COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Witness testimony will resume Monday as the Alex Murdaugh murder trial enters its fourth week.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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Sparks flew Friday as Murdaugh’s defense team moved for a mistrial, which was quickly denied by Judge Clifton Newman.
The motion came as prosecutors examined Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, who worked as a housekeeper for the Murdaughs. She described a conversation she had with Maggie months before the murders when Maggie broke down in tears over the boat crash lawsuit.
The state is hoping to use that testimony, along with the testimony of Mark Tinsley — an attorney for the boat crash victims — to prove that investigations connected to the boat crash case put Murduagh in a corner. They claim he murdered Maggie and Paul to distract from his other crimes.
Murdaugh’s defense team says the theory is unfounded and that Murdaugh was a loving father and husband. They also used Simpson’s testimony to highlight what they claim was a botched investigation from the start, noting that SLED let Simpson go into the home alone the day after the murders and clean up.
The jury also heard from a caregiver for Murdaugh’s mother and an FBI expert in historical cell phone location analysis who plotted out the movements of Paul, Maggie, and Alex’s phones the night of the murders.
Court is set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
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1:09 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch and will resume at 2:30 p.m.
11:37 a.m. – SLED agent Sara Zapata is called to the stand.
Zapata is an expert in DNA analysis.
She explains what DNA is, how it is left behind, how it is collected by SLED, and how it is analyzed.
Zapata says that in stains, she can say with 100% certainty that someone is a contributor to the DNA profile in that stain, but she can’t say with 100% certainty that the stain is someone’s blood.
Zapata processed 24 buccal swabs for comparrison in this case. DNA from those swabs was comparred to DNA found on other pieces of evidence.
300-Blackout cases and shotgun shells collected at the scene were swabbed for DNA.
A single-source DNA profile matching Maggie was found on the 300-Blackout shells.
Shells from the feed room had a single-source DNA profile matching Paul.
Swabs from the feed room door had a single-source DNA profile matching Paul as well.
Swabs taken from the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shotgun, which tested presumptive-positive for blood, were analyze as well. One of the swabs had a mixture of DNA profiles appearing to match Maggie and Alex Murdaugh. The other swab had an insufficient partial DNA profile.
Swabs of presumptive-positive blood from the receiver of another gun (item 22) had a mixture of DNA profiles, both of which appeared to have Maggie as a contributor to the DNA mixture.
Swabs of blood from the steering wheel of the Chevy Suburban had a mixture of two profiles, which appeared to match Maggie and Alex.
Fingernail clippings from Maggie’s left hand had a DNA mixture originating from two individuals. Maggie is assumd to be one of them since they are her fingernails. A small amount of DNA not matching Maggie was present. CB Rowe’s profile could not be visually excluded, but Zapata noted it was not likely a match.
Fingernail clippings from Maggie’s right hand only showed her DNA.
Fingernail clippings from Paul’s right and left hands only showed his DNA.
Zapata also analyzed cuttings from Murdaugh’s clothes.
Some cuttings from Murdaugh’s shirt showed a mixed-DNA profile in which Maggie and Paul appeared to be likely contributors.
Some cuttings showed DNA profiles from as many as four individuals.
One of the areas on the shirt had a mixed-DNA profile that appeared to have Maggie, Murdaugh, and Nolen Tuten as contributors.
Zapata also performed a hematrace test (confirmatory blood test) on the cuttings of the shirt.
No human blood was identified in any of the cuttings.
Zapata is asked if previous LCV testing could’ve diluted or caused an interaction that would result in a false-negative. Zapata says that she is aware of studies suggesting it is possible.
Prosecution emphasizes that testing for blood and testing for DNA is different.
Cuttings from the front left interior pocket of Murdaugh’s pants showed a DNA mixture originating from three individuals. The profiles appeared to match Murdaugh, Maggie, and Paul.
Other stains on the pants had mixed DNA profiles appearing to have Maggie and Paul as individual contributors as well.
Some stains on the pants had mixed-DNA profiles that had low likelihood of Murdaugh being a contributor to the profile.
Zapata also analyzed cuttings from Murdaugh’s shoes. A single-source DNA profile matching Murdaugh was found.
Swabs from the blue raincoat were tested as well. Zapata was unable to determine a full DNA profile from the swabs collected.
11:35 a.m. – Court returns.
11:16 a.m. – Court is in recess for 10 minutes.
11:00 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
She is asked about the processing of the six 300-blackout cartridges and whether the results are for each individual cartridge or for all the cartridges. She says the results would be for all of them.
Defense attorney Phillip Barber asks what a presumptive-positive test is. Nguyen explains that in a phenolphthalein test, hemoglobin, an element in blood, reacts with an agent in the test. She says it is not unique to human blood. There are also items that can cause a false-positive.
He asks if confirmatory tests, which would confim the presence of blood, were conducted on the shotguns. She says no, those would have to be requested.
Confirmatory tests were performed on swabs from the Chevy Suburban because the crime-scene team had already performed a presumptive test. Since a presumptive test was already performed by another unit, Nguyen says it was standard procdure to perform a confirmatory test.
Barber asks if any serology tests were performed on the cuttings from the shirt, shorts, or shoes. Nguyen says no. Barber asks if a serology test was ever performed. Nguyen says she believes there was additional testing on the shirt, but not by her.
Nguyen says hematrace (confirmatory) tests were performed only on the swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban and from a Ford F-250. All four tests from the Ford F-250 were negative.
Barber asks why the shirt was processed again by the crime scene unit and not the serology unit. She says the serology unit doesn’t use LCV testing and she does not know why the decision was made by the crime scene unit to conduct that test.
10:16 a.m – SLED agent Rachel Nguyen is called to the stand.
Nguyen is an expert in forensic serology, which the U.S. Department of Justice defines as performing “biochemical analysis on blood and other body fluids, such as semen, saliva, and urine, that have been deposited on items of evidence.”
Nguyen examined several evidence items in the case, including, but not limited to:
- 300-Blackout cartridge casings and shot shells found at the scene
- Swabs from the feed room door
- Swabs from the loading port of the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shot gun
- Swabs from the barrel of the camo Bennelli 12-gauge shot gun
- Reddish-brown debris swabbed from one of the receivers of item 22 (gun)
- A Mossberg shotgun (item 30)
- A Browning shotgun (item 31)
- A Bennelli Black Super Eagle 2 12-gauge shotgun (item 32)
- A rifle (item 33)
- Swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban
- Fingernail clippings from Maggie and Paul
- Alex Murdaugh’s shirt, shorts, and shoes
- Blue raincoat
Nguyn said the swabs from the loading port of the camo Bennelli tested presumptive-positive for the presence of blood. The swabs from the barrel tested negative. The swabs were prepared for DNA analysis and sent to the DNA unit for further testing.
Both swabs from the receiver of item 22 tested presumptive positive for blood. The swabs were forwarded to the DNA lab for further testing.
The swabs taken from the Chevy Suburban tested field positive for blood, so Nguyen performed a confirmatory test. Some tested negative, but Nguyen said that a swab taken from the steering wheel tested positive. The swab was sent to the DNA unit for further testing.
Nguyen did not process the nail clippings, she just forwarded them to the DNA unit.
Nguyen tested Murdaugh’s shirt for blood on June 9, 2021. She identified two spots that looked like blood stains. The spots were tested and came back presumptive-positve. One was cut out and sent to the DNA lab for further testing.
Later, further analysis was requested. The shirt was processed again with LCV testing and 10 additional stains were located. Nguyen cut a small portion of each stain and forwarded it to the DNA unit for further analysis.
Murdaugh’s shorts were also tested on June 9, 2021. Two presumptive-positive stains were located at that time, and one was sent to the DNA unit for further analysis. One of the stains was located in the front interior pocket.
The shorts were later reprocessed along with the shirt and six additional presumptive-positive stains were located. Cuttings were taken and sent to DNA for further analysis.
Two stains on Murdaugh’s shoes tested presumptive-positive for blood. One of those stains was cut and forwarded to the DNA unit for further analysis.
The blue raincoast was tested on October 7, 2021. 71 stains were tested. All 71 were negaitve for the possible presence of blood. The crime scene lab tested behind Nguyen and also found no presence of blood.
The raincoat was later tested for DNA to determine “ownership” or who was wearing the coat. Swabs were taken from areas like the cuffs, collar, zipper-pull, etc. Those swabs were forwarded to the DNA unit for further analysis.
10:09 a.m. – The jury is brought in. The state calls SLED special agent Ryan Kelly to the stand.
He took buccal swabs of several people connected to the investigation.
10:02 a.m. – Waters says that additional information from GM came in regarding a search warrant on Murdaugh’s vehicle over the weekened. He says it is a “substantial amount of information” and it includes GPS data, including specific location points. Waters says it is “confirmatory of the timeline” that has already been presented to the jury.
Defense also had a chance to look at the data. Harpootlian says it is a massive amount of information. It shows car speed, location, etc. He says a lot of the evidence is in the defense’s favor. However, Harpootlian says defense will not be ready to cross-examine the state’s expert until defense’s experts examine the data on a granular level. He says he hopes that will be done in two to three days.
9:47 a.m. – Court is in session. Judge Clifton Newman alerts the court that two jurors have tested positive for COVID-19. Those jurors were dismissed and alternates were brought in.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian, having recently had COVID-19 himself, asks if the rest of the jury could have been exposed and is just not showing positive yet? State prosecutor Creighton Waters echoes the concern. They say they worry that the jury will continuosly infect themselves and it will result in a mistrial and ask if delaying a few days then retesting would be better.
Judge Newman says a doctor addressed those concerns. He says the jurors were tested Monday morning and will be retested Wednesday. He also says everyone in the court room should probably be wearing masks.
As of Monday, there are only three alternate jurors left. One was dismissed previously after being admitted to the ER. The other two were called in as jurors after the two jurors with COVID-19 were dismissed. Judge Newman says that the longer the trial goes on, the higher the likelihood of attrition.
Harpootlian and Waters together raise the concern of the large galley. Judge Newman asks if he should issue a mask mandate in the courtroom. Waters says yes and suggests considering some level of social distancing or reducing the number of people in the courtroom. Newman says that he is not going to order social distancing, and at this point he is going to strongly suggest masks, but he may issue an order if one becomes necessary.
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