CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Alex Murdaugh did not seem like a man who would brutally gun down his wife and son, but attorney Mark Ball questioned Wednesday if he really knew his longtime law partner and former friend.
Murdaugh appeared devastated when Maggie and Paul were fatally shot the night of June 7, 2021, near kennels on the family’s 1,770-acre hunting estate in Colleton County, Ball testified at the defendant's double murder trial.
He had known Murdaugh for more than three decades by then. Their children grew up together and his wife was close with Maggie. Their law firm, founded by Murdaugh’s great-grandfather in 1910, was like a close-knit family, Ball testified.
Maggie, 52, was shot repeatedly with a military-style rifle chambered for .300 blackout rounds. The 22-year-old son was killed by two shotgun blasts near the kennel's feed room. Evidence indicated the victims were shot at close range, but neither body had defensive wounds.
At the scene, the imposing trial lawyer smothered Ball in a hug and cried, “Look at what they did to them,” he testified.
It seemed an odd thing to say in the aftermath of the crimes, but Ball testified he didn’t put much stock in anything the traumatized man said at the time. He was more concerned about the investigation that was unfolding around him as Murdaugh’s friends and families mingled among the swarm of law enforcement officers that descended on the estate.
No one was guarding the estate’s entrances, he testified. A light rain dribbled off the feed room's roof onto Paul’s body. The indignity pissed him off, Ball testified, but it also made him worry the weather was spoiling evidence.
The local coroner told everyone to wait in the estate’s main house as investigators for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division processed the crime scene. But wasn’t the house a crime scene, too, Ball wondered.
The next day, he walked into the feed room.
“It was kind of like walking over a grave,” Ball testified.
A piece of Paul’s skull, “about the size of a baseball,” was still on the floor. Steel pellets littered the room and a chunk of buckshot was wedged in the window’s molding, Ball testified.
He asked a SLED agent if they had more work to do there, but the agent said they got everything they needed from the scene. Later, Ball told the agent he found a .300 blackout rifle in the house's gun room. It had apparently been overlooked by investigators.
Over the ensuing months, Ball testified he found his friend sometimes crying in his office. He always attended his sons' ballgames and never missed a call from a loved one.
But did Murdaugh love his family?
“I’ll tell you this,” Ball testified. “The person I thought I knew loved his family — or appeared to love his family — very much.”
Ball told the jury his opinion of Murdaugh changed in September 2021, after an investigation by the law firm determined the ginger-haired attorney had stolen millions of dollars from clients in a “cunning” scheme that spanned more than a decade.
The thefts made Ball “mad as hell,” he testified.
Ball was called as a witness for the defense as Murdaugh’s lawyers battled murder charges in the closely watched trial. The attorney raised serious doubts about law enforcement’s investigation on the night of the murder, but he excoriated his former partner for the alleged thefts, which destroyed the family’s law firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.
Hanging over Wednesday’s proceeding was a significant question: Would Murdaugh take the stand?
Defense attorney Jim Griffin suggested in court Wednesday morning they considered putting their client on the stand, but they were concerned about questions related to the thefts. He asked Colleton County Judge Clifton Newman to prohibit prosecutors from asking the defendant about the crimes, as well as other evidence introduced to prove motive or intent.
The judge declined to issue an order Wednesday morning.
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