COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Big news coming at the beginning of week four of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial: a source close to Murdaugh’s team tells News 2 that as of Monday, Murdaugh plans to take the stand in his defense.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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During Monday’s hearing, several forensic experts took the stand, mostly focusing on blood and DNA evidence.
Presumptive-positive blood on Murdaugh’s clothes initially seemed to favor the prosecution but turned toward the defense when a confirmatory test revealed that all spots tested came back negative for human blood.
State prosecutors also highlighted that several DNA profiles — including those matching Maggie and Paul — were found on Murdaugh’s shirt. The defense dismissed that theory, pointing out it is common for a wife’s DNA to be found on her husband’s clothes. They also emphasized that evidence of DNA belonging to an unknown male was found under Maggie’s nails. That DNA was determined to not belong to Paul or Alex Murdaugh.
Dr. Ellen Riemer, the forensic pathologist who conducted Maggie and Paul’s autopsies, countered that narrative, saying she saw no evidence of defensive wounds on either Maggie or Paul.
Defense is expected to pick up the cross-examination of Riemer Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Also Monday, Judge Clifton Newman revealed that two jurors had been dismissed after testing positive for COVID-19. The jurors were replaced with alternates, leaving only three alternates remaining. The trial is expected to move forward as scheduled as of Monday but could be delayed if anyone else tests positive.
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5:45 p.m. – Court is recessing for the evening with cross-examination of Riemer expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
4:57 p.m. – The jury returns from a break.
Waters asks if Riemer saw evidence of defensive wounds on Paul. She says no. She says his arm was down for the first shot. He collapsed to the ground immediately after the second shot.
A full toxicology report was done on Paul. The only thing in his blood at the time of his death was caffeine; no drugs or alcohol.
They move to discuss Maggie’s autopsy. Maggie had five gunshot wounds from a minimum of four shots. Two of the shots followed a parallel bath going from front to back and downward with a slight right-to-left trajectory. Those two wounds also had stippling, indicating the shots were fired from around three feet away.
A third shot had entrance and exit wounds on the left wrist. There was no stippling associated with the wrist wound, meaning the shot came from further away.
None of the first three wounds would’ve been immediately fatal.
Riemer described the fourth shot as somewhat unusual because it was going in an upward direction. It entered under the left breast and exited above the left breast, then re-entered through the underside of the left side of the face. That wound would’ve been immediately fatal, according to Riemer.
A fifth wound from what Riemer assumes was a semi-automatic rifle had an entrance wound at the back of her head in a downward direction.
Riemer says that the wounds are likely in an upward then downward direction because Maggie was likely bent over or on the ground, but not completely flat when she was shot the last two times.
No defensive wounds were observed on Maggie. Specifically, Riemer said that she saw no evidence of a struggle under Maggie’s nails.
Maggie’s toxicology report also came back as only having caffeine in her system.
Riemer also analyzed the contents of Maggie and Paul’s stomachs. She said that they both had recently eaten what appeared to be the same meal.
4:01 p.m. – Dr. Ellen Riemer, an MUSC forensic pathologist, is called to the stand.
Riemer performed the autopsies on Maggie and Paul. Before Riemer took the stand, defense asked that the evidence in her testimony be placed under seal due to its graphic nature. They asked that screens in the courtroom be covered.
Riemer says that there were two shotgun wounds on Paul.
The first entered on the left side of his chest and exited on his left side near his underarm, with some projectiles going through his left arm. She says stippling indicates the weapon was fired at a very close range, probably at around three feet. The first shot was not immediately fatal.
The second shot entered around the left shoulder area and then went into the left side of the neck and face, exiting from the top of the right side of his head. To Riemer, this indicates Paul was turned towards his shooter. She says the injury was extremely severe and fatal. There was no stippling associated with this wound.
Murdaugh appears extremely emotional in court as Reimer gives testimony.
The jury is sent to the jury room for a break.
4:00 p.m. – A source close to the defense tells News 2 that as of Monday, Alex Murdaugh is expected to take the stand and testify at some point during his murder trial.
A timeline of his expected testimony was not immediately provided.
2:38 p.m. – Court is in session.
Defense begins cross-examining Zapata. Barber asks if analysis was done on anything from the victims’ bodies other than nail clippings. Zapata says she analyzed their nail clippings and buccal swabs.
Barber asks if unidentified male DNA was found under Maggie’s left fingernail clippings. Zapata says there was unidentified male DNA found under one of Maggie’s nails. Paul and Alex Murdaugh were excluded as contributors.
Barber asks if any further analysis on that DNA was possible. Zapata says it is possible, but because so many male members of the Murdaugh family were submitted as samples, it would’ve been impossible to distinguish between members of the Murdaugh family just from analysis of that Y-chromosome.
Barber asks if Zapata was aware that Maggie was at a nail salon earlier that day. He implies her nails would have been clean and that she had limited time to get DNA from an unknown male under her nails. Zapata says that the DNA could’ve been from the nail salon, it could’ve been picked up prior, she could’ve touched something later in the day, etc. She says we are always picking up DNA.
Barber asks if the DNA was entered into CODIS. Zapata says there was not enough DNA present to enter into CODIS. She says it depends on the situation.
He asks if the DNA on the steering wheel — which appeared to match both Maggie and Murdaugh — could be consistent with Murdaugh touching Maggie’s deceased body, which was covered in blood. Zapata says she can’t tell him how the DNA got there. She says it is a possibility.
Barber notes that Paul’s DNA was not found on either of the shotguns. Zapata says that for one swab he was excluded, but for another, she could not get enough information to draw a conclusion either way.
They move on to discuss the shirt. A likely match to Paul was only detected on one area of the shirt.
Barber asks when Zapata was asked to perform hematrace tests on the shirt. She says August 10, 2021. The result came back as negative for the presence of human blood on all 74 spots tested.
He asks if she was informed of any evidence of bloodspatter on the shirt or if she saw any media reports about it. She says she tried to avoid media reports on the topic.
Zapata was asked by Waters to prepare a memo on hematrace results, specifically on why a test may produce a false-negative.
Barber asks if Zapata was aware of the bloodspatter reports conducted by Tom Bevel. She says she was made aware, but not until after her reports were complete. She can’t remember if she was made aware of the Bevel report before or after she prepared the memo on hematrace.
In her memo, Zapata found literature supporting the notion that hematrace testing usually still works even after LCV testing. One study found that the hematrace test was more sensitive than the LCV test.
Zapata says that one possible reason for a positive LCV but negative hematrace test is the presence of animal blood because hematrace only reacts with human blood, some primate blood, and ferret blood.
Barber asks if it is uncommon to find a wife’s DNA on a husband’s clothing. Zapata says no.
1:09 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch and will resume at 2:30 p.m.
11:37 a.m. – SLED agent Sara Zapata is called to the stand.
Zapata is an expert in DNA analysis.
She explains what DNA is, how it is left behind, how it is collected by SLED, and how it is analyzed.
Zapata says that in stains, she can say with 100% certainty that someone is a contributor to the DNA profile in that stain, but she can’t say with 100% certainty that the stain is someone’s blood.
Zapata processed 24 buccal swabs for comparison in this case. DNA from those swabs was compared to DNA found on other pieces of evidence.
300-Blackout cases and shotgun shells collected at the scene were swabbed for DNA.
A single-source DNA profile matching Maggie was found on the 300-Blackout shells.
Shells from the feed room had a single-source DNA profile matching Paul.
Swabs from the feed room door had a single-source DNA profile matching Paul as well.
Swabs taken from the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shotgun, which tested presumptive-positive for blood, were analyzed as well. One of the swabs had a mixture of DNA profiles appearing to match Maggie and Alex Murdaugh. The other swab had an insufficient partial DNA profile.
Swabs of presumptive-positive blood from the receiver of another gun (item 22) had a mixture of DNA profiles, both of which appeared to have Maggie as a contributor to the DNA mixture.
Swabs of blood from the steering wheel of the Chevy Suburban had a mixture of two profiles, which appeared to match Maggie and Alex.
Fingernail clippings from Maggie’s left hand had a DNA mixture originating from two individuals. Maggie is assumed to be one of them since they are her fingernails. A small amount of DNA not matching Maggie was present. CB Rowe’s profile could not be visually excluded, but Zapata noted it was not likely a match.
Fingernail clippings from Maggie’s right hand only showed her DNA.
Fingernail clippings from Paul’s right and left hands only showed his DNA.
Zapata also analyzed cuttings from Murdaugh’s clothes.
Some cuttings from Murdaugh’s shirt showed a mixed-DNA profile in which Maggie and Paul appeared to be likely contributors.
Some cuttings showed DNA profiles from as many as four individuals.
One of the areas on the shirt had a mixed-DNA profile that appeared to have Maggie, Murdaugh, and Nolen Tuten as contributors.
Zapata also performed a hematrace test (confirmatory blood test) on the cuttings of the shirt.
No human blood was identified in any of the cuttings.
Zapata is asked if previous LCV testing could’ve diluted or caused an interaction that would result in a false-negative. Zapata says that she is aware of studies suggesting it is possible.
Prosecution emphasizes that testing for blood and testing for DNA is different.
Cuttings from the front left interior pocket of Murdaugh’s pants showed a DNA mixture originating from three individuals. The profiles appeared to match Murdaugh, Maggie, and Paul.
Other stains on the pants had mixed DNA profiles appearing to have Maggie and Paul as individual contributors as well.
Some stains on the pants had mixed-DNA profiles that had a low likelihood of Murdaugh being a contributor to the profile.
Zapata also analyzed cuttings from Murdaugh’s shoes. A single-source DNA profile matching Murdaugh was found.
Swabs from the blue raincoat were tested as well. Zapata was unable to determine a full DNA profile from the swabs collected.
11:35 a.m. – Court returns.
11:16 a.m. – Court is in recess for 10 minutes.
11:00 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
She is asked about the processing of the six 300-blackout cartridges and whether the results are for each individual cartridge or for all the cartridges. She says the results would be for all of them.
Defense attorney Phillip Barber asks what a presumptive-positive test is. Nguyen explains that in a phenolphthalein test, hemoglobin, an element in blood, reacts with an agent in the test. She says it is not unique to human blood. There are also items that can cause a false positive.
He asks if confirmatory tests, which would confirm the presence of blood, were conducted on the shotguns. She says no, those would have to be requested.
Confirmatory tests were performed on swabs from the Chevy Suburban because the crime-scene team had already performed a presumptive test. Since a presumptive test was already performed by another unit, Nguyen says it was standard procedure to perform a confirmatory test.
Barber asks if any serology tests were performed on the cuttings from the shirt, shorts, or shoes. Nguyen says no. Barber asks if a serology test was ever performed. Nguyen says she believes there was additional testing on the shirt, but not by her.
Nguyen says hematrace (confirmatory) tests were performed only on the swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban and from a Ford F-250. All four tests from the Ford F-250 were negative.
Barber asks why the shirt was processed again by the crime scene unit and not the serology unit. She says the serology unit doesn’t use LCV testing and she does not know why the decision was made by the crime scene unit to conduct that test.
10:16 a.m – SLED agent Rachel Nguyen is called to the stand.
Nguyen is an expert in forensic serology, which the U.S. Department of Justice defines as performing “biochemical analysis on blood and other body fluids, such as semen, saliva, and urine, that have been deposited on items of evidence.”
Nguyen examined several evidence items in the case, including, but not limited to:
- 300-Blackout cartridge casings and shot shells found at the scene
- Swabs from the feed room door
- Swabs from the loading port of the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shotgun
- Swabs from the barrel of the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shotgun
- Reddish-brown debris swabbed from one of the receivers of item 22 (gun)
- A Mossberg shotgun (item 30)
- A Browning shotgun (item 31)
- A Bennelli Black Super Eagle 2 12-gauge shotgun (item 32)
- A rifle (item 33)
- Swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban
- Fingernail clippings from Maggie and Paul
- Alex Murdaugh’s shirt, shorts, and shoes
- Blue raincoat
Nguyn said the swabs from the loading port of the camo Bennelli tested presumptive positive for the presence of blood. The swabs from the barrel tested negative. The swabs were prepared for DNA analysis and sent to the DNA unit for further testing.
Both swabs from the receiver of item 22 tested presumptive positive for blood. The swabs were forwarded to the DNA lab for further testing.
The swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban tested field positive for blood, so Nguyen performed a confirmatory test. Some tested negative, but Nguyen said that a swab taken from the steering wheel tested positive. The swab was sent to the DNA unit for further testing.
Nguyen did not process the nail clippings, she just forwarded them to the DNA unit.
Nguyen tested Murdaugh’s shirt for blood on June 9, 2021. She identified two spots that looked like blood stains. The spots were tested and came back presumptive-positive. One was cut out and sent to the DNA lab for further testing.
Later, further analysis was requested. The shirt was processed again with LCV testing and 10 additional stains were located. Nguyen cut a small portion of each stain and forwarded it to the DNA unit for further analysis.
Murdaugh’s shorts were also tested on June 9, 2021. Two presumptive-positive stains were located at that time, and one was sent to the DNA unit for further analysis. One of the stains was located in the front interior pocket.
The shorts were later reprocessed along with the shirt and six additional presumptive-positive stains were located. Cuttings were taken and sent to DNA for further analysis.
Two stains on Murdaugh’s shoes tested presumptive positive for blood. One of those stains was cut and forwarded to the DNA unit for further analysis.
The blue raincoat was tested on October 7, 2021. 71 stains were tested. All 71 were negative for the possible presence of blood. The crime scene lab tested behind Nguyen and also found no presence of blood.
The raincoat was later tested for DNA to determine “ownership” or who was wearing the coat. Swabs were taken from areas like the cuffs, collar, zipper-pull, etc. Those swabs were forwarded to the DNA unit for further analysis.
10:09 a.m. – The jury is brought in. The state calls SLED special agent Ryan Kelly to the stand.
He took buccal swabs of several people connected to the investigation.
10:02 a.m. – Waters says that additional information from GM came in regarding a search warrant on Murdaugh’s vehicle over the weekend. He says it is a “substantial amount of information” and it includes GPS data, including specific location points. Waters says it is “confirmatory of the timeline” that has already been presented to the jury.
Defense also had a chance to look at the data. Harpootlian says it is a massive amount of information. It shows car speed, location, etc. He says a lot of the evidence is in the defense’s favor. However, Harpootlian says defense will not be ready to cross-examine the state’s expert until defense’s experts examine the data on a granular level. He says he hopes that will be done in two to three days.
9:47 a.m. – Court is in session. Judge Clifton Newman alerts the court that two jurors have tested positive for COVID-19. Those jurors were dismissed and alternates were brought in.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, having recently had COVID-19 himself, asks if the rest of the jury could have been exposed and is just not showing positive yet? State prosecutor Creighton Waters echoes the concern. They say they worry that the jury will continuously infect themselves and it will result in a mistrial and ask if delaying a few days then retesting would be better.
Judge Newman says a doctor addressed those concerns. He says the jurors were tested Monday morning and will be retested Wednesday. He also says everyone in the courtroom should probably be wearing masks.
As of Monday, there are only three alternate jurors left. One was dismissed previously after being admitted to the ER. The other two were called in as jurors after the two jurors with COVID-19 were dismissed. Judge Newman says that the longer the trial goes on, the higher the likelihood of attrition.
Harpootlian and Waters together raise the concern about the large galley. Judge Newman asks if he should issue a mask mandate in the courtroom. Waters says yes and suggests considering some level of social distancing or reducing the number of people in the courtroom. Newman says that he is not going to order social distancing, and at this point, he is going to strongly suggest masks, but he may issue an order if one becomes necessary.
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