Murdaugh attorneys allege state pressured witness to change mind on evidence in murder case
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The defense team representing former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh have filed a motion demanding documents and files related to a key piece of evidence in Murdaugh’s upcoming murder trial.
The new motion, filed Monday, involves the shirt Murdaugh was wearing on the night of June 7, 2021, when his wife, Maggie, and their youngest son, Paul, were shot to death at the family’s rural property in Colleton County. Murdaugh is charged with two counts of murder in their deaths.
His defense team asked the court to order prosecutors to provide all electronic and physical documents as well as Photoshop document files related to photographs of the shirt they say led the expert to change his mind about the shirt and evidence of possible blood spatter caused by a gunshot.
Defense attorneys say the State Law Enforcement Division brought in a forensic expert to examine the shirt and that the expert provided a draft report on Feb. 4, stating “the stains on the white t-shirt are consistent with transfers and not back spatter from a bullet wound.” But on the next business day, that expert met with SLED agents via an online Zoom call and when the expert asked to see the shirt, SLED agents went to retrieve it “and discovered it was destroyed,” the court documents state.
Instead, SLED sent the expert a photograph of the destroyed shirt and allegedly asked whether the shirt, in that condition, “will still be of potential use” in his examination, court documents state.
“It doesn’t look promising but if I testify at a trial I would prefer to say that I saw it in person to make that determination,” the expert said during the call, the defense team wrote in the filing.
Rather than mailing the shirt to the expert, because of what a SLED agent reportedly said would cause “chain of custody issues,” the defense argues that SLED “incurred thousands of dollars in travel costs” to have the lead investigator and a more senior supervisor hand-deliver the shirt to the expert in Oklahoma, a move the defense alleges was part of a plan to work the expert “face-to-face to cajole him into changing his opinion.”
The filing goes on to state that on March 14, the forensic expert told SLED his firm was “able to filter the colors of the shirt using Photoshop focusing on red (blood) and blue (LCV) and white of the shirt” and that based on that, he did not see “any other mechanism to get so many misting stains onto his shirt other than the spatter created from the shotgun wounding” of Paul Murdaugh.
The expert then submitted a final report on March 29 stating the T-shirt had over 100 stains consistent with spatter and that he could not identify any possible way those stains could have been created other than spatter from shooting Paul Murdaugh with a shotgun, the documents state.
The defense team has moved to exclude the expert’s most recent opinion on spatter and asked the state to produce copies of all communications with him before an evidentiary hearing.
But the defense claims SLED has only produced “a set of emails” between the expert and the agency and the expert’s initial draft report in which the expert stated the stains on Murdaugh’s shirt were not consistent with blood spatter from a gunshot.
The defense team also alleges emails SLED produced indicate files were sent by SLED via file-sharing websites like DropBox and that some files appeared to have been delivered on physical media.
The motion states the unproduced files between SLED and the expert “must be produced to the defense, regardless of the means of transmission,” and that how the expert changed his mind “is material to the credibility of his opinions on spatter evidence, which the defense must prepare to rebut.”
The motion also demands the native Photoshop document files the expert’s firm “created and used when digitally manipulating photographs of the T-shirt, files the defense argues are “critical” because they contain “an audit history showing every manipulation of the image.”
A request for comment has been sent to the attorney general’s office and SLED.
Murdaugh’s trial is set to begin in January.
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