Alex Murdaugh’s closing argument criticizes ‘failed’ investigation
Attorney Jim Griffin repeatedly criticized various levels and members of law enforcement as equal parts incompetent and biased during the defense’s closing statement Thursday morning in Colleton County.
Griffin frequently revisited the idea of the “circle” of potential suspects in the gruesome murders, saying investigators took his client there and held him there no matter what the evidence showed.
“We have clearly shown that SLED failed miserably in investigating this case and had they done a competent job Alex would have been expelled from that circle a year ago, two years ago,” the defense attorney said. “But he would have been disfellowshipped.”
The crime scene mismanagement, a fact more or less conceded by the state’s own witnesses and repeatedly asserted by the defense, began with local law enforcement and quickly encompassed the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED — leading the investigation into who Margaret killed “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, in June 2021, the defense dispute ended.
A witness testified about the likely destruction of tire tracks by law enforcement at the scene. Another witness testified the same. A third law enforcement witness testified about various sets of tire tracks that investigators failed to consider or preserve at all.
“Why didn’t they ever take DNA samples from Maggie’s clothes?” asked Griffin. “Why didn’t they ever take DNA samples from Paul’s clothes? They never did. They never did. It was never made.”
However, while the victims were ignored, the defendant was immediately targeted by SLED, the defense continued.
“There was only one reason,” the attorney said, why SLED only took DNA samples from the defendant’s clothing. “They had decided that unless we find someone else, it will be Alex.”
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Griffin spent much time discussing the discovery and preservation of location data from Maggie Murdaugh’s cell phone, as well as his client’s numerous attempts to contact him SLED’s lead investigatorDavid Owen on what this data might reveal.
“Whoever killed her undoubtedly dumped that phone on the curb,” the defense attorney insisted. He added that his client told law enforcement to find his wife’s phone “from the start.”
But it wasn’t the phone alone that prompted Alex Murdaugh to repeatedly call Owen to find out how things were going. Griffin said his client told investigators to pull data from various devices, including: the defendant’s own phone and the OnStar system from his Chevrolet Suburban; and Maggie Murdaugh’s phone.
Paraphrasing and summarizing his client’s pleas to law enforcement, the defense attorney said: “You get my phone, you get my OnStar data and you won’t see my car driving down the street with Maggie’s phone because it didn’t happen, it did.” couldn’t happen. ”
But Owen repeatedly passed the buck and didn’t seem particularly interested in getting all that data, Griffin claimed. Defense attorneys categorized the state’s entire effort to obtain the Suburban’s OnStar data as someone at SLED faxing a subpoena to “someone in Detroit” who worked at General Motors.
“There’s no indication SLED followed up with a phone call, there’s no indication SLED followed up with a letter, there’s no indication SLED did anything other than put it on file — put the answer in a file,” Griffin said. “And that was it. That was it, ladies and gentlemen.”
The OnStar data only came to light after a court observer following the case asked General Motors why they weren’t cooperating with law enforcement, Griffin told jurors. But when that data finally arrived, it wasn’t particularly useful for comparison purposes, as SLED had stored Maggie’s phone improperly and the GPS was constantly pinging from cellphone towers, meaning the data ended up overwriting itself on the night in question.
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“We would have had it if they extracted it sooner,” Griffin said.
After the defendant provided his phone to law enforcement for copying, Griffin found the extraction was “shallow” and contained no GPS data. For example, jurors at the trial saw numerous GPS data from Paul Murdaugh’s phone, the defense attorney reminded the 12 jurors and the sole remaining deputy.
“There is enough evidence in the records to show that Alex Murdaugh did not drive down the road – Moselle Road – with Maggie’s phone in the car and at any point threw it away,” Griffin continued. “But that would have put him out of the loop I would hope, but probably not. Because they were so focused on him.”
And when it came time to argue about whether or not the defendant was the driving force behind the cellphone data problem, the defense attorney said the state ignored it in favor of an attack on character.
“They didn’t contradict anything he said” about the requests to get location data from different devices, the defense attorney said. Griffin said the state instead called a witness to contradict Alex Murdaugh’s claim to be allowed to put blue lights in his car. He suggested that the state’s rebuttal witness was used to divert attention from the back-and-forth between Owen and the defendant over the device’s location data.
Overall, the defense attorney argued, the investigation failed at several critical, crucial and irreplaceable moments.
And those compounding investigative errors led the state to work towards a frame-up against Alex Murdaugh, Griffin argued.
The lawyer admitted the allegation was controversial and said it did not bring him any joy.
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