The South Carolina jury in the Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial has heard from 61 witnesses and reviewed dozens of pieces of evidence, but prosecutors left some intriguing questions hanging when they rested their case last week.
At key moments during the first 18 days of trial, prosecutors seem to have highlighted such items as a credit card receipt with a circled charge from Gucci and a mystery strand of brown hair clutched in a dead woman’s hand.
But as the defense lays out its case this week, jurors have not been given a road map to the significance of those details. The loose ends might be nicely tied up in closing arguments or, experts say, they might leave jurors wondering as they head into deliberations.
“Much like seemingly random details that make their way into movies only to be tied together in the closing scenes, it’s often important for the party with the burden of proof to drop details into evidence that can all be tied together later in closing statements,” South Carolina defense attorney Scott Evans, who has been following the case, told The Daily Beast.
“There is a big risk in introducing details that do not support your theme. You run the risk of confusing the jury, allowing jurors to assign their own random and inaccurate significance to the detail, or giving your opponent an opening to exploit,” he added.
Murdaugh is charged with fatally shooting his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul, in a deranged attempt to shift attention from his financial crimes. Without murder weapons or DNA evidence to directly tie the disgraced former lawyer to the June 7, 2021, crime, prosecutors have heavily relied on circumstantial evidence and a video that debunks Murdaugh’s alibi.
Here are some of the breadcrumbs they have dropped along the way:
The Gucci Receipt
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Senior Special Agent Jeff Croft testified last month that a slew of evidence was seized from the family hunting estate where Maggie and Paul were killed, including three shotguns, an AR-15, ammo from the gun room—and a credit card receipt that showcased a luxury purchase.
Croft said that the credit card receipt, which showed a $1,021.10 charge at Gucci that was circled, was found in a trash can at the shed near the crime scene along with two empty ammunition boxes. Prosecutors did not explain why the receipt was important, why the amount was circled, or even who made the purchase—but they did have another crime scene technician put the receipt into evidence.
Evans noted that while jurors may not yet know the relevance, “it’s very likely that the prosecution team will tie this detail back in during closing arguments.”
“Unless a detail makes its way into evidence, it’s not fair game to mention it in closing,” he noted. “However, once a detail is before the jury any party can then explain the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from that detail at the conclusion.”
The Wedding Ring
One of the most powerful prosecution witnesses was Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, the family’s long-time housekeeper who cleaned up the house the morning after the murders at Alex Murdaugh’s behest.
During her testimony, prosecutors glossed over a discovery the housekeeper made a few days after the slayings: Maggie Murdaugh’s wedding ring under the driver’s seat of her car.
The find could undermine the defense’s argument that the Murdaughs had no marital problems at the time of the murders. But the prosecution allowed Turrubiate-Simpson to drop the bombshell that Maggie was not wearing her wedding ring when she was killed without any explanation.
Evans believes that was probably on purpose.
“This is likely another one of the details that the prosecution will attempt to tie back into its story during closings,” he said. “Even though there was little evidence of marital problems and no evidence of extramarital affairs before the jury, a piece of evidence like this could certainly plant a seed in a juror’s mind that the marriage was rocky.”
Envelopes of Cash
One of Paul’s friends who testified for the prosecution revealed another astonishing piece of information about his time working for Murdaugh’s law firm that prosecutors did not tease apart.
Nathan Tuten said that while working at the firm from 2019 to 2022, Murdaugh would “very frequently” ask him to cash checks for him at a local bank. Tuten said that when he would return from Palmetto State Bank, with the cash in a bank envelope, he would bring the money directly to Murdaugh in his office.
Sometimes, Tuten said, other people would be in Murdaugh’s office—including Yemassee Police Chief Greg Alexander and attorneys Chris Wilson and Cory Fleming. (Fleming has since been criminally charged for his role in a Murdaugh-related financial crime and Wilson testified against Murdaugh, who he said stole almost $200,000 from him. Alexander has admitted he took a loan from Murdaugh in 2021 but insisted there was “no impropriety.”)
Prosecutors didn’t ask Tuten any follow-up questions about the possible implications even though they claim financial crimes were Murdaugh’s motivation for murder. Murdaugh’s lawyers, however, waited no time trying to shut it down in cross-examination.
“Are you suggesting he was giving Greg Alexander money?” Griffin asked Tuten, who responded that he was not “suggesting anything.”
Evans noted that because the South Carolina bar encourages lawyers who work together on personal injury cases to share attorney fees, what Tuten saw may not be that important.
“It’s not uncommon for a group of referring lawyers to show at the office on the day that a settlement is disbursed,” Evans added. “However the sharing of fees between lawyers is never to be done in cash, and must be fully disclosed to the client and the IRS. The presence of large sums of cash before one of these meetings, if true, would raise a number of questions.”
The Brown Hair
Colleton County Sheriff’s Detective Laura Rutland testified last month that she was among the first to arrive at the hunting estate after the June 2021 shooting—and that she observed strands of brown hair in Maggie’s hands. The revelation could give some jurors to pause since Alex Murdaugh has short strawberry blonde hair, Maggie was blonde, and their son was red-headed.
Jurors have not heard about the brown hair since Rutland’s testimony—not even when expert Sara Zapata testified this week that unknown DNA evidence was also found under Maggie’s fingernails. But, Evans believes they will soon.
“I would anticipate that the defense latches onto this point as it presents expert witnesses next week. It is highly likely that these hairs could be traced back to someone involved in the murders,” the lawyer said. “Had they belonged to Alex, we certainly would have heard about it in the prosecution’s case in chief.”