The mystery blue raincoat prosecutors say Alex Murdaugh took over to his parents’ home days after the double murder of his wife and son has been unveiled in court.
Prosecutors say the coat was covered in gun residue and spotted by his mother’s carer when he arrived at the house in Almeda at 6.30am a few days after his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, were killed at the family’s hunting estate in Moselle, South Carolina.
But the defense claims Shelley Smith actually saw a blue tarp and, under cross-examination, she confirmed she could never have mistaken a tarp for a jacket.
She initially told jurors she saw Murdaugh, 54, carrying a ‘blue something’ and later told the court that she saw a tarp laid out on a chair the following day.
Although Smith failed to state emphatically what she saw, the State asserts that a blue jacket found coated in gunshot residue bundled up in a closet at Murdaugh’s parents’ house is relevant to their case.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin holds up the blue tarp. The defense dispute that Murdaugh’s mother’s carer saw him with the blue jacket (right) and instead say it was the tarp. The jacket is seen with tape markings applied by investigators
Alex Murdaugh, center, is escorted into the Colleton County Courthouse before his double murder trial in Walterboro, S.C., on Monday
Smith yesterday described seeing Murdaugh on the night of the killings and how he appeared ‘fidgety’ as he lay with his mother, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.
Murdaugh stayed about 20 minutes, laying beside his mother and holding her hand, Smith said. She also noted that he was periodically checking his phone that night, June 7, 2021.
He arrived at his mother’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts, Smith testified, adding that she saw no blood on him and that he left no blood in his mother’s room.
When cops arrived at the murder scene later that night he was also wearing a clean T-shirt and shorts.
Smith testified that nine days after the slayings, Murdaugh visited his parents’ house at 6.30am, which she said was ‘unusually’ early.
She said Murdaugh was carrying a ‘blue something’ in his hand that looked like a tarp or jacket. A blue jacket was later found at Murdaugh’s parents’ home coated with gun residue.
The caregiver wept as she described how he pointedly told her that he was with his mother for 30 to 40 minutes on the night of the killings.
Smith said this made her ‘nervous’ because she recalled he had only been there for 15 or 20 minutes. She was so concerned by the contradiction that she later told her police officer brother about the conversation.
During the visit, Murdaugh asked her about her upcoming wedding and mentioned that he could help her with the bill.
The defense grilled Smith over whether she had seen a tarp or a jacket.
Defense Attorney Jim Griffin picked up the blue tarp seized from Murdaugh’s parents’ home and asked whether this was what she had seen.
Smith confirmed it was and also agreed with him that she could not confuse it with a rain jacket.
Griffin spent several minutes getting Smith to say the item was big, like a tarp, not a raincoat.
Establishing whether it was a tarp or rain jacket is crucial because the latter was covered in gun residue.
Muschelle ‘Shelly’ Smith (left) – the caregiver of Murdaugh’s elderly mother Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Alexander Murdaugh (right) – told how she spoke to the alleged killer on the night of the murders
The defense and prosecution teams yesterday battled over whether Smith saw a blue jacket (left and right) or a tarp of the same color
Alex Murdaugh pictured with his wife Maggie and their two sons Paul (left) and Buster
The defense then asked Judge Clifton Newman to prevent any other witnesses from testifying about the raincoat, but Newman initially refused.
A state agent testified that the blue jacket was found in Murdaugh’s mother’s home by agents looking for a blue tarp three months after the killings.
Before a state agent could testify about whether anything was found on the garment, the defense asked again for the judge to prevent the witness from testifying further.
‘They have no evidence connecting Mr. Murdaugh to that rain jacket,’ Griffin said.
Newman on Tuesday ruled against the defense and refused to strike Smith’s evidence from the record.
‘I find that it is relevant and that it creates, through inference, facts that are in dispute in this case. I deny the motion to strike her testimony, if that’s what the motion is. I deny the motion to declare her testimony as being irrelevant,’ he said.
The judge also denied that the gun residue evidence is prejudicial before going on to state that what Smith said was clearly inconclusive.
‘The witness was so all over the place with her testimony and continued to be confused,’ he said.
The judge added that she was ‘unable to articulate her thoughts’ because of her emotion and the weight of the setting.
Judge Clifton Newman granted the prosecution motion because the ‘financial crimes are so intimately connected and explanatory, it’s vital for context and essential for telling the complete story’
Jurors are today hearing evidence of Murdaugh’s financial crimes after the judge ruled they are admissible – a major blow to the defense.
Judge Newman on Monday granted the prosecution’s motion because the crimes ‘are so intimately connected and explanatory, it’s vital for context and essential for telling the complete story.’
The State called seven witnesses in the absence of the jury over the last three days of the trial to provide explosive evidence about how Murdaugh’s life was spiraling out of control and ‘Hannibal was at the gate.’
The defense fought to keep that evidence from the jury, arguing that there is ‘no logical connection’ between the financial impropriety and the killings.
But Judge Newman said: ‘I find that the jury is entitled to consider whether the apparent desperation of Mr. Murdaugh because of his dire financial situation, the threat of being exposed for committing the crimes for which he was later charged, resulted in the commission of the alleged crimes.’
The decision means jurors over the next several days will hear from witnesses who testified previously before a judge about how Murdaugh secured $4 million in settlements for the family of the longtime Murdaugh housekeeper who died in a fall. He allegedly kept the money for himself.
Other testimony includes the office manager confronting Murdaugh over $792,000 in missing law firm fees the day of the killings and how a key hearing in a wrongful death lawsuit that might reveal the true condition of Murdaugh’s finances was scheduled for three days after his wife and son were shot. The hearing was cancelled.
Newman’s decision to allow evidence of Alex Murdaugh’s possible financial crimes came after hearing from a potential witness Monday – a lawyer representing a family suing Murdaugh over a boat crash killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach in 2019.
At the time of Paul’s death, Murdaugh was facing a lawsuit over allowing his son to drive his boat under the influence of alcohol when 19-year-old Mallory (left and right) was killed in February 2019. Murdaugh told cops Paul and Maggie had been killed in revenge for the accident
Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley (left) recalled being confronted by Murdaugh (right) who tried to ‘intimidate’ him at a fundraising event attended by trial lawyers – either for state senator Dick Harpootlian or US senator Lindsey Graham in 2019. Harpootlian is also Murdaugh’s defense attorney in the murder trial
Alex’s son Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat and faced a felony charge of boating under the influence at the time of his death.
When Alex Murdaugh called 911 and first spoke to investigators after his wife and son were killed, he mentioned people who knew Beach being angry with his son.
Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley said Alex Murdaugh and his lawyer were working hard to keep his financial information out of Tinsley’s hands when the killings happened.
‘Pretty quickly I recognized, the case against Alex, if he was the victim of some vigilante, would in fact be over,’ Tinsley said.
He said Murdaugh’s lawyer told him Alex Murdaugh was broke, but Tinsley didn’t believe it given what appeared to be a successful law practice and his family’s generational wealth. He said justice called for damages from Murdaugh because they could not bring Beach back.
‘The Beach family stood on the causeway for eight days while their daughter’s body was in the water,’ Tinsley said. ‘I don´t know there is any amount of money somebody would willingly take to go through what they went through.’