Attorney Jim Griffin repeatedly slammed various levels and members of law enforcement as equal parts incompetent and biased during the defense’s closing statement in Colleton County on Thursday morning.
Griffin frequently returned to the idea of “the circle” of potential suspects in the grisly slayings, saying investigators put his client there and kept him there no matter what the evidence showed.
“We’ve shown conclusively that SLED failed miserably in investigating this case, and had they done a competent job, Alex would have been excluded from that circle a year ago, two years ago,” the defense attorney said. “But he would have been excluded.”
The mismanagement of the crime scene, a fact more or less conceded by the state’s own witnesses and repeatedly asserted by the defense’s, began with local deputies and quickly came to encompass the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division or SLED–coloring the investigation into who killed Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, in June 2021, the defense argument went.
One witness testified as to the likely destruction of tire tracks by law enforcement on the scene. Another witness testified as to the same. A third law enforcement witness testified about various sets of tire tracks that investigators did not consider or preserve at all.
“Why did they never take DNA samples off of Maggie’s clothes?” Griffin asked. “Why did they never take DNA samples off Paul’s clothes? They never did. They never did. It was never done.”
While the victims were ignored, however, the defendant was immediately in SLED’s sights, the defense continued.
“There was only one reason,” the attorney said, for why SLED only took DNA samples off of the defendant’s clothes. “They had decided, unless we find somebody else, it’s gonna be Alex.”
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Griffin spent a considerable amount of time discussing the discovery and preservation of location data from Maggie Murdaugh’s cellular phone, as well as his client’s numerous attempts to reach out to SLED’s lead investigator, David Owen, about what that data might show.
“Whoever killed her threw that phone on the side of the road, without a doubt,” the defense attorney insisted. He added that his client told law enforcement to find his wife’s phone “from the get-go.”
But it wasn’t the phone alone that had Alex Murdaugh repeatedly calling Owen and checking on the progress of things. Griffin said his client told that 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.
The defense attorney paraphrased and summarized his client’s entreaties to law enforcement: “You get my phone, you get my OnStar data and you will not see my car traveling down the road with Maggie’s phone, because it did not happen, it could not happen.”
But Owen repeatedly passed the buck and didn’t seem particularly interested in getting all that data, Griffin alleged. The defense attorney categorized the entirety of the state’s effort into obtaining the Suburban’s OnStar data as somebody at SLED sending a subpoena by fax to “someone in Detroit” who worked at General Motors.
“There’s no indication that SLED followed up with a phone call, there’s no indication that SLED followed up with a letter, there’s no indication that SLED did anything other than put it in a file–put the response in a file,” Griffin said. “And that was it. That was it, ladies and gentlemen.”
The OnStar data came into evidence only after a court-watcher keeping up with the case asked General Motors why they weren’t cooperating with law enforcement, Griffin told jurors. But when that data finally came in, it wasn’t particularly useful for comparison purposes because SLED had improperly stored Maggie’s phone and the GPS kept pinging off of cell phone towers, meaning the data on the night in question eventually overwrote itself.
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“We would have had it had they extracted it earlier,” Griffin said.
After the defendant provided his phone to law enforcement to be copied, Griffin noted, the extraction was “superficial” and did not contain GPS data. Jurors in the trial did see, for example, numerous pieces of GPS data from Paul Murdaugh’s phone, the defense attorney reminded the 12 jurors and lone remaining alternate.
“There is sufficient evidence in the record that shows Alex Murdaugh was not driving down the road–Moselle Road–with Maggie’s phone in the car and tossed it at whatever time,” Griffin went on. “But that would have gotten him out of the circle, I would hope, but probably not. Because they have been so focused on him.”
And when it came time to dispute whether or not the defendant had been the moving force behind the cell phone data issue, 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 for location data to be pulled from various devices, the defense attorney said. Griffin said the state, instead, called a witness to contradict Alex Murdaugh’s claim about being allowed to install blue lights in his car. He suggested the state’s rebuttal witness was used to misdirect attention away from the push-and-pull between Owen and the defendant over the device location data.
In all, the defense attorney argued, the investigation failed at several, critical, key and irreplaceable moments.
And those compounding investigatory failures led to the state working towards a frame-up against Alex Murdaugh, Griffin argued.
The lawyer admitted the claim was controversial and said it brought him no joy.
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