Alex Murdaugh jurors begin deliberations in double murder trial

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Grace Beahm Alford/Reuters

After nearly six weeks of testimony, jurors in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial heard the final arguments from opposing legal teams, as presiding judge Clifton Newman prepared to hand them the case for deliberations.

Related: Alex Murdaugh jurors visit crime scene as murder trial winds towards its close

In the last hours of a trial that has gripped America with its complex blend of deep south violence, power and fraud, defense lawyer Jim Griffin told the court that investigators had “failed miserably” in their investigation of the deaths of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul, and he accused them of “fabricating evidence”.

The attorney said that investigators with South Carolina’s state law enforcement division had failed to consider other suspects when they began investigating Murdaugh soon after the pair were found dead in June 2021.

Had they done a “competent job”, Griffin argued, “Alex would have been excluded from that circle a year ago, two years ago”.

The defense has, throughout the trial, attempted to raise enough doubt in the state’s case to win an acquittal. Prosecutors argued that Murdaugh, 54, murdered his wife and son to prevent longstanding financial crimes from becoming public.

Among investigators’ errors, Griffin said, was a failure to test strands of hair found in the hand of Maggie Murdaugh; a failure to preserve footwear impressions left at the crime scene; and a failure to collect DNA samples from the victims’ clothes.

Crucially, defense attorneys argued, prosecutors had not introduced a report from a state forensics expert that concluded there was blood spatter on the T-shirt Alex Murdaugh was wearing when police arrived at the scene.

That formed the basis for the state to seek murder charges against Murdaugh, a now disbarred lawyer. But prosecutors later found that the T-shirt tested negative for blood, and argued at trial that it appeared to be laundered.

“They went from Mr. Bloody Shirt leading up to this trial to Mr. Clean during this trial,” Griffin quipped.

Among other inconsistencies in the case against Murdaugh, the defense said, was a blue raincoat recovered months after the killings. It had been covered in gunshot residue, but was never tied to Murdaugh at trial, despite using it as a basis for the charges against him.

The defense did again concede, however, that Murdaugh had lied when he claimed to investigators that he had not been at the crime scene on the night of the killings. They pointed to Murdaugh’s addiction to painkillers as the reason for doing so.

“He lied, because that’s what addicts do,” Griffin said. “Addicts lie. He lied because he had a closet full of skeletons. He didn’t want any more scrutiny on him.”

On Wednesday, jurors heard an opposing set of closing arguments. During the trial, the court heard how Murdaugh had been accused of stealing millions from his law firm and from clients.

“This is a man who made his trade on lying,” prosecutor Creighton Waters said in a three-hour summation.

“He lied about the most important facts in the case, and effortlessly and easily pivoted to a new lie when confronted by something he wasn’t prepared for,” Water said. “He fooled Maggie and Paul, too, and they paid for it with their lives. Don’t let him fool you too.”

Prosecutors said Murdaugh knew how to prevent investigators from collecting evidence, and during police interviews had been trying to elicit information to find out how much investigators knew.

“He’s a prosecutor trying to manufacture his alibi,” Waters said.

Murdaugh, who faces life in prison if convicted on murder charges, faces the possibility of a similar term for embezzlement. Financial crimes would land him in a low-security federal prison. A murder conviction would place him in a harsher, high-security state penitentiary.

Aspects of how Murdaugh’s life was unraveling at the time of the murders have cropped up throughout the trial, including a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Mallory Beach, a teenager who died in a 2019 boat crash, and the 2018 death of Murdaugh’s housekeeper , Gloria Satterfield, which led to a multi-million payout that never reached her survivors.

During the prosecution’s closing argument, Waters reduced the charges against Murdaugh to a biblical precedent.

“Husbands have been killing wives, unfortunately, for years”, he said. “And husbands killing sons goes back as far as King Herod. Probably further. And those pressures mount. And someone becomes a family annihilator.”

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