Prosecutors call rebuttal witnesses in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial before jury visits scene where wife and son were killed | CNN



Prosecutors on Tuesday planned to call up to seven further witnesses to rebut parts of Alex Murdaugh’s defense in his murder trial, according to attorneys in court.

The first rebuttal witness was Ronnie Crosby, an attorney who worked with Murdaugh and testified for the prosecution three weeks ago.

“He was a theatrical-type presence in the courtroom and he could get very emotional during closing arguments in front of a jury,” Crosby testified Tuesday.

Once the rebuttal witnesses are complete, the jury will be allowed to view Murdaugh’s property in Islandton, particularly its dog kennels near where the bodies of Murdaugh’s wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and son Paul Murdaugh were found. Closing arguments will follow after that.

Alex Murdaugh and defense attorney Dick Harpootlian talk during Murdaugh's trial Monday.

The rebuttal comes more than a month into the murder trial and a day after the defense rested its case following testimony from 14 witnesses.

The most important defense witness was Murdaugh himself, as he admitted he had lied about his whereabouts on the night of the murders and that he had in fact been at the kennels shortly before the murders took place. He blamed his lies on “paranoid thinking” stemming from his addiction to painkillers.

“I don’t think I was capable of reason, and I lied about being down there, and I’m so sorry that I did,” Murdaugh said.

Prosecutors, who called 61 witnesses in the case, have argued he killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from the financial misconduct allegations, some of which the state says were about to come to light before the fatal shootings. Murdaugh indeed confessed to much of that financial misconduct – yet denied killing his family.

“If I was under the pressure that they’re talking about here, I can promise you I would hurt myself before I would hurt one of them, without a doubt,” Murdaugh said on the stand Friday.

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the June 7, 2021, killings. He is separately facing 99 charges related to alleged financial crimes that will be adjudicated later.

Alex Murdaugh stands during a break in his murder trial on Friday.

In their case, prosecutors sought to poke holes in Murdaugh’s account of the night of the killings, using cell phone data, video and other evidence to suggest he tried to manufacture an alibi.

In the absence of direct evidence connecting Murdaugh to the killings – no murder weapon, bloody clothing or eyewitnesses – key arguments in his trial have revolved around the timeline of events and Murdaugh’s whereabouts the night of June 7, 2021.

In particular, prosecutors used video filmed at the dog kennels shortly before authorities say the killings took place to show Murdaugh was at the scene just minutes before the fatal shootings. Multiple witnesses testified that Murdaugh’s voice can be heard in the background of the video, which was filmed on Paul’s phone starting at 8:44 p.m. In his testimony, Murdaugh admitted he was indeed there and had lied about it.

Murdaugh testified last week that he went down to the kennels at Maggie’s request, but then returned to the house and laid down on a couch. When he got up, he said, he drove to visit his ailing mother at her home in nearby Almeda, before returning to his property later that night. Police say he called 911 at 10:07 p.m. to report finding the bodies.

The defense has painted Murdaugh as a loving father and husband being wrongfully accused of the killings after what it says has been a mishandled investigation and crime scene.

Among the witnesses called by Murdaugh’s attorneys were his former legal partner who testified the scene was not properly secured, and a forensics expert who said his analysis suggests two shooters carried out the killings.

Murdaugh’s only surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, also testified last week, saying his father was “destroyed” and “heartbroken” following the killings.

To show the killings could have taken place after Murdaugh left the kennels, the defense has tried to establish that Maggie and Paul’s time of death could have fallen in a much longer time window than prosecutors have presented.

More than a week ago, Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey testified that he estimated the time of death to be around 9 p.m. – just minutes after Murdaugh’s voice was captured on the video – based in part on armpit checks he conducted to feel how warm the bodies were.

Harvey, who said he arrived on scene at 11:04 p.m., also testified that rigor mortis – the stiffening of a body’s joints and muscles following death – had not yet set in, and that it typically starts developing one to three hours following death.

However, when asked by the defense if the pair could have been shot anytime between 8 or 10 p.m., Harvey said yes.

A forensic pathologist, Jonathan Eisenstat, testified Monday that armpit temperature checks are “just not a valid method to try to make a determination of time of death,” calling the technique “just a guess.”

Instead, he said, someone arriving on scene should first check the ambient temperature of the area where the body is found and then take a rectal temperature to get as close to a core body temperature as possible.

Harvey testified earlier that he did not take rectal temperatures that night. During cross examination, prosecutors asked if the coroner had an idea of when the killings occurred since he did not take exact temperatures.

“You really do not have a general idea as to when that incident actually occurred?” Deputy Attorney General Attorney Don Zelenka asked Harvey.

“Yes sir, that’s true,” Harvey said.

The defense has also tried to portray the investigation into the case as shoddy, arguing that the crime scene was not secure or handled carefully. One witness, Mark Ball, one of Murdaugh’s former law firm colleagues, testified no barricades or police tape were set up to block several visitors from entering the property the night of the killings.


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