By JEFFREY COLLINS
Jurors on Wednesday visited the South Carolina estate where prosecutors say disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh shot and killed his wife and son, touring the crime scene before heading back to court to hear closing arguments in the closely watched murder trial.
Vans with tinted windows took the jury about 30 minutes from the courthouse in Walterboro to the Murdaugh home called Moselle in the swamps of Colleton County. The judge allowed them to see the area around dog kennels where the killings happened and the outside of the family’s home.
The visit lasted over an hour and jurors also appeared to examine the woods across the street from the property.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters then started his closing arguments by saying Alex Murdaugh was allowed to do whatever he wanted — stealing from clients and his law firm — because of his family name and their respect in their small town. But when a storm decended and he thought he was going to get caught, he killed his family, Waters said.
“After an exhaustive investigation there is only one person who had the motive, who had the means, who had the opportunity to commit these crimes and also, whose guilty conducts after these crimes betrays him,” he said.
The defense will get its chance to talk to jurors later Wednesday.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 30 years to life in prison if he is convicted of murder. Investigators said his son Paul was shot twice with a shotgun and his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, was shot four or five times with a rifle outside kennels at the home on June 7, 2021.
Prosecutors said Murdaugh killed his family to gain sympathy and buy time because it appeared his law firm and others were about to discover that he had stolen millions of dollars from clients and the business over a matter of years.
Their key piece of evidence is a video Paul Murdaugh shot from the kennels about five minutes before he last used his cellphone. His father’s voice is on the video. Before the trial, Alex Murdaugh repeatedly told investigators that he hadn’t been at the kennels on the night of the killings, but while testifying in his own defense, he admitted that he lied and that he had been there.
The defense has said state agents conducted a poor investigation that focused on Alex Murdaugh too quickly and missed evidence such as fingerprints and shoe prints that could have led to the real killers.
The weapons used in the killings have not been found and prosecutors never presented evidence on how Murdaugh could have killed his family, cleaned himself up, disposed of the clothes and weapons, and composed himself in the 15-minute window before GPS data shows he left the property to visit his ailing mother, the defense argued.
Defense lawyers asked for the jurors to be allowed to visit the property in order to help them understand how small the storage room is where Paul Murdaugh was killed and the distance between the two bodies.
Prosecutors opposed the visit, saying the scene looks different than it did in June 2021, as trees and vegetation have grown and no one has lived on the property since the killings.
Judge Clifton Newman allowed the visit but cautioned jurors about the differences in how the property looks now.
A pool reporter who got a brief glimpse of the jurors said one of them stood in the feed room doorway where 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh was killed and glanced up to where witnesses said blood and hair from the victim was found. The reporter said it was about 12 steps from where Paul Murdaugh’s body was found to the spot his mother died.
Jurors didn’t hear testimony during the visit to the property and they could only ask questions to Newman. They were joined by several bailiffs, a court reporter and lawyers from both sides, as well as deputies who testified earlier in the trial. They were warned to watch for snakes.
Once closing arguments are finished, the jurors will get their instructions and begin deliberating what they learned during a trial that has included more than 75 witnesses and lasted more than six weeks. They will be able to review about 800 documents, photographs, videos of police interviews of Alex Murdaugh and other exhibits while deciding on a verdict.
Find more AP coverage of the case: https://apnews.com/hub/alex-murdaugh