Jurors at Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial in South Carolina heard evidence Tuesday that gunshot residue was found inside a rain jacket found at his mother's home three months after his wife and son were killed.
A judge's decision to allow the testimony was the second win for prosecutors in as many days. Judge Clifton Newman on Monday allowed prosecutors to call witnesses to testify that Murdaugh was stealing money from his law firm and clients and committing other financial crimes long before the killings.
Later Tuesday, once of Murdaugh's law partners testified about how his firm found out Murdaugh was stealing money and also about trying to collect birdshot from the scene of the shootings at the Murdaugh property the day after the deaths but stopping because they were sickened by the gore still around after the crime scene agents left.
Murdaugh, 54, is standing trial in the shootings of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, on June 7, 2021, near kennels at their home. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.
Get New England news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NECN newsletters.
Defense attorneys asked the judge to prevent further testimony about the raincoat after the caretaker for Murdaugh's ailing mother testified that she saw him bring a “blue something, looked like a tarp” into his mother's home nine days after the killings.
State agents got a search warrant four months after the killings and found a tarp but also a blue rain jacket.
State Law Enforcement Division agent Megan Fletcher testified she found a large amount of gunshot residue inside the jacket and said it was consistent with either firing a gun while wearing it inside out or being wrapped around a recently fired weapon. Court ended Tuesday before she could be cross examined.
U.S. & World
Defense attorneys said prosecutors didn't connect the jacket to Murdaugh through the caretaker's confusing testimony and that it would be unfair and harmful to his case to let state agents testify about what the testing on the jacket found. Witnesses have testified the Murdaugh family often shot guns and hunted on their property and the defense said residue can't be linked to a specific weapon.
The defense did an “effective job in cross-examination in raising questions as to the credibility of the witness. And that is the exact job the jury has to do — weigh the credibility of the witness,” the judge said.
But Newman's decisions could also help the defense. If Murdaugh is found guilty, the decisions could be brought up on appeal.
The extra witnesses will extend a trial that reached its 12th day on Tuesday with no end to the prosecution's case in sight.
Jurors heard Tuesday from Ronnie Crosby, a law partner with Murdaugh for more than two decades.
Crosby testified for the prosecution that Murdaugh told him and other law partners he was never at the kennels the night of the shootings and later became the third witness to identify Murdaugh's voice along with his wife and his son on a video from the kennels about five minutes before investigators say they were killed.
Crosby became emotional and took his time answering several times during his testimony. Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked Crosby if he had a drink after a partner called him to his home and showed a folder of evidence that Murdaugh was stealing money.
“Yea, ultimately more than one," Crosby said.
Crosby didn't go to a meeting the next day where other partners confronted Murdaugh and he resigned. But he said he was told that Murdaugh told his colleagues "he knew he was going to get caught at some point.”
On cross-examinaton, Crosby said he arrived at the Murdaugh home about an hour after the bodies were found the night of the killings. He got close enough to the bodies to know what kind of ammunition was fired and said it never looked like state agents searched the Murdaugh home.
The next day after state agents left, Crosby said he and another partner saw birdshot still near the shooting scene and thought about collecting it in case it was important evidence.
“It was so bad. We thought at some point we were going to clean it up. But it overwhelmed both my partner Mark and I,” Crosby said.
Tuesday's testimony started with Jeanne Seckinger, an accountant who is the office manager and chief financial officer for the law firm Murdaugh's family founded more than a century ago.
Murdaugh took money from legal settlements that was supposed to go to clients by routing it to a fake company that he created and that had a similar name to the company the law firm had intended to send it to, Seckinger said. The real company would have then dispensed the money to the firm's clients.
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh about almost $800,000 in missing law firm fees on the day of the killings. But during the conversation, Murdaugh found out doctors had told his father he would die within days. Seckinger said all the grief ended the investigation into the missing fees until things settled down.
"We weren't going to to go there and harass him about the money when we were worried about his mental state," Seckinger said.
After an extensive investigation, the firm determined that Murdaugh took more than $5 million from clients, and it is in the process of paying them everything they were owed, Seckinger said.
For nearly two hours, Seckinger went over dozens of checks Murdaugh sent to his fake company. Then he asked why the law firm had to pay the money back, and Seckinger said again and again, "because Alex had stolen it."
Prosecutors argued that fraud was coming to light, giving Murdaugh a motive for murder by distracting and soliciting sympathy.
On cross-examination, she agreed with defense attorney Jim Griffin that Murdaugh faces criminal charges for each client.
Griffin also asked Seckinger if it was true that Murdaugh started stealing in 2011, “Some 10 years before the murders of Maggie and Paul?”
“That’s correct. He managed to fool a lot of people, myself included,” Seckinger said.