Friday, March 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Alex Murdaugh’s voice heard in cellphone video recorded moments before wife and son’s slayings, friends testify

The 50-second video was a pebble among the mountain of cellphone data that prosecutors introduced this week detailing the family’s activities in the minutes before the brutal murders.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — A cellphone video of a dog’s tail was closely scrutinized Wednesday at the double-murder trial for disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of slaying his wife and son almost two years ago at the family’s hunting estate.

The 50-second video was a pebble among the mountain of cellphone data that prosecutors introduced this week detailing the family’s activities in the minutes before the brutal murders. But prosecutors believe the “kennel video” — one of the last communications found on the phone of Murdaugh’s youngest son — is a knife in the heart of the defendant’s alibi.

Murdaugh, 54, told investigators he was not at the dog kennels on the 1,770-acre hunting estate when his loved ones were fatally shot the night of June 7, 2021. But his voice is heard on a roughly 50-second video Paul Murdaugh recorded for a family friend.

The friend, Rogan Gibson, testified Wednesday he was “100 percent” certain Alex Murdaugh, whom he described as a second father, can be heard speaking in the video.

Murdaugh’s lawyers did not challenge Gibson’s testimony, but the taciturn farmer said in cross-examination he could not imagine a scenario where the man he knew most of his life would kill his beloved son and wife.

State prosecutor Creighton Waters pushed him — did he really know Alex Murdaugh?

“Yes, I know Mr. Alex,” he asserted.

He isn’t the only one. The family’s roots run deep in the Palmetto State’s Lowcountry, where three generations of Murdaughs were elected solicitor, or prosecutor, while running a lucrative private law firm in the small town of Hampton. The red-haired defendant was heir to that legal dynasty, earning a small fortune litigating personal injury cases while working part-time in the solicitor’s office.

Potential jurors in the high-profile trial were dismissed after they identified themselves as kin to the Murdaughs. A state wildlife officer testified Tuesday he was Murdaugh’s second cousin. A sergeant for the local sheriff’s office told the jury that same day he previously testified about gang terminology in one of Murdaugh’s civil cases.

The family’s name would be in the public's eye for months after the murders. Murdaugh was accused of defrauding former law clients and trying to kill himself in a bizarre insurance fraud scheme before the murder indictments were revealed in June.

Murdaugh gave three interviews to investigators after the killings of his wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son Paul, according to testimony. The veteran attorney seemed at ease around law enforcement officers, even as he frequently broke down in tears while describing the gruesome crimes.

Murdaugh told investigators in the interviews he had dinner with his loved ones, took a nap and then drove to his parent’s house on the night of the murders. He said he did not see his wife or son again until he found their bodies shortly after 10 p.m. near the estate’s dog kennels.

The slayings of the 52-year-old woman and her son were a “butchering,” defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said in an opening statement. A shotgun blast to Paul Murdaugh’s head splattered his blood and brains across the kennel’s feed room. His mother was shot five times with .300 blackout rounds, commonly used to hunt feral hogs, according to testimony.

The first interview took place in a police vehicle parked outside the family’s hunting estate hours after the killings. Murdaugh sweated through a white T-shirt and olive shorts as it rained on that humid night. Colleton County Sheriff’s Office detective Laura Rutland scribbled notes in the backseat as Danny Henderson, an attorney from the Murdaugh family’s law firm, comforted his friend, who choked on his words and occasionally spit out the passenger side door during the roughly 30-minute interview. Dave Owen, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division lead investigator, sat in the driver’s seat.


Murdaugh told the investigators he visited his mother earlier that night. His father was in the hospital – he would die days later – and his mother had Altzheimer’s disease. He said he called and texted his wife when he left, but she did not respond.

He returned to the family’s home and found no one there, according to testimony. He drove down to the kennels, where he made the grisly discovery. He told investigators he checked the pulses of his loved ones — mindful that he was standing at a crime scene. He tried to turn his son’s body over, he said, which caused the young man’s cell phone to fall out of his pocket.

His relationships with his wife and son were “wonderful,” the father said.

Murdaugh offered the investigators two theories for who could have committed the crimes.

As he previously told a 911 dispatcher, he suspected his family was targeted because of his son’s alleged role in a 2019 boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Paul Murdaugh was charged with operating a boat while intoxicated in the crash, but he died before the case went to trial. A wrongful death lawsuit was also pending at the time of the murders.

His son had been threatened for his alleged role in Beach’s death, Murdaugh said, and he was attacked once while visiting Charleston with friends.

“There was a lot of negative publicity about that,” Murdaugh said. “And there have been people online — just vile stuff.”

Murdaugh was also suspicious of a handyman who worked on his estate. The man recently told his son an outlandish story about the FBI recruiting him to assassinate members of the Black Panther Party.

“Paul was so taken aback by it — he recorded him saying bits and pieces of it,” Murdaugh said.

It was strange, but the two of them seemed to get along pretty well, he added.

Rutland testified Friday that Murdaugh was “clean” that night, despite the grisly crime scene. There was no blood on Murdaugh’s tee, shorts or shoes, as if he had changed his clothes, she said.

The detective testified that Paul Murdaugh’s phone was found on the backside of his shorts and his arms were tucked under his body. It did not appear that someone had attempted to flip him over, she said.

In cross-examination, Harpootlian asked if Murdaugh was a suspect then.

“That night, everybody was a suspect,” Rutland responded.

Murdaugh was interviewed again three days later by investigators from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Senior Special Agent Jeff Croft testified that Murdaugh allowed them to download the contents of his phone before walking investigators through the day of the murders. He also provided investigators with the passcode for his wife’s phone. He said he did not know the passcode for his son’s device.

He said he went to work that day at his family’s law firm in Hampton but left early to meet his son, who was home from college. They rode around the estate looking for hogs, taking potshots at targets and inspecting their corn crops.

Maggie Murdaugh was home when they returned. The family ate dinner together before his wife left to visit the kennels, Murdaugh testified. He assumed his son went with her, but he remained at the house.

“I was watching TV, looking at my phone,” he told investigators. “I actually fell asleep on the couch.”

He was not certain when he awoke, but he said he called his wife before leaving.

A civilian employee for the Secret Service successfully cracked the passcode on Paul Murdaugh’s cellphone in March, according to testimony. Combined with data collected from the parents’ devices, state investigators plotted the family’s digital activities that night in reports that ran thousands of pages.

Paul Murdaugh read his final text message at 8:48 p.m. June 7, according to testimony from Lt. Britt Dove from SLED’s Computer Crimes Unit. His mother would read her final message less than a minute later.

Both phones remained locked thereafter. Investigators found Maggie Murdaugh’s phone the next day on the side of the road about a quarter-mile from the property. Paul Murdaugh’s phone battery died shortly after 10:30 p.m., Dove testified.

Murdaugh called his wife five times before he said he discovered the bodies, the lieutenant testified. He also sent two text messages. One sent at about 9:45 p.m. read: “Call me babe.”

South Carolina prosecutor Creighton Waters said in his opening statement the father’s phone calls and text messages were an attempt to establish an alibi — the kennel video ruined that.

Paul Murdaugh recorded a video at 8:44 p.m. on his cellphone of a chocolate Labrador being kept at the kennel. Gibson asked his childhood friend to take the video of his dog, Cash, because of a possible injury to its tail. Paul Murdaugh recorded the video, but it was never sent.

Gibson spoke with Paul Murdaugh in a Facetime call shortly before he recorded the video. He told the jury he thought he heard the family patriarch’s voice in the background, but he was uncertain. When he listened to the video his friend recorded, he knew it was Alex Murdaugh’s voice.

Will Loving, another close friend, offered the same testimony Wednesday — it was Alex Murdaugh's voice.

On Monday, jurors heard claims the disbarred attorney tearfully confessed to slaying his wife and son during an interview with investigators days after the slayings.

A recording of the interview was replayed for the jury several times as defense attorneys and prosecutors sparred over the alleged nine-word confession. State investigator Jeff Croft testified that Murdaugh said through heavy sobs: “It was so bad. I did him so bad.”

At the defense’s table, Alex Murdaugh shook his head and muttered to his lawyers. In cross-examination, defense attorney Jim Griffin offered a more benign interpretation of his client’s words: “They did him so bad,” referring to the real killers.

The trial is expected to continue into next week.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.