A defence witness in Alex Murdaugh’s high-profile double-murder trial has suggested that Maggie was gunned down by a 5’2” shooter – and not her 6’4” husband.
Mike Sutton, a forensic engineer who specialises in external ballistics, took the witness stand on Tuesday as the defence fights back against the trove of circumstantial evidence laid out by the prosecution over the past four weeks.
Based on the projection of one of the bullets at the crime scene, Mr Sutton told the court that he believes the assailant who shot Maggie with an AR-15-style rifle had to be 5’2” to 5’4”.
Mr Murdaugh is 6’4” tall.
Based on Mr Murdaugh’s height, Mr Sutton testified that the disgraced attorney could not have fired one of the shots that killed his wife.
“In my opinion, it’s very unlikely that he fired that shot,” he testified.
“You would have to be bending over and have your shooting hand down at or below your kneecap. It just makes it very unlikely that a tall person made that shot.”
Jurors were shown 3D animations of the area around the dog kennels on the Moselle estate where Mr Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul were shot dead on 7 June 2021.
In the animation, Maggie’s body is seen covered by a sheet close to a hangar and an ATV.
Mr Sutton said that the angles of bullets can be used to determine where the shooter was standing at the time the gun was fired and the height of the firearm – and in turn the person holding it.
The witness worked back from bullet holes in the quail pen and the dog house near Maggie’s body – saying that it was the same person who fired that shot and fired shots at Maggie.
He also testified that Paul’s killer must have fired the shotgun from their hip.
At one point, the animation shows two “shooters” on the screen.
Earlier in the state’s case, Mr Murdaugh’s legal team sought to push its theory that there could have been two shooters separately responsible for killing the mother and son.
Under cross-examination of SLED Special Agent Melinda Worley, defence attorney Dick Harpootlian honed in on two bullet projectiles in crime scene photos – one that travelled through the dog house and one through the quail pen – to claim that there could be more than one shooter.
“One reasonable explanation is there are two people there: one with a shotgun, one with an AR. Could someone have been a lookout, they went there to kill Paul and Maggie surprised them?” Mr Harpootlian pressed.
Agent Worley had admitted that the theory is “possible” but said that it is only one “one explanation” as to what may have taken place that fateful night. She added that the angles could also be explained as one single shooter moving around.
During a tense cross-examination, the prosecution sought to cast doubts on Mr Sutton’s credibility – after the defence appeared to use his expertise not only for ballistics, but offering an analysis on the movements of Mr Murdaugh’s car and whether or not gunshot sounds would have travelled up to the family home.
Prosecutor David Fernandez questioned Mr Sutton over a lack of training and gunshot expertise and repeatedly mocked the theory about a 5”2’ shooter, referring to the defence’s alleged assailant as an 11 or 12-year-old child.
Mr Sutton was then forced to admit that his statements on whether Mr Murdaugh could have thrown Maggie’s phone while driving his car was based on a graphic that did not have timestamps – in turn feeding Mr Fernandez’s claim that his testimony was little more than “guesswork”.
Before Mr Sutton’s testimony, Mr Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster took the stand in his father’s defence.
The 26-year-old said that his father had been “destroyed” and “heartbroken” after the murders.
In what marks the first time he has ever spoken out publicly about the murders, he recounted the moment that he learned that his mother and brother were dead.
Buster said that Mr Murdaugh called him that night and asked him if he was sitting down.
“He sounded odd and then he told me that my mom and brother were shot,” he recalled.
At first, Buster said that he just “sat there in shock”. Then he and his girlfriend Brooklynn grabbed some stuff and drove down to Moselle, reaching the property in the early hours of 8 June.
“He was destroyed, he was heartbroken,” Buster said of his father, adding that he could barely speak.
“I walked in the door and saw him and gave him a hug… just broke down.”
During calm, controlled testimony, Buster appeared to water down – but not refute – some key points in the prosecution’s case, including his father’s behaviour on the day of the murders, the clothes he was wearing and the police interview where he appeared to unwittingly confess to killing his wife and son.
Prosecutors claim that Mr Murdaugh shot and killed Maggie and son Paul to distract from the string of financial crimes encircling him.
During four weeks of dramatic testimony from 61 prosecution witnesses, jurors heard a trove of circumstantial evidence, including cellphone and car data, a damning video allegedly placing Mr Murdaugh at the crime scene and apparent holes in his alibi for the time for the murders.
The final state witness SLED Agent Peter Rudofski laid out a detailed timeline of both the final movements of the two victims – and the movements of their accused killer.
Among the timeline was newly-obtained car data which placed Mr Murdaugh’s car at the spot where his wife’s phone was later found dumped – before he quickly sped away from the scene.
It also showed that he stayed just 21 minutes at his parents’ home that night – less than half the 45 minutes to an hour he claimed to police.
Bombshell testimony from his mother’s carer Muschelle “Shelly” Smith previously disputed Mr Murdaugh’s alibi, saying that he showed up at his sick mother’s house for only 20 minutes that night – before telling her to tell authorities he was there double the length of time.
A cellphone video captured by Paul minutes before the murders also appears to place Mr Murdaugh at the murder scene.
Mr Murdaugh, 54, is facing life in prison for the murders of his wife and son. He has pleaded not guilty.