Alex Murdaugh trial hears how ‘piece of Paul’s skull the size of a baseball’ was left behind at crime scene

Jurors at Alex Murdaugh’s high-profile double murder trial heard on Wednesday that a piece of his son’s skull “the size of a baseball” was left behind at the crime scene by South Carolina investigators.

In dramatic testimony in Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, Mr Murdaugh’s former law firm partner at PMPED Mark Ball described a chaotic crime scene on both the night of the murders and the next day – with evidence left out in the elements or left behind altogether.

Mr Ball, who knew Mr Murdaugh for three decades and was close to the family, said that SLED had released the crime scene back to the Murdaugh family by the morning of 8 June 2021 – just hours on from the murders.

He said he went down to the dog kennels of the family’s Moselle estate in Islandton and made a grim discovery.

“A piece of Paul’s skull the size of a baseball was there,” he said.

There was also birdshot pellets still scattered on the floor and the shelves of the feed room, he said.

Mr Ball said he was furious with what he saw.

“It really infuriated me,” he said, adding that “it was still a pretty raw scene”.

He said he contacted SLED and asked if they needed to collect more from the scene but was told that they had everything they needed.

The defence’s case has repeatedly sought to cast doubts on the collection and preservation of evidence from the crime scene – indicating that the investigation into the murders may have been botched from the get go.

Mr Ball testified that he rushed to the Murdaugh’s property on the night of 7 June – as soon as he learned about the murders of Maggie and Paul.

He said he arrived there at around 10.50pm – aroudn two hours after the murders and around 40 minutes after Mr Murdaugh called 911 claiming to have found their bodies.

Mr Ball described arriving at the scene and finding multiple other people there.

He said that there were no barriers or roadblocks around the area and the scene wasn’t taped off. Mr Ball claimed that he told an officer that they needed to tape off the area.

“People kept pulling in… more and more people kept showing up,” he said.

Mark Ball testifies in court on Wednesday (Reuters)
Mark Ball testifies in court on Wednesday (Reuters)

Mr Ball said that he himself walked around the crime scene and saw Paul’s body covered in a sheet.

By that time, there was a storm in the air and he was concerned as he could see water dripping off the roof of the feed room onto his body.

He said he was “p***ed off” by what he saw.

“It’s a crime scene, you don’t want water dripping all over the place,” he said.

“But more importantly, I thought it was disrespectful. Paul was a good young man and quite frankly, it just p***ed me off.”

Sometime later, Mr Ball testified that SLED agents told him, Mr Murdaugh and the others who had gathered at the property to leave the kennel area and head back up to the house.

Mr Ball said he questioned that decision from law enforcement, asking “are you sure it’s okay to go to the house?”

When they were told “yes”, he said they did as they had been told.

But, Mr Ball said he was “concerned” by this for two reasons: the killer could still be on the property and the home could be part of the crime scene.

“One this was a pretty big farm and I don’t know who’s over there. Two people have been guned down. Is it safe?” he said.

Secondly, he added: “Where does the crime scene start and stop?”

Mr Ball testified that when the group arrived at the Moselle home, there was no sign that law enforcement had already carried out a search – though he said he couldn’t be sure as he “is not an expert”.

There, the group helped clean up the house and put away some pots and pans that were on the stove – casting doubts on the significance of prior testimony from the Murdaugh’s housekeeper Blanca Simpson.

Alex Murdaugh smiles while listening to his son Buster Murdaugh testify during his trial (Jeff Blake)
Alex Murdaugh smiles while listening to his son Buster Murdaugh testify during his trial (Jeff Blake)

Ms Simpson had told jurors how Mr Murdaugh asked her to clean the family home on the morning after the murders and that she noticed several “very unusual” things. This included pots being in the fridge instead of on the stove or sink, Maggie’s pyjamas and underwear lying “neatly in the middle of the doorway” of the laundry room and a light puddle of water, a towel and a pair of khaki pants in the shower room.

When asked how Mr Murdaugh was on the night of the murders, Mr Ball told the court that he was “beside himself” and “devastated” that night.

“I told him we’d get through it,” he said.

However, in a dramatic moment, the defence witness appeared to do a favour for the prosecution when he said he now has “no doubt” that the disgraced attorney was at the scene of the killings.

One of the key parts of the prosecution’s case has been cellphone footage taken by Paul at the dog kennels just minutes before he and Maggie were shot dead.

The video was recorded for 58 seconds from 8.44.49pm to 8.45.47pm – less than five minutes before prosecutors say the victims were killed at around 8.50pm.

Off-camera, three voices are heard – Paul, Maggie and a man prosecutors say is Mr Murdaugh.

Multiple prosecution witnesses have testified that they are “100 per cent sure” that the voice belongs to Mr Murdaugh.

The video casts major doubts on Mr Murdaugh’s alibi.

The disbarred attorney has claimed he never went down to the dog kennels of the family estate that night. He claims he was napping at the family home and then, when he awoke, drove to his parents’ home to visit his mother.

When he returned he claims he found his wife and son weren’t home and drove down to the kennels where he found their bodies.

Mr Ball testified that Mr Murdaugh told him on the night of the murders that he had never been down to the kennels that day.

He then continued to tell him that version of events “at least three times” over the coming days and weeks.

“He was always clear that he never went down to those kennels?” asked prosecutor Creighton Waters.

Mr Ball responded: “It was the same version of it.”

When asked about the video from the kennels, he said he has “no doubt” at all that the three voices in the footage belong to Mr Murdaugh, his wife Maggie and his son Paul.

He said that he had not seen the kennel video until about a month a go but, now that he has, he knows his friend lied to him.

“It’s Alex, Maggie and Paul,” he said.

While Mr Ball may have helped the state as much as the defence, his testimony came as the defence continues to present its case, seeking to present Mr Murdaugh as a loving father and son who could not have killed his family members.

The defence’s strategy to undermine the credibility of the law enforcement investigation and argue that the preservation of crime scene evidence was sloppy continued on Wednesday afternoon with testimony from crime scene expert Kennth Zercie.

Mr Zercie, who is an expert in fingerprint analysis, footprint analysis, tire print analysis and crime scene examination, testified that SLED did not do an adequate job of preserving and collecting evidence.

“I don’t believe so,” he said. “Much more could have been done.”

Crime scene photos show blood on the floor of the dog feed house (Law & Crime)
Crime scene photos show blood on the floor of the dog feed house (Law & Crime)

Jurors were shown footage in the aftermath of the murders of a law enforcement officer stepping inside the feed room without protective footwear on.

Mr Zercie said that he “wouldn’t have walked into the room” and would have worked from the doorway to the back of the room – from front to back – to preserve the scene.

If he did enter the room, he said he would have worn booties and also built “a bridge” so as not to disturb evidence.

Jurors were also told that there is no evidence that Paul’s clothes, or the sheets used to cover his and Maggie’s bodies, were preserved and analysed by investigators.

There was also no apparent effort to take samples of blood from around Paul’s body to test for the presence of anyone else, no effort to take fingerprints at the scene and footprint impressions were not photographed properly, the witness said.

Under a sometimes combative cross-examination from prosecutor John Meadors, Mr Zercie confirmed that he had not read all the investigative records and admitted that he didn’t know who Colleton County Detective Laura Rutland is.

Det Rutland testified that she saw shoe impressions on the left side of the hanger building that night which appeared to match the shoes Maggie was wearing.

Before the day’s proceedings got under way, Mr Murdaugh’s attorneys asked Judge Clifton Newman to bring an order preventing the prosecution from cross-examining Mr Murdaugh about his string of alleged financial crimes should he take the stand in his own defence.

Jim Griffin said that the legal team had not yet decided whether or not Mr Murdaugh will testify in his murder trial but that they wanted the financial crimes to be off limits if he does.

Prosecutor Creighton Waters argued that the cross examination is “wide open” to all the alleged crimes – including the financial crimes – if Mr Murdaugh takes the stand.

Judge Newman sided with the state, refusing to issue an order ahead of the testimony.

“For the court to issue a blanket order limiting the scope of cross-examination, that’s unheard of to me,” he said.

In court on Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from Mr Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster who said his father was “destroyed” by the murders.

Crime scene photos of the feed room where Paul Murdaugh was killed (Colleton County Court)
Crime scene photos of the feed room where Paul Murdaugh was killed (Colleton County Court)

A ballistics expert also testified that – based on the projectile of bullets – Maggie’s killer is around 5’2” tall. Mr Murdaugh is 6’4” tall.

This comes after jurors heard four weeks of dramatic testimony from 61 prosecution witnesses covering a trove of circumstantial evidence, including cellphone and car data, a damning video allegedly placing Mr Murdaugh at the crime scene and apparent holes in his alibi for the time for the murders.

The final state witness SLED Agent Peter Rudofski laid out a detailed timeline of both the final movements of the two victims – and the movements of their accused killer.

Among the timeline was newly-obtained car data which placed Mr Murdaugh’s car at the spot where his wife’s phone was later found dumped – before he quickly sped away from the scene.

It also showed that he stayed just 21 minutes at his parents’ home that night – less than half the 45 minutes to an hour he claimed to police.

Bombshell testimony from his mother’s carer Muschelle “Shelly” Smith previously disputed Mr Murdaugh’s alibi, saying that he showed up at his sick mother’s house for only 20 minutes that night – before telling her to tell authorities he was there double the length of time.

A cellphone video captured by Paul minutes before the murders also appears to place Mr Murdaugh at the murder scene.

Prosecutors claim that Mr Murdaugh shot dead Maggie and Paul, in order to distract from his string of alleged scandals and financial crimes.

Mr Murdaugh, 54, is facing life in prison for the murders of his wife and son. He has pleaded not guilty.