Prosecution, defense get wins with Alex Murdaugh lead agent
The lead agent investigating the deaths of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son zeroed in on inconsistencies in his actions the night of the killings, according to a videotaped interview two months after the crime played Wednesday at Murdaugh’s double murder trial.
The interview led to Murdaugh becoming the main suspect in the shooting deaths and ended with state Law Enforcement Division agent David Owen asking point-blank if Murdaugh killed his wife and son and a stunned Murdaugh saying he didn’t.
Owen’s testimony Wednesday also opened the door to cross-examination, where Owen acknowledged he told the grand jury that indicted Murdaugh on two murder charges last summer incorrect information about blood stains on Murdaugh’s T-shirt and that several shotguns in the house were loaded with two different sizes of pellets like the killing weapon, which hasn’t been found.
Owen also testified agents did not search the sprawling property where Murdaugh’s mother lived for weapons, bloody clothes or anything else for three months, even though it was the place Murdaugh was at just before finding the bodies.
“That was an opportunity missed?” defense attorney Jim Griffin asked.
“Probably, yes,” Owen replied.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of killing his 52-year-old wife Maggie and their 22-year-old son Paul. Their bodies were found June 7, 2021, near the dog kennels at their Colleton County home.
Prosecutors called Owen to summarize their case and get the final interview Alex Murdaugh did with investigators into evidence.
It backed up much of what the jury had heard about the case already in three weeks of testimony — Murdaugh said he wasn’t at the kennels when witnesses said they heard his voice there minutes before the killings. Murdaugh also changed clothes sometime in the hours before he found the bodies.
At the end of the friendly interview, after Owen told Murdaugh to reach and call if he had any questions and Murdaugh told the agent he appreciated the help, Owen dropped the hammer.
“Did you kill Maggie?” he asked.
“No,” Murdaugh replied, pausing for a moment. “Did I kill my wife? No.”
Owen then methodically asked if Murdaugh killed his son or knew who killed either of them. Murdaugh said no to each question.
Then Murdaugh asked, sounding surprised and irritated: “Do you think that I killed Maggie?”
“I have to go where the evidence and the facts take me, and I don’t have anything that points to anyone else at this time,” Owen said.
It would take 11 months to get murder indictments against Alex Murdaugh, only after agents finally hacked into his son’s cellphone and found a video Paul Murdaugh took at the kennels about five minutes before the shootings that several witnesses have testified has the voices of all three Murdaughs in it.
Murdaugh started crying at the beginning of the interview. The tears dried up as Owen brought up evidence Murdaugh at the time didn’t know existed — a Snapchat video posted by his son taken a few hours before the killing showing Murdaugh wearing different clothes than the shorts and T-shirt he had on when police arrived after he called 911.
“What point in that evening did you change clothes?” Owen asked.
“I’m not sure,” Murdaugh said, pausing for several moments. “What time of day was it?”
In cross-examination, Griffin pointed out state agents never asked for those clothes before the interview even though they knew Murdaugh had changed.
Griffin’s questioning of Owen focused on other crime scene issues — why agents didn’t search for blood in drains or sinks and why Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s clothes weren’t tested for DNA. Owen didn’t have an answer.
Prosecutor John Meadors ended his questioning of Owen by asking if Alex Murdaugh suggested state agents search his mother’s home in the hours after the killings. Another defense attorney laughed.
“Is it police procedure that the suspect of your investigation is supposed to solve the crime?” Griffin asked.
During the August 2021 interview, Murdaugh’s lawyer asked Owen for details on the evidence and the investigation so far.
“The only DNA we have are family and close friends. We don’t have any fingerprints. Unfortunately, we don’t have any shoe wear or tire wear impression because it rained that night,” Owen said, “The only thing we can go off of are the cell tower dumps.”
Later in the interview, Murdaugh asked Owen if his wife or son suffered, and the agent said they would have only for seconds, if that. Murdaugh also asked how far apart his wife and son were killed and how certain he was that Paul Murdaugh had been shot first. Owen said he based that idea on figuring Paul Murdaugh would have reacted if he saw or heard his mother being shot.
“Maggie would have known that then, wouldn’t she?” Alex Murdaugh said.
Owen told Murdaugh not to beat himself up over those details.
In cross-examination, Griffin asked if Owen took DNA from gang members to compare to unknown genetic material from a man found under Maggie Murdaugh’s fingernails.
Alex Murdaugh was buying drugs through a middleman in a money laundering scheme, and the defense attorney suggested the middleman was skimming money and the drug dealers were angry. Owen said they didn’t.
Prosecutors expected to rest their case Thursday, but Judge Clifton Newman ruled questioning about the drug dealers opened up prosecutors to present testimony about Alex Murdaugh being shot on the side of the road in September 2021.
Murdaugh originally said he was shot changing a flat tire, but later said he had asked that same middleman to kill him so his surviving son could get a $10 million life insurance policy, but the gunman’s shot only grazed his head.
Newman announced at the beginning of court Wednesday that all the remaining jurors and alternates tested negative for COVID-19. On Monday, two jurors were dismissed after testing positive for the virus and the clerk of court also has COVID-19, leading to worries that the virus has been spreading through the courtroom and could cause a delay or a mistrial.
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