Cellphone and video evidence shows Alex Murdaugh was with his wife and son a few minutes before they were shot dead, despite his later denials, prosecutors told a jury in South Carolina on Wednesday during opening arguments for the murder trial of the former attorney.
Ballistic evidence also showed that Maggie Murdaugh, Alex’s wife, was killed using a family weapon, as well as ammunition that was widely available around the rural hunting lodge where she and their son Paul were fatally shot on June 7, 2021.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters with the South Carolina attorney general’s office told the 12 jury members and six alternates, who were officially selected on Wednesday after more than two days of hearings, that “a perfect storm” of legal and financial troubles were gathering around Alex Murdaugh prior to the murders.
“It’s going to be a fairly long trial because it’s complicated. It’s a journey,” Waters told the jury. “But like a lot of things that are complicated, when you start to put them all together, pieces of a puzzle, all of sudden a picture emerges and it’s really something.”
“You’re going to reach the inescapable conclusion that Alex murdered Maggie and Paul, that he was the storm, that the storm was coming for them,” Waters added.
Conversely, Alex Murdaugh’s defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, described his client as a loving family man unfairly targeted by investigators who ignored exculpatory evidence.
“They decided that night that he did it — without forensics, without cellphones, without any of that — and they’ve been pounding that square peg into a round hole since June of 2021,” Harpootlian said.
Wearing a blazer and collared shirt, Alex Murdaugh sat silently in the courtroom, but became visibly emotional and wiped away tears as Harpootlian described in graphic detail how his son’s brain had exploded across the crime scene as a result of being shot at close range.
In a show of support, surviving son Buster Murdaugh sat in court behind his father, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Buster was not present at the family home the night his mother and brother were killed.
The closely watched case has received widespread attention because of the Murdaugh family’s longtime power in the region and the investigation’s many shocking twists, which include the reopening of two prior deaths linked to the Murdaughs, as well as Alex being charged with dozens of financial crimes and a supposed botched plot to have himself killed so Buster could receive an insurance payout. The trial could last months.
In his opening arguments on Wednesday, the prosecutor previewed multiple pieces of evidence for the jury, including what he said were conflicting claims from Alex that he had not been present near the site of the killings, the lodge’s dog kennels, prior to the pair being shot.
Instead, investigators found a video on Paul’s phone taken shortly before 8:45 p.m. that night in which both Maggie and Alex can be heard in the background as the young man filmed dogs at the kennel to send to a friend. Just over three minutes later, both Paul and Maggie’s phones ceased all activity.
“The evidence will show that [Alex] was there. He was at the murder scene with the two victims,” Waters said.
Neither Maggie nor Paul had any defensive wounds, Waters said, suggesting that they had not perceived any threat prior to being shot dead.
Forensic evidence will also show Maggie was killed with a 300 Blackout AR-style rifle, Waters said, which was the same type of weapon that Alex had purchased two of for Christmas in 2015. When one went missing, he subsequently purchased a third in 2018 — although Alex can only now account for one of the guns, according to Waters.
Weeks before the killings, Paul and his friends had fired the replacement weapon in two separate locations around the property, leaving casings that would match those later found near Maggie’s body. “It was a family weapon that killed Maggie Murdaugh,” Waters said.
Similarly, the ammunition that was used in that weapon is the same model and brand stored in multiple locations around the Murdaugh hunting lodge.
Harpootlian, the defense attorney, described the prosecutor’s version of events as “theories” and “conjectures” that were not believable.
He said a Snapchat video taken earlier the night Paul was killed showed him riding happily around the property with his father, with no apparent indication of any nefarious activity to come.
Despite the extensive media attention the trial has received, Harpootlian told the jury they must assume Alex is innocent until prosecutors prove otherwise.
“He didn’t do it. He didn’t butcher his son and wife,” Harpootlian said, “and you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.”