A law partner of Alex Murdaugh testified Wednesday at his double murder trial that more than a dozen people who weren’t first responders or law enforcement walked around the scene of the killings before South Carolina agents arrived to investigate.
Then, when state agents arrived, Murdaugh, his law partners and friends were all sent back to the family home, which authorities had not entered since arriving after Murdaugh called 911 to say his wife and son were shot.
“This is a pretty big farm and I don’t know who is over there. Two people have been gunned down,” attorney Mark Ball testified. “Safety is one concern. And is that house part of what has gone on here? Where does the crime scene start and stop?”
While the defense had Ball highlight what he saw as problems at the crime scene and Murdaugh’s devotion to his family, prosecutors on cross examination used Ball to walk through Murdaugh’s apparent lies to police. Those allegedly include where he was just before the killings, his lack of concern for his safety or the safety of his son after the shootings and stealing millions of dollars from the family law firm.
Murdaugh, 54, is standing trial in the murders of his wife Maggie, 52, who was killed by four or five rifle shots; and their 22-year-old son Paul, who died from two shotgun blasts. Both were killed near kennels on the family’s sprawling property in Colleton County on June 7, 2021. Murdaugh faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted.
Alex Murdaugh may testify. Defense attorney Jim Griffin asked the judge Wednesday if he would allow Murdaugh to take his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself in the 100 or so other crimes he faces — including stealing from clients, money laundering, tax evasion and insurance fraud.
Judge Clifton Newman said prosecutors generally get wide latitude in cross examination.
The judge has agreed with prosecutors to allow evidence of the other crimes to show Murdaugh killed his family to gain sympathy and buy time to hide his financial misdeeds. Prosecutors also want to show Murdaugh lied to police three months after the killing about a shooting. He initially said he was shot by a stranger, but later said he asked a friend to shoot him in the head so Murdaugh’s surviving son could collect $12 million in life insurance.
Newman said he will advise both sides if Murdaugh takes the stand. The defense said if he chooses to testify, it could be as early as Thursday.
Ball was a compelling witness for both sides Wednesday.
He arrived about 45 minutes after Murdaugh called 911 and described a chaotic scene. Police hadn’t blocked the entrance to the property and more than a dozen people not with law enforcement were walking around by shell casings and pools of blood near the kennels where the shooting happened. A light rain was intermittently falling and the runoff from a roof was hitting Paul Murdaugh’s body.
“It’s a crime scene. You don’t want water dripping all over the place but more importantly, I thought it was pretty disrespectful. Paul was a good young man and quite frankly it just pissed me off,” Ball testified.
Ball returned the day after the shootings once state agents said they were finished investigating the crime scene and found a number of uncollected shotgun pellets along with small clumps of tissue and a fragment of Paul Murdaugh’s skull about the size of a baseball.
“It infuriated me,” Ball said. “It was kind of like walking across a grave.”
On cross-examination, prosecutors used Ball to review much of their case. They had Ball read a list of several clients he had to call on behalf of the law firm to tell them Alex Murdaugh lied and stole their money. Those clients have been repaid, with millions of dollars coming out of the pockets of the other attorneys at the firm, Ball said.
Ball also testified he was certain he heard Murdaugh’s voice on a cellphone video along with his wife and son that phone records said was taken about five minutes before Maggie and Paul Murdaugh stopped using their phones forever.
Ball said Murdaugh told him at least three times he was not at the kennels that night, instead taking a nap before leaving to visit his ailing mother. Murdaugh called 911 and said he discovered the shooting when he returned.
Murdaugh and Ball knew each other for 34 years and worked together for decades. Ball told the defense Murdaugh appeared to be a loving father, a good lawyer who could talk to anyone and a man whose finances were solid.
“He was pretty good at hiding who he really was, wasn’t he?” prosecutor Creighton Waters asked.
“Obviously,” Ball replied.