COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Lawyers for disgraced former attorney and accused murderer Alex Murdaugh filed a motion Wednesday asking the court to exclude what they claim is “false testimony about evidence destroyed by the state.” The motion was filed in the trial against him for the murders of his wife and son.
The dispute focuses on the shirt that Murdaugh was wearing the night of June 7, 2021, when he found Margaret and Paul shot to death at their Colleton County property. Nearly one year later, Murdaugh was charged for the murders.
Forensic analysis of the shirt is some of the only public evidence thus far that the state has provided as reasoning for charging Murdaugh.
Murdaugh’s lawyers argue that initial analysis of the shirt conducted by a blood spatter expert found no evidence of blood spatter.
A February 3, 2022 draft report by Tom Bevel, the blood spatter expert contracted by the the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), found that “the stains on the white t-shirt are consistent with transfers and not back spatter from a bullet wound.” The analysis was based on photos of the shirt taken by SLED during the investigation. However, the report noted that “for there to be little to no back spatter on the shooter or they’re [SIC] clothing is certainly possible for this incident.”
Murdaugh had admitted to touching the bodies when he found them. DNA tests confirmed the likely presence of Margaret and Paul — as well as other unknown individuals’ — DNA on the shirt, however Murdaugh’s lawyers pointed out that some of the tests used are unable to distinguish DNA from the blood from DNA that previously existed on the shirt.
Bevel asked to review the actual shirt as opposed to photos, so agents brought the evidence to him in March for a second examination. Bevel’s March 29, 2022 report found that “some of the stains on the white t-shirt are consistent with transfers and 100+ stains are consistent with spatter.” However, state prosecutors admitted that despite having the physical shirt, Bevel was unable to gather any information from it because it had been destroyed by various tests conducted by SLED. The results of the second examination were determined using the same photos of the shirt used in the first examination.
Murdaugh’s lawyers said that they were unaware the shirt had been destroyed, and they requested it be sent to a third party for analysis. The state allegedly responded saying that would be impossible because the shirt had “turned black.”
The motion claimed that the destruction of the shirt was either bad faith or gross negligence. The defense acknowledged that analysis of the shirt may require some actions that alter its state — for example, cutting parts to be analyzed and conducting chemical tests to identify blood or DNA — but there are ways to preserve the integrity of the evidence while conducting those tests.
Likewise, Murdaugh’s lawyers pointed to a HemaTrace tests conducted on the shirt by SLED prior to its destruction. The test is “highly sensitive, able to detect as little as four micrograms of blood in a sample.” All of the shirt samples submitted tested negative for human blood. That test was conducted in August of 2021, but Bevel was not called in to examine for blood spatter until 2022. The defense questioned why the state would call in a blood spatter expert to examine a shirt that their own test indicated had no traces of human blood.
According to Murdaugh’s lawyers, the destruction of the shirt violated Murdaugh’s due process rights “because the shirt possessed an exculpatory value apparent before it was destroyed, and he cannot obtain other evidence of comparable value by any other means.”
Murdaugh is set to stand trial for the murders in January of 2023.
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Author: Chase Laudenslager