The judge in Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial declined to issue a ruling Wednesday limiting prosecutors' ability to question the disgraced South Carolina attorney about his alleged financial crimes if he chooses to testify in his defense.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Judge Clifton Newman to issue a ruling limiting the scope of the state's cross-examination if Murdaugh takes the stand, telling the court the attorneys wanted to advise Murdaugh as he considers testifying.
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Prosecutor Creighton Waters argued Murdaugh should be able to be questioned on any issue relevant to the case, including those alleged misdeeds, which the state has pointed to as a potential motive for Murdaugh to kill his wife Margaret "Maggie" Murdaugh and 22-year-old son Paul.
Judge Newman declined to grant the defense's request, saying, "I am not going to issue an order in advance limiting the scope of cross-examination." Any objection, he added, would need to be addressed as the evidence is presented.
While he was willing to review the scope of Murdaugh's privilege against self-incrimination, Newman said, "For the court to issue some blanket order limiting the scope of cross-examination -- that is unheard of to me."
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Evidence of Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes -- for which he faces another 99 charges -- has played prominently in the murder case, in which Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to two murder charges and two weapons charges.
Newman previously ruled to allow the evidence after prosecutors argued Murdaugh killed Maggie, 52, and Paul to distract attention from his purported misconduct, which the state contends was about to be revealed at the time of the 2021 fatal shootings. The defense, meanwhile, argued to exclude the evidence, saying it was irrelevant to the killings.
Former law partner describes handling of crime scene
Newman's decision Wednesday was followed by the fifth witness for the defense: Mark Ball, Murdaugh's former law partner, testified about going to the scene the night of the killings on June 7, 2021, and raised questions about whether authorities had properly handled it.
Under questioning by defense attorney Jim Griffin, Ball recalled it was drizzling that evening and described seeing water roll off the roof of the dog kennels where the bodies were found and how it fell onto Paul's body.
"It's a crime scene. You don't want water dripping all over the place," Ball said. "But more importantly, I thought it was pretty disrespectful. Paul was a good young man and, quite frankly, it just pissed me off."
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A tent was put over Maggie's body, he said.
Ball also noted the area had not been cordoned off. When he arrived, there were no barricades or police tape blocking the entrance to the property and people continued to arrive at the scene in cars. People were walking around the area, he said.
Other members of the law firm -- then known as PMPED but since renamed to Parker Law Group -- had also gathered at the Murdaugh's Islandton, South Carolina, property, known as Moselle, Ball testified.
The coroner, citing instructions from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators, eventually told them to gather at the house, which concerned Ball. One issue, he said, was whether it was safe, while another was whether the house itself might be part of the crime scene and whether their presence there might impede the investigation.
"Where does the crime scene start and stop?" Ball wondered, adding it did not appear investigators had searched the house.
Ball also countered a state investigator who testified for the state he believed Murdaugh inadvertently confessed to the killings in an emotional interview with state investigators in the days after the killings.
Both sides have sparred over footage played in court, in which the state claims Murdaugh said, "I did him so bad," in reference to Paul's fatal injuries. But the defense maintains Murdaugh said, "They did him so bad."
Ball testified he agreed with the latter interpretation. Additionally, he said that at the scene the night of the murders, Alex told him, "Look at what they did. Look at what they did."
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