A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigator has explained a key mystery in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial.
Detective Laura Rutland of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office was among more than 70 witnesses who testified in the disgraced attorney’s explosive six-week trial. Ms. Rutland, the state’s first witness to testify, was chosen to work the case because she was one of the few law enforcement officers in the area with no connection to the powerful legal dynasty.
Jury members needed just three hours of deliberation earlier this month to find Murdaugh guilty of the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul in June 2021. Murdaugh, sentenced to two life terms without parole, has already appealed his sentence.
In an interview with Fox News, Ms Rutland explained a detail that surfaced during her cross-examination by the defense but largely disappeared from the trial after she was unable to provide an explanation. A week after Murdaugh’s sentencing, the veteran detective described the gruesome crime scene at the family’s hunting property in Moselle and explained why strands of hair were found in Maggie’s hand.
“I just wanted to clarify that when she sustained her injuries and the bullet came out the back of her head, it created a large hole, which displaced that part of her skull, including her scalp and her hair,” Ms Rutland said.
“So all around his body there were little tufts of the back of his hair in the grass around his body. Some had fallen near his hands and arms. And when we removed his body , some of the hair that was on his fingers, it was just a few strands that went with it.
Prosecutors said Murdaugh shot Paul twice with a 12-gauge shotgun as he stood in the kennels’ feed room.
After killing Paul, prosecutors say Murdaugh then grabbed a .300 Blackout semi-automatic rifle and opened fire on Maggie as she tried to flee her husband. Maggie was shot five times, two of them in the head after falling to her knees.
Ms Rutland also spoke of Murdaugh’s oddly clean clothes when law enforcement arrived at the scene, despite her claims that he tried to turn Paul’s body over to check his pulse.
“In addition to the biological material around his body, there was also a lot of water,” Ms Rutland told Fox. “And [the jury was] able to see that on Sergeant Green’s body camera. It was so strange that even Alex’s shoes were as clean as they were, including the soles of the shoes.
She added: “Anyone walking around Paul’s body would have had this watery, bloody mixture on their shoes.”
Ms Rutland said she was glad the jury was able to agree to a decision after considering weeks of complicated evidence.
“My captain and I came out through a side door where the jury was being escorted…and they wanted to shake hands with us,” she said. “I will never forget that moment. I was very impressed with the jury and appreciated their service to Colleton County.
On Thursday, Murdaugh’s legal team announced that it had filed an appeal. The double murderer had 10 days to send a notice of appeal following his conviction.
“Today Jim Griffin and I filed our Notice of Appeal for Alex Murdaugh,” tweeted Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s attorneys. “This is the next step in the legal process to uphold Alex’s constitutional right to a fair trial.”
However, prominent legal expert Duncan Levy said The Independent that even if Murdaugh’s appeal is successful, he is still destined to spend his life behind bars after admitting to a series of financial crimes under oath during his trial.
“I see no basis for an appeal. When he spoke up, he erased any real risk of error because he said it in his own words,” the former assistant district attorney for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said.
“He will spend the rest of his life in prison – there is no way out at this stage.”