Crime & Courts

Colucci Retrial: How The Murdaugh Saga Could Play A Prominent Role

Will similarities help prosecutors? Or hurt them?

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As the murder retrial of Lowcountry, South Carolina jeweler Michael F. Colucci rapidly approaches, many are wondering if the recent highly-publicized trial of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh will play a role in his defense.

Colucci, 54, of Summerville, S.C. is preparing to stand trial a second time for the 2015 murder of his late wife – 38-year-old Sara Lynn Colucci. According to the defendant, his wife took her own life by hanging herself with a garden hose on the afternoon of May 20, 2015 outside of one of the family’s jewelry stores located at 2206 N. Main Street in Summerville. According to prosecutors, Colucci killed her in cold blood and staged the crime scene.

As with Murdaugh’s trial, the prosecution of Colucci is being spearheaded by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. Assistant attorney general Joel Kozak and assistant deputy attorney general Kinli Abee will lead the prosecution.

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Colucci will be represented during these proceedings by veteran Charleston attorney Andy Savage and criminal defense lawyer Scott Bischoff. As Colucci’s attorneys gear up for the retrial – which is scheduled to start May 13, 2024 in Berkeley County — the parallels between these two cases are hard to overlook.

Similar to the case against Murdaugh, the case against Colucci relies extensively on circumstantial evidence. Also, those who watched the Murdaugh trial will recognize at least one familiar face — S.C. State Law Enforcement Department (SLED) special agent David Owen.

Owen was expected to be a key witness for prosecutors during Murdaugh’s six-week trial last year, but he ended up playing a minor – albeit controversial – role in the proceedings. During cross-examination of Owen by defense attorney Jim Griffin, serious flaws in the investigation and presentation of the case against Murdaugh were exposed.

Among these flaws? SLED’s failure to search the home of Murdaugh’s parents in Almeda, S.C. – where prosecutors believe Murdaugh temporarily stashed the missing murder weapons – until three months after the June 7, 2021 murders of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh.

(Click to View)

SLED Agent David Owen testifies during the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh

This despite having permission from the Murdaugh family to search the residence …

“That was an opportunity missed?” Griffin asked Owen.

“Probably, yes,” Owen replied.

Owen was further grilled by Griffin over inaccurate statements made to the grand jury that indicted Murdaugh for the murders of his wife and son. Specifically, he was challenged about controversial blood spatter evidence that convicted Murdaugh in the court of public opinion – but was excluded from the trial due to the dubious manner in which it was analyzed.

In both the Murdaugh and Colucci cases, there were no witnesses to the crime – and no confession. No other suspects were identified or credibly suspected. As a results, the investigatory process and forensic science will play critical roles in convincing a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Michael Colucci was responsible for the death of his late wife.

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THE CASE AGAINST COLUCCI

May 20, 2015 was anything but an ordinary day for the Michael and Sara Lynn Colucci. It was an emotional day for Sara Lynn as it was the anniversary of the death of her first husband, Michael Vieira. The couple spent the majority of the day in an attorney’s office in Charleston meeting about a lawsuit the pair had filed against Northwood Academy. During the first trial Sara’s mother, Barbara Moore, testified that at 3:30 p.m. EDT that day she received a cryptic call from her daughter who told her, “mama, it’s drugs.”

Moore testified Sara told her on that call that she planned to pack up her and her daughter’s belongings that coming Saturday.

She was leaving her husband, she said.

A little less than four hours after that call, Michael Colucci called 9-1-1 and informed the operator that his wife tried to hang herself with a garden hose.

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Photo exhibit from the first trial of Michael Colucci. (S.C. Attorney General)

“Oh my God. C’mon, Sara. Please baby,” Colucci was heard pleading on a 9-1-1 call, telling dispatchers his wife had turned “purple.”

Emergency medical technicians discovered Sara Colucci’s blue, cold, lifeless body on a cement slab next to a six-foot chain-link fence – a black garden hose wrapped around her neck. She had grooved wounds on her neck – and scrapes on her knees and one of her feet.

“My wife, my wife,” Colucci told first responders upon their arrival on the scene. “She’s gone.”

His story strained credulity. Colucci told investigators he and his wife were driving home when she told him she needed to use the bathroom. He stopped at their gold-buying business – The Gold Standard – located at 2206 N. Main Street in Summerville where he claimed to have waited in the car while she squeezed through a gap in the fence to urinate on the side of the building. He said he listened to two songs and smoked a cigarette – allegedly able to see Sara Lynn standing near the fence the entire time – before he got out and asked if she needed him to unlock the door.

According to Michael, that’s when he realized something was wrong.

(Click to View)

(FITSTube)

First responders arrived just minutes after the call came into dispatch at 7:19 p.m. EDT and found Sara’s lifeless body. Despite Colucci’s claims she had only been out of the car the duration of two songs, Sara’s body was already turning blue and her extremities were cold – liver mortis was also setting in, which would indicate she had been dead longer than the timeline given by her husband. But that wasn’t the only thing that alarmed first responders.

Investigators noted Sara Lynn had a bruised eye and was missing the tip of her left pinky nail from her manicured hands. The nail was later found on the floor of the car along with a broken pair of sunglasses. She also had abrasions on both of her knees and on the top of one foot. During the trial, an expert for the state testified the injuries indicated she may have been dragged.

Colucci also had a number of injuries. One officer described him as having a busted and swollen lip – which he claimed to have received when giving his wife CPR (even though there were no indications he had actually attempted CPR). Colucci had bruises and scratches, too -on his upper right and left arms as well abrasions on the knuckle of one hand. The skin was peeled off on the inside of one of his arms near his wrist.

Looking at the couple, it appeared as though there had been a violent encounter prior to Sara Lynn’s mysterious death.

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THE INVESTIGATION

The investigation in Sara’s death was initially handled by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) – which did not immediately file charges against Colucci. Shortly after taking office in June of 2015, however, newly elected sheriff Duane Lewis agreed to review the case file at the request of Sara Lynn’s family.

“After hearing their concerns, I pulled the case file and reviewed it, looked at the incident report, the statements and the photos,” Lewis said in 2016. “Based upon what I saw, I felt that having SLED come in and investigate the case was the best approach to make sure that a thorough investigation was completed.”

The request official request to involve SLED was made on July 31, 2015 – and special agent Owen was assigned to lead the agency’s investigation. During the first trial, Owen was a key witness – providing testimony regarding their investigation. Similar to the trial of Alex Murdaugh, Owen found his investigation under the microscope when he was questioned by Colucci’s defense lawyer, Andy Savage.

Savage focused on SLED’s investigation of the scene where Sara Lynn died which didn’t occur until April of 2016 — eleven months after the alleged murder occurred.

While questioning Owen, Savage asked Owen how much DNA was recovered when SLED visited the scene.

“When I returned back in April no evidence was recovered,” Owen replied.

Savage pointed out other possible missed opportunities – including investigators’ failure to measure the hose from which Sara Lynn was hanging or testing to determine whether the hose could be a ligature. According to Owen, he did not interview individuals who may have crossed paths with the couple on that fateful day – including the attorney with whom they met or staff at a liquor store at which they stopped. Nor did he interview the staff at Magnolia Cemetery where they stopped to visit the grave of Sara’s first husband who died in 2007 of 28 accidental stab wounds – an incident into which this news outlet has multiple FOIAs pending.

Despite these apparent lapses in the investigation, SLED determined they had enough evidence to make their case. On May 4, 2016 – nearly a year after Sara Lynn’s death – the agency issued a press release announcing they had arrested Michael Colucci and charged him with the murder of his wife.

Criminal cases are often built on primarily circumstantial evidence. Investigators collect the pieces of the puzzle and put them together until it is determined there is enough of the puzzle completed for jurors to see the whole picture. But the circumstances surrounding Sara Lynn’s death aren’t exactly typical which makes it imperative for the investigators to do the leg work to complete as much of the puzzle as possible. During the first trial, prosecutors presented a scenario to the jury claiming Colucci used his hands to strangle his wife, then made it appear she hanged herself with a garden hose.

The first jury could not come to a consensus during the first trial on whether Colucci was guilty of murder of his wife or the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter resulting in a mistrial. The prosecution has a second chance six years later, but do they have enough evidence the second time to convince a jury Colucci is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

Stay tuned to FITSNews for comprehensive coverage of the latest developments in this ongoing saga and full coverage of the upcoming trial scheduled to begin on May 13, 2024 in Berkeley County.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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1 comment

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VERITAS Top fan April 24, 2024 at 6:22 pm

The similarities between Colucci and Murdaugh are that they both murdered their wives, called 911 and faked trauma. NO woman is going to hang herself with a garden hose … and under those circumstances. She was going to be free of her loser husband in a few days by moving out and taking the daughter with her. Nothing to see here, folks.

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