An expert witness called by the defense delivered testimony that at least one legal commentator believed may sow reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds, during often-graphic testimony during the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial in South Carolina on Monday afternoon.
Connecticut-based forensic scientist Timothy Palmbach testified that “a lot” of blood and brain matter would have covered the person who shot and killed Maggie on Paul Murdaugh on the night in question.
“Mr. Palmbach, do you have an opinion based upon the – more probably than not – whether there was one or two shooters who murdered Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7th?” defense attorney Jim Griffin asked the witness.
“My opinion is that the totality of the evidence is more suggestive of a two-shooter scenario,” Palmbach testified.
The defense attorney then asked the expert witness to explain.
“In Paul’s scenario, we know where the shooter of the shotgun had to be,” Palmbach said. “And that would have been orientated, really, directly over Paul’s head. And we also got a chance to see what was the effect of this dynamic explosion and the contact. And you can see outside and even in – throughout the feed area – multiple and many large pieces of skull. We also saw large amounts of tissue that were projected all the way up onto the ceiling and the door. You see hair all the way up into the door. And, of course, you see blood literally everywhere within there.”
Crucially, the forensic scientist said, was the presence of pellets from the shotgun blast that took Paul Murdaugh’s life.
“Some of the pellets are on that same pathway,” Palmbach said. “And they had enough inertia to either and/or dent the door and put themselves up and stick into the casing. All of that activity was in direct alignment with the shooter. And, so I think minimally, minimally, that shooter is getting covered with this material; getting more or less the shockwave of that effect; and more than likely getting hit with at least that could have done injury – a bone fragment and/or a pellet.”
The forensic scientist then made his point clear.
“Therefore, I think that particular shooter, for a brief period of time, is kind of out of this,” Palmbach said. “It’s not as if they can instantaneously suffer that, drop the shotgun, run to where the AR Blackout rifle is, pick that up, and then in any kind of a reasonable time period engage in a meaningful assault, an effective assault, able to shoot straight and make hits.”
Calling that theory one of the “major indicators of concern,” the witness went on to say that he was also concerned about the close quarters of the area where both victims were shot and killed.
“I believe he was shot first,” Palmbach said – referring to Paul Murdaugh. “I believe he had no idea it was coming. And he took the shot to the chest and very soon thereafter, the one in the back of his head. Anybody in the near proximity to that – if Maggie had been anywhere in that area walking around down there, she would have heard that, and her response would have been in the direction of the shooter or the activity. Or run.”
And again, the expert witness argued, the “temporal location” of those two shootings didn’t add up to one shooter.
“The individual who shot first, with the shotgun, minimally was stunned, probably blood and material in his eyes and maybe have been injured, and would have taken some degree of time to recover,” Palmbach testified. “Why would you bring – why would one shooter bring two long rifles, two long weapons, to the event? You can’t handle and shoot two of them.”
Criminal defense attorney and legal analyst Sara Azari hailed the testimony as having “changed the trajectory of this case” and said the allegations against the defendant were “now soaked in doubt.”
— Sara Azari (@azarilaw) February 27, 2023
Additionally, it would have been difficult, though not impossible, for one person to carry both guns at the same time, Palmbach told the jury.
“It tips in favor of the probability of having two shooters,” the witness said.
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