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Jan. 31: Witnesses in Alex Murdaugh double murder trial discuss phone records, firearms

Murdaugh Trial Day 7

Visit our Murdaugh Investigation updates page for more information on Alex Murdaugh and the Murdaugh murders.

@postandcourier It’s Day 7 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial, and it begins with the cross examination of a SLED agent who assisted with the investigation. Reporter Thad Moore shares what the agent told prosecutors in the courtroom yesterday. #murdaugh #alexmurdaugh #alexmurdaughtrial #murdaughfamily ♬ original sound - The Post and Courier

The trial against Alex Murdaugh, the ginger-haired scion of a powerful legal family, began Jan. 23 in Colleton County. He’s charged with double murder in the June 2021 slayings of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.

The Post and Courier has three reporters covering the criminal trial from the Walterboro courthouse. Frequent updates from testimony and court proceedings will be posted here throughout the day, with the latest information appearing at the top.

Read more about the Murdaugh saga, including our in-depth profiles and past trial coverage.

6:05 p.m. update:

Dove walked jurors through a flurry of "orientation changes," or timestamps the phone was recorded switching between landscape and portrait modes.

Maggie's phone changes from portrait, or straight-up, to landscape, or sideways, after she received Goettee's text, Dove said. He thought this meant Maggie had been holding up her phone to read the message, then putting it down at her side.

It's possible for a phone to record an orientation change after being dropped, but it would have to tumble several times, Dove said.

Maggie's phone records several more orientation changes, Dove said:

  • At 8:53:08 p.m., the phone switches from landscape to portrait.
  • The phone's orientation switches back to landscape between 8:53:08 p.m. and 8:54:40 p.m., but ends in portrait. The phone's camera flashes on for about 1 second, as if it's trying to recognize someone's face to unlock the phone, but can't.
  • At 8:55:32, the phone is back in landscape.
  • At 9:06:12 p.m., the phone switches back to being held in portrait, as of someone is lifting it up.
  • Alex Murdaugh calls Maggie at 9:06:14 p.m.
  • At 9:06:20 p.m., the phone stops recording in portrait mode.
  • Alex Murdaugh calls Maggie at 9:06:51 p.m.

Her phone also records 59 steps taken between 8:53:15 p.m. and 8:55:32 p.m., Dove said.

Newman dismissed jurors about 5:45 p.m., in the middle of Conrad's questioning of Dove.

5:19 p.m. update:

Dove is now reviewing Maggie's text history the day of the murders. She was in a text thread with Alex Murdaugh and her brother-in-law John Marvin Murdaugh, along with several other family members.

John Marvin sent a text at 8:31 p.m. June 7, 2021, about visiting his father in the hospital, Dove testified. Maggie read the text within 16 seconds of receiving it, records show.

Maggie's sister-in-law Lynn Goettee texted within the same minute, Dove said, but Maggie didn't read it until 8:49:26.

Her phone locks at 8:49:31 p.m., Dove testified, and doesn't unlock until around 1 p.m. June 8, 2021, when investigators found it on the side of the road.

Alex Murdaugh texted his wife at 9:08 p.m., but it went unread, Dove testified. The witness did not describe the contents of the message.

4:42 p.m. update:

Dove is testifying about the five unanswered calls Maggie missed from her husband the night of the murders.Alex Murdaugh tried calling her at 9:04:23 p.m.; 9:06:14 p.m.; 9:06:51 p.m.; 9:45:32 p.m. and 10:03:58 p.m., Dove testified. The 39-minute gap reflects when Murdaugh told investigators he left Moselle and visited his mother before returning to the family's property.

4 p.m. update:

SLED's policy after collecting a cell phone is to place it in Airplane Mode and remove its SIM card — not inside a Faraday bag, Dove testified.

He is now discussing his examination of Maggie's phone, which includes her recent call log and text messages. Maggie had five missed calls from Alex Murdaugh, one missed call from Buster Murdaugh and two missed calls from John Marvin Murdaugh, Dove testified. It was unclear when the calls were made.

Her recent text history showed dots next to most of the messages, Dove said, indicating they hadn't been read or opened.

3:28 p.m. update:

Griffin is cross-examining Bedingfield. The witness couldn't say how many .300 Blackout rifles he's sold since 2016.

"It's a lot, but I don’t know how many," Bedingfield testified, explaining this type of rifle is common in the Lowcountry for hunting "nuisance hogs" that root on farmland and dig up crops.

Bedingfield, who's known Murdaugh all his life, said the father's relationship with Buster and Paul "was always good.”

Prosecutor John Conrad called the state's next witness, Lt. Britt Dove with SLED's computer crimes center. Judge Clifton Newman qualified Dove as an expert in cell phone forensics.

Dove processed cell phones belonging to Alex, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, he said.

3:08 p.m. update:

Bedingfield is talking about two .300 Blackout rifles Murdaugh purchased from him 2016 as Christmas presents for his sons Buster and Paul to shoot hogs with. The guns, one black and one beige, were each complete with a thermal scope, Bedingfield said.

Murdaugh approached Bedingfield again in April 2018 to purchase a third .300 Blackout rifle as a replacement for Paul's gun, which he'd misplaced, Bedingfield testified. The third rifle, which was black, didn't have a thermal optic. Maggie came to pick up this gun from Bedingfield, he said.

2:44 p.m. update:

The jurors are back from lunch. Waters is questioning the state's next witness, John Bedingfield, a captain with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Bedingfield also has a side business manufacturing and selling firearms. He acquired a federal firearms license in 2016.

Bedingfield said he's known Murdaugh his entire life. Their grandmothers were sisters, he said, making them cousins.

1 p.m. update:

VanHouten was able to unlock Paul's phone using a "brute force" process where he guessed the 22-year-old's six-digit passcode. It was associated with Paul's birthday, VanHouten testified. 

The man extracted the phone's contents for SLED, but SLED did the analysis, he said. 

Prosecutors also asked VanHouten about Faraday bags, which defense attorneys pointed out investigators never used. The bags shield electronic signals from entering or exiting, preventing a remote destruction of data, VanHouten said.

Powering down the phone or placing it into Airplane Mode — which investigators said they did — has the same effect, he said.

Jurors are on a lunch break until 2:15 p.m.

12:50 p.m. update:

The state called its next witness. Paul McManigal is employed by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office but is a member of the U.S. Secret Service's cyber crimes task force. McManigal is a digital forensic examiner. 

Dylan Hightower, an investigator with the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, provided McManigal with records from Murdaugh's cell phone extraction. McManigal was asked to redact information that could potentially violate the attorney-client privilege Murdaugh had with his former law clients. McManigal reduced the extraction's "timeline" to one more pertinent to the murder case, he said. 

An attorney with the Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office decided what information to to remove from Murdaugh's phone, McManigal testified.

The examiner also said he tried to unlock Paul's cell phone, but couldn't.

After a brief cross-examination, prosecutors called their next witness. Jonathan VanHouten is a civilian employee of the Secret Service. SLED agents brought Paul's phone to VanHouten in March 2022 because he had the tools to unlock it, the man testified.

12:38 p.m. update:

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian is now cross-examining the analyst. Knect spent several minutes explaining how to read the records and determine whether Murdaugh answered a phone call it went to voicemail. 

Laughter could be heard in the courtroom as both Knect and Harpootlian appeared confused.

The last time Maggie made an outgoing call was 7:50 p.m. June 7, 2021, Knect testified. The rest of the calls appearing on her records were incoming calls, and they were each routed to voicemail, he said.

12:28 p.m. update:

The search warrants asked for cell phone records of each number between May 1, 2021, and June 10, 2021.

Prosecutors asked Knect about one outgoing and one incoming call to Maggie's phone the night of the murders.

Maggie placed a nearly 3-minute phone call at 7:50 p.m. June 7, 2021, Knect testified. It was unclear who she called.

Alex Murdaugh called Maggie at 9:04 p.m., but it went to her voicemail, Knect testified. Murdaugh then made a number of outgoing calls starting at 9:04 p.m. over the next hour or two. Prosecutors did not ask Knect whom Murdaugh called.

12:02 p.m. update:

After a 10-minute break, prosecutors brought up their next witness. Anthony Knect is an analyst at Verizon Wireless. In response to several search warrants, Verizon produced the cell phone records of Alex, Paul, Maggie and Buster Murdaugh; C.B. Rowe; Marty and Connor Cook; and Rogan Gibson, Knect testified.

Verizon provides the records in an Excel spreadsheet with information including the date and time of the call; which cell tower the call was routed to; whether the call is incoming or outgoing; the other phone number involved; and the duration of the call.

11:22 a.m. update:

Griffin concluded his cross-examination and lead prosecutor Creighton Waters is asking Croft additional questions.

Griffin had pointed out agents didn't place Maggie's cell phone in a Faraday bag when they found it, which would've blocked signals from both being sent and received to the device. Croft told Waters the agents turned it on "Airplane Mode," which shuts off cellular connections on a mobile device.

The agent also testified that their initial interviews with Murdaugh were meant to gather information, not interrogate him. It was also important to keep the communication line with Murdaugh open, Croft said.

10:50 a.m. update:

Griffin is asking Croft about the recorded interview from June 10, 2021, between SLED agents and Murdaugh. Croft testified yesterday that, as Murdaugh told agents about Paul's gruesome injuries, the man said, "It's just so bad. I did him so bad. He's such a good boy."

Griffin asked Croft whether he's sure Murdaugh said, "I did him so bad," instead of, "They did him so bad."

"I am 100 percent confident in what I heard and what I interpreted him to say," Croft told Griffin.

The defense attorney then asked Croft what he did with Murdaugh's supposed confession.

"I made a mental note of it," Croft testified. "We didn’t have information at that point to challenge Mr. Alex on any of his statements."

Croft couldn't remember whether he made a physical note of Murdaugh's statement, he said. 

Croft also said he didn't ask Murdaugh about the statement during a third interview with SLED agents on Aug. 11, 2021: "We didn't make it to that point."

Griffin twice played Murdaugh's so-called confession from the June 10, 2021, interview for the jurors. He played it a third time at a slower speed. Croft testified he still hears Murdaugh say "I" and not "They."

10:31 a.m. update:

Griffin questioned Croft about whether SLED had identified Alex Murdaugh on June 8, 2021, as a person of interest or suspect in the murders. Croft said only that Murdaugh was in the agency's "investigative circle" the day after the murders, as he was the only living person agents could place at the crime scene. He was careful not to call him a "suspect" or "person of interest."

Griffin asked Croft about three of Murdaugh's former partners at his law firm who were at Moselle when SLED agents searched the gun room. The lawyers pointed out items in the room they had "concerns about," Croft testified, but they didn't obstruct the search.

10:10 a.m. update:

Griffin is showing Croft the four 12-gauge shotguns he seized from the Murdaugh family's gun room the day after the murders. Investigators never recovered the weapons used to kill Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, Croft testified.

The agent collected a wide variety of ammunition from Moselle. But Croft never found Winchester Drylok steel waterfowl 12-gauge shotgun shells — the type of ammunition used to kill Paul — anywhere on the property, he testified.

Croft also didn't find the number of guns kept at Moselle unusual, given how much the Murdaughs hunted, he said.

9:43 a.m. update:

The jurors are seated and defense attorney Jim Griffin is cross-examining Jeff Croft, a State Law Enforcement Division agent who assisted with the double-homicide investigation.

Call Jocelyn Grzeszczak at 843-323-9175. Follow her on Twitter at @jocgrz.

Watchdog and Public Service reporter

Thad Moore is a reporter on The Post and Courier’s Watchdog and Public Service team and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. To share tips securely, reach Moore via ProtonMail at or on Signal at 843-214-6576.

Projects reporter

Avery G. Wilks is an investigative reporter based in Columbia. The USC Honors College graduate was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year for his reporting on South Carolina's nuclear fiasco and abuses within the state's electric cooperatives.

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