Murdaugh defense asks court to block testimony on blood evidence from T-shirt

Alex Murdaugh's attorneys filed motions Monday to block testimony on blood evidence found on Murdaugh's t-shirt and shells found at the scene.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 12:08 PM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys representing former Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh filed a motion Monday morning before the scheduled start of Murdaugh’s murder trial seeking to exclude blood spatter evidence in the trial.

Murdaugh is charged in the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul, at the family’s hunting property in rural Colleton County.

The motion, filed by Murdaugh attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, asked the court to prohibit prosecutors from using testimony from Orangeburg County Chief Deputy Kenneth Lee Kinsey, who Orangeburg County’s website identifies as “qualified as an expert in the South Carolina Courts of General Sessions, and the United States District Courts” in several areas including bloodstain pattern examination.

In the motion, the defense states Kinsey was asked to examine the white T-shirt Murdaugh wore on the night of the shootings when he told investigators he returned to the property to discover the bodies of his wife and son. Kinsey’s testimony should be kept out of the trial, the defense argues, because he said he could not render an opinion on whether the blood stains “were consistent with back spatter from a gunshot” after reviewing reports and analysis from another forensic expert, Thomas Bevel.

“Without an opinion on whether the stains are ‘blood stains’ or whether the stains are ‘consistent with back spatter from a gunshot,’ any expert opinion testimony he would offer regarding the stains would not assist the trier of fact; and therefore, such expert opinion should be excluded because it will unfairly confuse and mislead the jury,” the motion states.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

The motion also alleges that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s HemaTrace testing results “confirmed the stains are not human blood.”

“Accordingly, Deputy Kinsey’s testimony should be precluded because it is not relevant, fails to assist the trier of fact, and will only result in confusion of pertinent issues being presented to the jury,” the motion states.

Earlier this month, the defense also motioned for the court to prevent Bevel from testifying in the trial.

Graphic details of crime scene, injuries mentioned in court documents

The defense described the crime scene Murdaugh discovered as “gruesome.”

“There was a large amount of blood on and around their bodies which transferred onto Mr. Murdaugh’s hands and clothing when he frantically checked them for signs of life,” the motion states.

SLED took cuttings from the front upper two-thirds of the t-shirt that contained what prosecutors said is spatter, to test for the presence of DNA, the motion states. The cuttings generally tested positive for Maggie Murdaugh’s DNA with Paul Murdaugh’s DNA either “excluded or not considered because of his relatedness to the other contributors.” None of the samples, the motion states, tested positive for Paul Murdaugh’s DNA.

The defense argues that two weeks later, the cuttings were tested by SLED for hemoglobin to identify the presence of human blood.

“Every cutting tested negative for human blood,” the motion alleges. “Despite these test results, the state’s expert, Mr. Bevel, inexplicably continues to maintain the stains contained in the cuttings from the upper two-thirds of the t-shirt are blood spatter.”

Court documents state that prosecutors provided the defense with Kinsey’s expert report on Jan. 13, “which relies on — and essentially parrots — Mr. Bevel’s report.”

However, the defense motion argues that Kinsey repeats Bevel’s mention of about “100+” stains, saying they appear to be high-velocity impact stains that could only be caused by a gunshot or high-speed machinery, then “pivots 180-degrees” to conclude that after considering the original opinion, analysis and follow-up experiments, “this expert [Kinsey] cannot render an opinion” to answer the question, “Are the blood stains on Alex’s white T-shirt consistent with back spatter from a gunshot?”

The motion includes Kinsey’s detailed report of the crime scene and the injuries Maggie and Paul Murdaugh suffered in the shootings.

The report states that Maggie Murdaugh had five gunshot wounds, but that one of the five might have been a continuation of one of the other shots. Two of those shots, one to the left torso and one to the back of the head, were considered fatal shots. The report states Maggie Murdaugh appeared to have been shot with a rifle.

Paul Murdaugh had two gunshot wounds, one of which, to the shoulder and head, was considered immediately fatal.

To the question of the blood evidence on Murdaugh’s shirt, Kinsey wrote:

The front of the white t-shirt contains what appears to be transfer and spatter stains. The lower and larger stains are not spatter of any speed but transfer from another object. The smaller stains that are present after treatment with [Leuco Crystal Violet] appear to be high velocity impact stains. These stains are characterized as being -1mm in size, and based on my experience are only caused by a gunshot or high speed machiner. High speed machinery would not necessarily be defined in this case as a drill or similar object but by any mechanism with enough distruptive force to distribute and project blood over 100 fps. After consideration of the original opinion, analysis reports and follow-up experimentation, this expert cannot render an opinion on [the question, “Are the blood stains on Alex’s white t-shirt consistent with back spatter from a gunshot?”]