WALTERBORO, S.C. — Prosecutors in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh showcased a video Wednesday of a dog's wagging tail to chip away at the once-powerful lawyer's alibi that he wasn't at the scene of the crime in June 2021.
Murdaugh, 54, rocked back and forth and appeared to cry as video taken from the cellphone of his son Paul was played in court. Three different voices could be heard in the short clip, which was time-stamped at 8:44 p.m. and taken at the dog kennels on the family's rural estate property where Paul, 22, and his mother Margaret, 52, were fatally shot at about 8:50 p.m., according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors first played the video during the testimony of a state witness — Lt. Britt Dove, an expert in cellphone forensics with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division — and said they believed it was Paul trying to capture video of a dog's tail as the voices spoke about whether a dog had a chicken or guinea in its mouth.
The prosecution has previously said the voices belong to Murdaugh, his wife and son, but Dove was not asked specifically if the patriarch was among them.
The owner of the dog in the video, a close family friend, later testified that Paul Murdaugh had been watching the animal for him at the family's estate in Colleton County and that they last spoke at about 8:40 p.m.
The friend, Rogan Gibson, testified that they spoke about whether something was wrong with the dog's tail. He also said he could hear Margaret and a male voice that sounded like Murdaugh in the background before hanging up.
At 8:49 p.m., Gibson texted Paul to "see if you can get a good picture of" the tail, according to the evidence presented at trial. However, Gibson never got a response; he texted Paul again about an hour later, but didn't hear back.
Gibson testified that he spoke with investigators the next day after learning about the killings, and said he was "99%" sure that it was Murdaugh in the background when he spoke to Paul over the phone.
When asked again by lead prosecutor Creighton Waters if he believed Murdaugh was at the dog kennels that night and "did you recognize the voices of your second family," Gibson responded, "I did."
He also testified that neither Paul nor Margaret sounded stressed or scared to indicate that someone unfamiliar or an obvious threat was on the property with them that night.
Murdaugh, a once-prominent personal injury attorney from a long line of prosecutors in southeastern South Carolina, has denied he was involved in the deaths of his wife and their youngest son.
He previously told investigators that the last time he saw his family was earlier in the evening at dinner, and he had not been at the dog kennels, instead taking a short nap before leaving to visit his ailing mother.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Jim Griffin spoke with Gibson about how there were guns left unprotected around the family's property that presumably could be stolen, and that by all accounts, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh and their sons, Paul and Buster, had a loving relationship with one another.
State prosecutors allege Murdaugh had been stealing from clients and his firm for years, and that he murdered his wife and son to gain sympathy ahead of being exposed for his financial troubles.
If convicted, Murdaugh could receive 30 years to life in prison. He is also facing more than 80 financial-related charges against him.
Another defense lawyer, Richard "Dick" Harpootlian, called the state's claims "ludicrous" during court Wednesday.
Dove went over a trove of information from the cellphones of Alex Murdaugh, his wife and son. There were phone call logs and texts, steps recorded, apps asking for information, GPS locations, changes when the phone belonging to Margaret went from vertical portrait mode to horizontal landscape mode and back, and — key to the prosecution's case — when the camera was activated.
During court Tuesday, evidence presented revealed that Murdaugh's final text to his wife was "call me babe."
Haylee Barber reported from Walterboro, S.C., and Erik Ortiz from New York.