Alex Murdaugh trial: Prosecutors play video to undermine claim he was not at the scene of killings

ByRandi Kaye, Dakin Andone and Alta Spells, CNN
Thursday, February 2, 2023
Alex Murdaugh murders trial
Alex Murdaugh murders trialState authorities reopening the investigation into Stephen Smith's death after saying they found new evidence while looking into the Murdaugh murders.

Prosecutors in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh played footage in court Wednesday that could undercut the disgraced former attorney's claim he was not present at the scene of the killings when his wife and son were murdered.

Court proceeded Wednesday with the continued testimony of Lt. David Britton Dove, a supervisor in the computer crimes center at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, who extracted all forensics from the phone of Murdaugh's 22-year-old son Paul, as well as those belonging to Alex Murdaugh and his wife Maggie.

The video, just short of a minute long, was filmed on Paul's phone starting at 8:44 p.m. the night of the killings, Dove testified. In his review of the trio's phones, the footage was the only video or photo Dove deemed relevant to the investigation, he said, telling the court it appeared to be recorded in the area of the Murdaugh family's kennels.

Dove believed Paul was trying to take a video of a dog's tail, he told the court, adding three different voices could be heard in the footage. And while Dove did not personally know the voices, he said, "You can tell that they're different voices."

Murdaugh appeared emotional while the video played in court. The prosecution ended its direct questioning of Dove without clarifying who the voices belonged to, CNN reported.

Prosecutors believe one of the voices heard on the video played in court belongs to Murdaugh, and that voice is the only other on the video besides the victims, placing him at the scene at the time of the murders.

WATCH | Paul Murdaugh's Snapchat video played in court

The video, just short of a minute long, was filmed on Paul's phone the night of the killings, police say.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters of the South Carolina Attorney General's Office -- which is prosecuting the case due to the Murdaugh family's decades-old ties with the local solicitor's office -- teased the video in his opening statement last week, saying that while Alex claimed to investigators he was napping at the house, video evidence would show he was present at the family's kennels, where the bodies of his son and wife were found.

"You'll see that video and you'll hear from witnesses that identify Paul's voice, Maggie's voice and Alex's voice," Waters said, telling the court Paul was filming a dog that belonged to his friend because they were concerned about the animal's tail. Murdaugh "told anyone who would listen he was never there ... The evidence will show that he was there. He was at the murder scene with the two victims" minutes before Paul's phone "locks forever."

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Prosecutors have indicated cell phone evidence is key in their case against Murdaugh, 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 in the killings of his wife Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh and his 22-year-old son Paul on June 7, 2021.

Murdaugh called 911 the night of the killings to report he'd found his wife and son shot dead at the family's home in Islandton, South Carolina -- a property known as Moselle.

But prosecutors accuse Murdaugh of committing the murders to distract attention from a series of alleged illicit schemes he was running to avoid "personal legal and financial ruin," per court filings. Separate from the murder charges, he is also facing 99 charges stemming from alleged financial crimes, per the state attorney general.

Evidence will show, the state has claimed, that Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes were "about to come to light" when his wife and son were killed.

Calls missing from call log on Murdaugh's phone, expert says

In his testimony Tuesday, Dove, the 15th witness called by the prosecution, detailed the communications of Maggie's phone the night of the killings, including a text from Alex at 9:47 p.m. that read, "Call me babe." It was never read.

In his opening statement last week, Waters told the jury Murdaugh repeatedly called his wife that evening before texting her that he was going to visit his mother and driving to Almeda, South Carolina.

"It's up to you," Waters said, "to decide whether or not he's trying to manufacture an alibi."

According to Dove's testimony Tuesday, the night she was killed, Maggie read two text messages in a group chat at 8:31 p.m. and 8:49 p.m., seconds before her phone locked for the final time.

The display of Maggie's phone turned off minutes later, at 8:53 p.m. At 8:54 p.m., the orientation changed to landscape and the camera activated -- an indication, Dove said, the phone was moved and the camera tried to locate Maggie's face in an unsuccessful attempt to unlock.

RELATED: Alex Murdaugh trial: Prosecutors play recording of 1st interview after his wife, son were found dead

Maggie's phone showed repeated missed calls from her husband over the course of the next hour, Dove testified, along with evidence it had switched to portrait mode. That, the expert said, was another indication the phone was likely held in someone's hand. A final call from Murdaugh was missed just before 10:04 p.m.

But those calls appeared to be missing from Murdaugh's phone, Dove said Wednesday, testifying that call logs show a gap in calls between June 4 and 10:25 p.m. the night of June 7.

"A gap like that would indicate" that calls were "actually removed from there," Dove said, adding the only way to remove the calls from the log would be to do so manually.

Asked specifically if the calls were deleted from the log, Dove said, "it would appear that way," noting there was no way to know when they were deleted or who was responsible.

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