Murdaugh attorneys file motion to bar blood spatter testimony at trial

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 4:36 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 1:30 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - Attorneys for Alex Murdaugh have filed a motion to bar the state prosecution from using blood spatter testimony at trial.

They are asking the court to prohibit the State from using any testimony regarding blood splatter from Tom Bevel, and any other associate of Bevel, Garner & Associates, LLC.

They are also asking for anyone who has an opinion due to Bevel’s work or any documents pertaining to his work not be used in trial.

Bevel became connected to the case when he was given the shirt Alex Murdaugh was wearing at the time he allegedly found his wife Maggie and son Paul dead on June 7, 2021. Bevel at first said stains on the white shirt were not blood, but later changed his stance after meeting with SLED agents, according to the defense.

The defense also says Murdaugh requests the Court award him costs and attorney’s fees incurred in the motion practice concerning Bevel. They say Murdaugh asks the Court to delay considering this request until after trial.

The motion given by the defense also gives the first look into the evidence being used against Murdaugh, information on Maggie and Paul’s death, and more.

In the motion, the defense says, “As Mr. Murdaugh has noted in previous motions, the State immediately decided Alex was guilty, before anyone collected, investigated, or reviewed any evidence and, unable to build a solid case against Mr. Murdaugh to present in court, instead engaged in a campaign of selective and deceptive leaks to news media to convince the public that Murdaugh is guilty before he is tried.”

The defense is referring to a South Carolina based website. They allege the biggest leak to the news outlet happened in April 2022 when the State reportedly told the website a shirt worn by Murdaugh on the night his wife and son were killed was found to have a significant amount of high-velocity impact spatter on it from “at least one of their bodies,” and that the presence of the forensic evidence on his clothes “could only mean one thing.”

The website further alleged the splatter indicated Murdaugh was close in distance to one, or both, of his family members when they were shot, according to the defense.

The defense says in the motion they believe the only reason for this information leak was to convince the public Murdaugh was guilty of the murders before trial, even before he was formally charged.

The defense goes on to say, “the leak was an extrajudicial statement made on behalf of the State with the deliberate intention to prejudice the present judicial proceedings.” The defense also says the information is a lie.

The defense says in the motion the information was the opinion of Bevel, a retired Oklahoma Police officer. On December 19, 2022, the Court agreed in writing to have the State turn over documents relating to Bevel.

The defense has laid out a timeline of Bevel’s role in this case. You can find part of their reported timeline below:

  • “June 7, 2021: Maggie and Paul are murdered. SLED collects Alex’s clothing.”
  • “June 8, 2021: The white T-shirt Alex was wearing is tested for gunshot primer residue (GSR). Only three particles of GSR are found, which SLED analysts believe is consistent with transfer from recently holding a firearm and not necessarily indicative of having recently fired a firearm.”
  • “June 9, 2021: A small cutting is taken from the front hem of the T-shirt and tested with a presumptive test for blood in which hemoglobin catalyzes the oxidation of colorless phenolphthalin into pink phenolphthalein. A presumptive test only indicates the possible presence of blood. Many chemicals, including fabric detergent residues, can also cause the oxidative reaction, so the test is not conclusive for the presence of blood. The cutting responds positively to the presumptive test and it is tested for DNA. Mr. Bevel will later concede blood and DNA on the bottom of his shirt are transfers from touching his family’s bodies and wiping his hands and face on his shirt, and not the result of high-velocity splatter. See figure 1, infra.
Alex Murdaugh on the night of his wife and son's murders.
Alex Murdaugh on the night of his wife and son's murders.(Murdaugh defense team/law enforcement)
  • “June 25, 2021: SLED issues the DNA report of the small cutting from the bottom hem of Mr. Murdaugh’s T-shirt. It tests positive for Maggie’s DNA and an unknown person. Paul is excluded as a DNA contributor.”
  • “July 7, 2021: Senior Special Agent David Owen, the lead case agent, and his superior, Charles Ghent, SLED Lieutenant for the Low Country Region, brief their superior, Ryan Neill, SLED Captain for the Low Country Region, on the investigation, which is not going well. Thereafter, Capt. Neill speaks with Samuel Reighley, Jr., another SLED Captain with a leadership role in forensic services, to ask, ‘Questions about Alex’s shirt and how it was examined and blood was indicated’ and to express concern over the ‘lack of photographs of blood stains, and the poor quality of those that were taken.’ Capt. Reighley informs Capt. Neill that SLED has no bloodstain expert on staff. Capt. Neill notes that if needed he will investigate using former SLED special agent Kenny Kinsey, now Chief Deputy at the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office.”
  • July 20, 2021: the defense notes talk of retesting Murdaugh’s shirt for blood between SLED agents.
  • July 21, 2021: The defense says SLED retests the shirt. The T-shirt reportedly is photographed, hung, sprayed with leucocrystal violet (LCV), photographed again, then laid out and gridded with string. They say large parts of the shirt react “immediately” to the chemical and are cut from the shirt and sent for DNA testing by SLED. The DNA tests are conducted on several unlabeled sub-cuttings from each larger cutting. They note, “A side effect of the testing is that it effectively destroys the shirt. The LCV oxidizes more rapidly in the presence of catalyzing chemicals like blood or laundry detergent residue, but eventually it all oxidizes, the entire shirt turns purple, and all details bleed into large diffuse splotches.” The defense alleges SLED could have done the test with luminol, which would not destroy the shirt. They also say any blood splatter on the white background of the T-shirt would be visible to the human eye and turning it purple would not help the process.
  • July 25, 2021: Results show a cutting from the back of the shirt tests positive for Maggie’s DNA. They say Paul’s DNA was excluded as a contributor for that cutting. “Of the cuttings from the front bottom portion of the shirt (which the State admits are not splatter) tested, one tested positive for Paul’s DNA while excluding Maggie as a contributor, one tested positive for Maggie’s DNA while excluding Paul, and a third tested positive for Maggie without excluding Paul. The cuttings from the upper two-thirds of the front of the shirt (which the State claims are spatter from shooting Paul) generally tested positive for Maggie’s DNA with Paul either excluded or not considered because of his relatedness to the other contributors. None tested positive for Paul’s DNA.”
  • August 10, 2021: The defense states SLED took more sub-cuttings from the larger cuttings of Murdaugh’s T-shirt for HemaTrace tests to confirm the presence of human blood. They say every cutting from the shirt tested negative for human blood.
  • September 21, 2021: The defense says SLED reached out to Bevel about testing the shirt.
  • September 23, 2021: The defense says Bevel provides SLED an estimate of $11,800 for analysis and a written report.
  • October 12, 2021: The defense states SLED informs Bevel they would like to move forward with his help. Case materials are to be sent to his home.
  • November 10, 2021: SLED issues report to the July 25 report, noting “no human blood detected” for each cutting, according to the defense.
  • December 15, 2021: SLED tells Bevel evidence will be sent online and if physical evidence is needed, they will coordinate shipping, according to the defense.
  • February 4, 2022: The defense says Bevel provides SLED his initial report, dated February 3, saying, “stains on the white t-shirt are consistent with transfers and not back spatter from a bullet wound.” It goes on to say, " The initial report also opines that he would expect ‘little to no spatter on the shooter or [his/her] clothing’ resulting from the shooting of Paul and none resulting from the shooting of Maggie.”

The motion went into a timeline with the defense alleging Bevel and SLED decided to fabricate evidence against Murdaugh. On March 22, 2022, Bevel gives SLED a revised report, “opining that ‘100+ stains are consistent with spatter on the front of the T-shirt.’” Bevel also changed his statement about the back spatter.

Bevel gives his final report on March 29, 2022, which is mostly identical to the previous revised report.

The defense alleges on April 26, 2022, “SLED leaks the blood splatter ‘evidence’” to the website previously mentioned, “in a calculated attempt to prejudice criminal proceedings against Mr. Murdaugh.”

The defense states SLED “accidentally” produced Bevel’s initial report on September 16, 2022. The defense requests again to examine Murdaugh’s shirt on November 11, 2022. That same day the defense says they learn of the negative results from the HemaTrace test.

The defense says they were informed on November 17, 2022 that Murdaugh’s T-shirt had “turned black” and was no longer examinable. Defense is able to view the shirt on November 21, 2022.

The defense says emails from November 23, 2022 reveal Bevel used Photoshop to edit the color of stains on Murdaugh’s T-shirt, and that was the cause for him changing his opinion.

In the motion filing, the defense says they feel the State has refused to comply with the Court’s order to produce copies of written or recorded communications with Bevel. The State and Bevel were also ordered to produce copies of documents. The defense is requesting testimony from Bevel and his findings to be excluded from the upcoming trial.

Preliminary findings

Murdaugh’s defense team included in the motion an affidavit and preliminary expert opinions from Dr. Kenneth Lee Kinsey. Dr. Kinsey is the Chief Deputy of the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office.

Dr. Kinsey released a rendering of the crime scene, which you can see below.

Rendering of crime scene
Rendering of crime scene(Dr. Kenneth Kinsey)

In his findings he states, “Paul Murdaugh had been shot two times with a shotgun in the confines of a feed/mudroom that was connected to several covered but outdoor dog runs.” He goes on to say, “Paul was discovered on the covered sidewalk outside the door of this room and was discovered prone (face-down) to the cement walkway.”

He then says, “Maggie Murdaugh was a short distance away and was located NW at the end of the repurposed hanger that is now a covered shed. Maggie Murdaugh was also prone (face-down) and had succumbed to several gunshots from a rifle.”

The trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Monday in Walterboro, S.C.

View a timeline of the Murdaugh case below:

Latest News

Latest News