CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/AP) – Before testimony begins in South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial, defense lawyers will ask the judge to make a pair of key rulings this week that could strike a massive amount of evidence from the case.
Prosecutors want to present voluminous evidence of Murdaugh’s bad behavior and the numerous other crimes he is charged with to show he killed his wife and son to buy time to prevent his other wrongdoings from being discovered. Defense attorneys don’t want the judge to admit the evidence, contending prosecutors are trying to smear Murdaugh to bolster a weak case.
When Circuit Judge Clifton Newman hears arguments after the jury is seated, Murdaugh’s lawyers also will try to convince him to refuse to admit evidence that authorities said will show blood from his slain younger son spattered on Murdaugh’s shirt. Defense lawyers said the shirt was destroyed before they could test it and there is evidence the expert examining the shirt changed his conclusions under pressure from state agents.
Jury selection continues Tuesday as the court tries to get 700 people down to a pool of several dozen potential jurors to select the final panel of 12, plus six alternates.
More than 200 people were brought in for a first round of questioning that lasted nearly three hours, but only about 30 were qualified for the pool of potential jurors.
Potential jurors faced a battery of questions, including whether they knew any of the nearly 200 law officers, friends, bankers and others on the witness list as well as whether they had heard about and followed the case.
Two other panels were screened Monday and lawyers said they hope to have a jury picked by either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Attorney Eric Bland, who is on the list of potential witnesses and who represents some of the victims of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, says the case rises and falls on the jury that gets seated.
Murdaugh attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin filed motions asking the court to exclude testimony from two witnesses.
The first motion was filed first thing Monday morning before jury selection began. That motion sought to block the testimony of a recognized forensic expert on bloodstain evidence, Orangeburg County Chief Deputy Kenneth Lee Kinsey. The defense argues that Kinsey said after reviewing a report and analysis from Thomas Bevel, a prosecution witness, that he could not form an opinion on whether the blood stains on Murdaugh’s shirt were consistent with back spatter from a gunshot.
The defense then made a motion to block the testimony from forensics expert Paul S. Greer on .300 Blackout rifle cartridges found inside and around the bodies of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on the night of the murders. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division found several of the same cartridges on the ground at the side entrance of the Moselle property, about 300 yards from the crime scene.
Through SLED’s Firearms Department testing the .300 Blackout rifle confiscated from the property, Greer determined some of the cartridges found near the crime scene were fired from the same rifle taken from the property, the filing states. Greer was unable to determine if they were the same cartridges found near Maggie’s body.
The document states, “the firearms analysis is neither scientifically valid nor reliable,” and is requesting Greer’s testimony be precluded from trial or that the court hold a council hearing to ensure the proffered evidence was scientifically and substantially reliable.
The defense made a motion last week to block testimony from Bevel as well.
Prosecutors are expected to rely heavily on evidence of Murdaugh’s financial problems, which they said led him to kill to garner sympathy and buy time as he covered up his theft of clients’ settlement money and other crimes.
Murdaugh’s attorneys contend it is absurd to say Murdaugh would have thought his wife and son dying violently would reduce scrutiny into his finances.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder in the deaths of Maggie, 52, and their son, Paul, 22.