belong to either Alex or Paul Murdaugh.

Barber also detailed disputed findings from Oklahoma-based blood spatter expert Tom Bevel – whose revised report regarding key forensic evidence placing Murdaugh at the crime scene at the very moment at least one of his victims was killed has not been submitted by prosecutors.

Murdaugh attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin have accused SLED agents of “badgering” Bevel as part of their alleged “bad-faith conduct” intended to change his opinion on the blood spatter evidence.

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Forensic pathologist at MUSC Dr. Ellen Riemer demonstrates the gun wounds to Maggie Murdaugh on prosecutor Creighton Waters during day 16 of the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse on Monday, February 13, 2023. The black marks indicate entrance wounds, the red marks indicate exit wounds. Jeff Blake/The State/Pool

While the state appeared to lose some ground during the DNA testimony, it brought home the chilling nature of this crime when it called forensic pathologist Ellen Riemer of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to the stand. In an unexpectedly upbeat (yet oddly effective) tone, Riemer whimsically walked through each of the gunshot wounds sustained by Paul and Maggie Murdaugh as though she were a museum curator describing the brush strokes of a famous artist.

Riemer testified that both Maggie and Paul were shot at incredibly close range – approximately two-to-three feet for the initial shots to each victim.

In describing the fatal head wound sustained by Paul Murdaugh, Riemer testified shotgun pellets impacted the left side of his head and caused a large exit wound on the rear, right side of his head. Murdaugh’s face was completely intact, however, indicating his head was turned to the left when he was shot the second time. Riemer stated this second shot was an “extremely severe, immediately fatal injury” – noting Murdaugh’s brain was ejected from his head and brought to the autopsy separately in a bucket.

As for Maggie Murdaugh’s wounds, Riemer described the first two shots as striking her from the front at close range while she was standing. One of these shots was an entrance wound which traveled through her abdominal wall and several organs prior to exiting from the left side of her back. She was also shot through the left thigh with the projectile exiting through the back of her left thigh at the same time. These shots had a “parallel trajectory,” Riemer said.

Maggie Murdaugh also sustained an entry and exit wound to her wrist – but like the first two wounds this one would not have been immediately fatal.

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Forensic pathologist at MUSC Dr. Ellen Riemer describes the gun wounds to Maggie Murdaugh as prosecutor Creighton Waters looks on during day 16 of the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse on Monday, February 13, 2023. The black marks indicate entrance wounds, the red marks indicate exit wounds. Jeff Blake/The State/Pool

A fourth projective entered on the side of Maggie Murdaugh’s left breast and exited from the top of her left chest, Riemer testified. This bullet proceeded upward and continued through the left side of her face and lower ear area. This fourth shot would have been immediately fatal as it entered her brain. Finally, a fifth projectile entered the back of Maggie Murdaugh’s head near the base of her skull and proceeded in a downward trajectory.

As Riemer testified, Waters described Alex Murdaugh as “circling” her as she as she was lying fatally wounded on the ground.

Jurors were clearly impacted by what they saw – appearing extremely shaken as the graphic crime scene images and autopsy photos were shown. One juror cupped their hand over their mouth in horror during Riemer’s presentation. Another appeared to be wiping away a tear as an image of Maggie Murdaugh’s exit wounds was depicted on one of the two screens positioned in front of the jury.

As for Alex Murdaugh, he teared up on multiple occasions as the graphic testimony continued – as did several members of his family seated several rows behind him in court. At one point, Murdaugh appeared to be ripping a tissue in his hands and then attempting to press it back together. He later repeated this motion with a yellow highlighter – removing its cap and then placing it back over the marker.

At another point, Murdaugh stared blankly ahead – rocking and nodding his head in what has become a signature response to particularly jarring testimony.

Riemer is scheduled to be on the stand for a “lengthy” cross-examination from Harpootlian when court reconvenes on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. EST.



Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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1 comment

Ralph Hightower February 14, 2023 at 9:06 am

I drove a motorcycle in high school and college. I always wore a “brain bucket”, i.e., helmet; although, I never had to use it, the faceshield came in handy.
The way that Paul was dispatched brings new meaning to “brain bucket”.


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