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Alex Murdaugh trial: Testimony on the discovery of Maggie's missing phone, admissibility of evidence

Murdaugh is a former prominent attorney who's accused of killing his wife and son.

WALTERBORO, S.C. — The Alex Murdaugh double murder trial continues Thursday, after Wednesday's testimony that saw cell phone data presented, including a video that two witnesses claimed contains Murdaugh's voice at the crime scene just a short time before the killings.

Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife, Maggie, and adult son, Paul, at the family's 1,700 acre estate in 2021. Murdaugh is a former prominent attorney who's also accused of taking millions of dollars from clients and the law firm where he worked. 

Wednesday Recap

Wednesday saw the cross-examination of SLED’s Lt. Britt Dove and new testimony from Colleton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dathan Varnadoe and two of Paul Murdaugh’s friends, Rogan Gibson and Will Loving.

Dove had started his testimony Tuesday evening and was answering questions from Alex Murdaugh’s defense team Wednesday morning. Dove’s job was to extract data from the phones of Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh and present the data – consisting of call and text logs as well as phone physical locations and movement – in a meaningful format. It was the prosecution’s first attempt at building and solidifying a timeline of events the day Paul and Maggie were killed. From the data, both Paul and Maggie’s cell phones are active until 8:48:49 p.m. June 7, 2021.

Varnadoe was the officer who conducted the gun residue test on Alex Murdaugh the night of June 7, 2021. He also testified to the appearance of Alex Murdaugh only hours after the murders of Paul and Maggie. Varnadoe said Alex and the clothing he was wearing – a white t-shirt and shorts – were clean.

Gibson and Loving were on the stand as longtime friends of Paul. Both men had received a Snapchat video from Paul early in the afternoon of June 7 showing Paul and his father out riding on the Moselle property.

Loving was a roommate of Paul, and he and Paul were planning on moving into a new rental with a third friend in Columbia before Paul’s murder.

In addition to the Snapchat video, Gibson and Paul had been texting and calling each other on June 7 about the health of Gibson’s dog Cash, who was being kenneled at Moselle. Paul had attempted a facetime call with Gibson, but the call was lagging because of cell reception at Moselle. Paul was to text Gibson a video of the dog, but Gibson never received the text.

When Paul’s video of the dog was discovered on his phone during a law enforcement dump of the phone’s data, it was played for Gibson – and later for Loving. Both Gibson and Loving testified they heard three voices on the video taken moments before Paul and Maggie were murdered. Both men say the voices belonged to Paul, Maggie, and Alex Murdaugh.

Thursday, Feb. 2 Trial Updates

State’s first witness on Thursday morning is Heidi Galore. Galore is a law operations lead for Snapchat and responds to inquiries by law enforcement.

Galore goes over what Snapchat is and what information the social media app tracks or collects from its users – including basic subscriber information, email address, videos, messages, and GPS locations

Galore is asked by prosecutor John Conrad to verify a document containing basic subscriber information provided to SLED for Paul Murdaugh. She testifies the document is Paul’s information.

She then is asked to verify a CD of a video collected from the ”Memories” records of Paul’s Snapchat account. The Memories account is a cloud account where users can save their favorite videos.

Galore said Paul’s video from the dog kennels first shows uploaded on Snapchat on June 7 at 7:39 p.m. Galore said the video was sent out at 7:56 p.m.


Defense attorney Phillip Barber asks Galore if the State was given the video on July 6, 2021. She says yes.

There was no metadata produced for the file as it wasn’t requested so Galore does not know the creation date or time of the video. Barber pulls up the metadata and it appears the creation date is 7:38 p.m. on June 7.

The list of Friends and GPS for Paul’s phone was not created because it was not requested.

If Paul made his geolocation available to his friends, the friends would be able to see where the phone physically was when the video was created. Galore is not sure of the GPS setting on Paul’s setting.

Dylan Hightower, 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office

The State’s witness of the afternoon was investigator Dylan Hightower, with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. Among Hightower’s duties is to prepare cases for trial, prepare witness testimony, and work with local law enforcement agencies on active cases. He has a law enforcement background, with a specialty in forensic investigation and recovery of electronic and cellular devices and has training in extracting information from cellular devices.

Hightower said it is not unusual for the Solicitor’s Office to respond to a crime scene and had met Alex Murdaugh before, around 2015-16, when Murdaugh a prosecutor in a murder case.

On June 8, 2021, Hightower responded to the Moselle property after attending a briefing of local law enforcement as to the events of June 7. Hightower was with other investigators from the Solicitor’s Office. As a staff, Hightower said, investigators usually respond to a murder scene.

He testifies there was no crime scene tape up at the scene, but SLED agents were on scene. He and the other investigators walked the property to get a better idea of the scene. Hightower testifies he brought along the Solicitor’s Office drone to get aerial images of the property.

Prosecutor John Conrad hands printouts of some of the drone imagery to Hightower for identification. Hightower testifies the imagery was taken around 3 in the afternoon.

Hightower is asked to point out where in the images the bodies of Paul and Maggie were found. At the time of his arrival, he said, SLED had taken over the crime scene. Hightower testifies the crime scene tape was taken down and the property was not considered an active crime scene the afternoon of June 8.

Hightower points an image of the kennels and hangar and a line of trees taken on the afternoon of June 8. The trees run between the kennels and the house. Hightower says the trees in the photo are about 6 feet tall but there’s a clear view to the house from the kennels.

Another image shows the house and kennels from overhead at a slightly different angle. Another view captures the location of both driveways on to the Moselle property.

Maggie’s phone came up in a conversation about the general overview of the scene. Hightower said he learned Paul’s phone was found on his body, but Maggie’s was not found at the scene. With his background, Hightower testifies, and knowing the Murdaughs were close, he thought one of the family would have access to Maggie’s phone using the Find My iPhone app on the Apple phone.

John Marvin provided a phone, believed to be Buster’s, that used the app and Hightower was able to pull the Find My Phone app up and found the phone about a half-mile from the driveway to the barns.

Hightower said he began walking down the driveway in the direction the app marked as the location of the phone and got into a vehicle after realizing the phone was further away than he first thought.

An overview from Google maps, prepared by Hightower, shows the location where Hightower found Maggie’s phone in relation to the Moselle property.

Photographs taken by Hightower show the location of Maggie’s phone where he found it, on the right side of the road, about 15-20 feet away from Moselle Road. Hightower marked the location with flags so SLED could find it off the road and the phone was not touched until SLED investigators marked the location and collected it for evidence.

Hightower testifies the phone was still in its camouflaged case and there was standing water (believed to be from the rain from the night before) on the iPhone’s screen when he found it. When Hightower found it, the iPhone was facing up in some leaves.

Hightower took photos from the middle of the road showing the relation of where Maggie’s phone was located to Moselle Road and the Moselle property and some fields.

Hightower testifies he never touched the phone but observed a SLED agent collecting it for evidence.

On June 10, Hightower responded to John Marvin’s hunting property to gather and extract the contents from the phones of Alex, Buster, and Randy Murdaugh. He testifies he completed an advanced logical extraction on Alex’s phone -- identifying calls, texts, and general location during a timeframe. It took about 30-minutes to an hour to complete the extraction. The phones were returned to the three men so they could deal with a family emergency with Murdaugh’s father.

Hightower said once the extraction was completed, he transferred the files to Sgt. Paul McManigle, with Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. He was able to get a redacted copy of the data – absent any attorney/client information – with call, text, and location logs from McManigle.

Hightower obtained a search warrant for cellular information from Verizon, created a timeline of all the data and compared it to the information on the phones. Hightower discovered in the data for June 7, there were only two facetime records on the phone but over 70 on the Verizon logs.

Sometimes, he testifies, there is trace evidence of deleted items, but the extraction done by Hightower would not have caught it.

Call logs would display calls made by Verizon as well as Facetime calls prior to June 7 and there was a gap where records were deleted from the phone. Hightower and McManigal compared data.


Prosecutor Dick Harpootlian asked about Hightower’s responding to the crime scene. Hightower said it was normal and the chief solicitor was with him. He also stated it was not unusual for the chief solicitor to take photos of the scene.

Harpootlian asks who lead the briefing Hightower attended. Hightower testifies multiple responding agents from SLED, CCSO, and Walterboro Police talked during the briefing, and it took about 45 minutes. Hightower recalls certain officers spoke but does not recall someone naming a suspect. Hightower’s priority was to secure electronic evidence from the scene. Hightower testifies he was unaware of any statement put out to the press saying the murders of Maggie and Paul was an isolated incident.

There were no roadblocks, there were no armed people searching the surrounding fields and woods, ask Harpootlian? No, says Hightower.

Hightower does not recall there being a danger to the community. He testifies the bodies had been removed and he did not go to the residence when he arrived at Moselle.

From the murder scene, Hightower testified he was the one who took pictures from the kennel to the house during the day. Harpootlian asks are you testifying that someone from the house could see the kennels at night? Hightower says no, he is not.

From the shoulder of the road to where Maggie’s phone was found was about 15 feet. Hightower testified he was the only person there until SLED agents Croft and McCallister took custody of the phone. When asked by Harpootlian, Hightower responded no forensic team came and measured the distance to where the phone was located.

Looking at Hightower’s photo of Maggie’s phone, Harpootlian asks if anyone checked for footprints around Maggie’s phone? No. Hightower said the phone was on leaves, nothing unusual about the phone’s location, no holes, no hills.

It’s almost a thicket around the phone, lots of brush, Harpootlian asks, and yet no one took measurements? No.

So, if you went back today, you couldn’t be able to find the location where you found Maggie’s phone? Hightower said he could probably use the angles on the photos and get within a foot.

Harpootilan says, but no one actually measured it? No.

Harpootlian asks if it would be easier to stop a car and throw the phone out or throw through an open window of a moving vehicle? Hightower said it depends on who’s throwing…he could easily throw the phone out the driver’s side window with his left hand in a moving car and get the phone to land where he found it.

Hightower wanted to put the phone in airplane mode, which on certain iPhone models, can be done without opening the phone. When Maggie’s phone was found, no one had yet asked for the passcode because the phone had not been found. Hightower did not know Alex had supplied the code.

Harpootlian said anyone with the passcode could have deleted photos, phone messages, texts, anything before disposing of the phone. He asks if Hightower noticed anything was missing form the phone, he responds he did not process Maggie’s phone only secured it in airplane mode.


Did Hightower notice any vandalism or anything missing at Moselle? Only Maggie’s phone was missing.

Maggie’s iPhone model can be put in airplane mode without opening it with a passcode.

SLED Agent Katie McCallister

State called SLED Agent McCallister, a senior special agent in investigative services. In her capacity of a SLED agent to respond to Moselle around lunchtime on June 8.

McCallister and Croft parked along the roadway and walked towards Moselle. The road was blocked because Maggie’s phone had just been found. McCallister received the phone in a gloved hand from Hightower. She unlocked the phone with the passcode that had just been called in and verified the code by typing it in. The phone was put in airplane mode and handed into the chain of evidence.

There was a search warrant available but due to there being about 20-25 people in the home, agents asked for consent to search the premises. McCallister found nothing of interest in her search. Attorney Lee Cope and John Marvin Murdaugh accompanied her when she searched the rooms in the house.

McCallister testifies did not find any long guns or bloody clothing. She testifies agent Croft collected some guns from the gun room along with some ammunition. She filled out the evidence receipts and turned over the evidence to Agent Worley.

She talked to Buster Murdaugh and asked consent to do a DNA swab and an extraction from his phone. Lt. Ghent collected Buster’s swab.


Harpootlian asks if she was present when Maggie’s phone was recovered? Yes. That is her gloved hand in the photograph.

Was she aware the passcode for the phone was provided by Alex? No

You went through the house and went through the bathrooms, Harpootlian asks? What were you looking for? She responds guns, ammunitions

Were you looking for blood? I was being observant

But no one looked for blood in the showers and tubs and you saw no indication that someone would have showered or bathed to remove evidence? No

You searched the bedrooms and found no clothes, shoes that would indicate blood or tissue or brains? No. And you looked under the beds? Yes, there was nothing to indicate that.

In camera testimony

Michael Gunn, Forge Consulting LLC 

Forge Consulting LLC offers annuities and structured settlements

Constructive receipt: IRS deems money comes into account the ability to do a structure (Cornell Law defines constructive receipt as: tax term which determines when a cash-basis taxpayer has received income. Constructive receipt of income occurs when a party obtains income that is not yet physically received but has been credited to the taxpayer's account and over which they have immediate control, such as an annuity).

Gunn knows Murdaugh professionally and testifies he did structured settlements for about five of Murdaugh's clients -- the last one for the Dione Martin case. Gunn sent quotes and got information from the defendant in the case and assigned options and got information back to Alex. Annuity rates are set on a daily basis and Gunn sent emails to Alex to complete the paperwork to set the rate but never got a response from him. Gunn closed the case on a cash payout.

Gunn identifies paid annuities and payments appearing to be signed and received by Dione Martin. This structure with Martin was never completed by Gunn, he testifies, because he got no response from Alex.

Is he familiar with boat case? Yes (he was able to give general details on the stand about the case), Gunn testifies he was made aware of Alex being sued through media coverage.

Gunn does not recall specific discussion with Alex about structuring the boat case. Usually lawyers are not recipients of annuities.

Gunn testifies he was given a list from Lee Cope -- one of the lawyers in Alex's firm -- to see if Gunn's Forge company had any annuity on certain clients on the list, and if the company banked with Bank of America in 2021. Gunn responded, none of the clients had annuities and Forge did not bank with Bank of America.

Only one name on the list -- the Dione Martin case -- began as an annuity, but the case was never seen to completion.

Gunn testifies he was told by Cope on Labor Day that Alex had set up a Forge account with Bank of America and was depositing funds into the account.

Gunn is shown paperwork for an incorporation called Forge LLC, with Alex’ name as DBA agent, and testifies that it is not a valid Forge account. Checks made out to Forge DBA and signed by Alex did not go to a valid Forge account managed by Gunn.

The defense does not contest the existence of the checks.


Gunn is asked if Forge has done an investigation into this matter and did Gunn see any mention of Maggie or Paul Murdaugh? No.

Gunn is asked if he ever sold any life insurance to Alex covering Paul or Maggie? No

James Christopher Wilson

Wilson is a personal injury lawyer in Bamberg, operating since 1998. He has known Alex since their high school days in Hampton and the two started law school at University of South Carolina at the same time. Wilson testifies he once considered Alex one of his best friends. He doesn’t know how he feels about Alex now, he tells solicitor Waters.

He an Alex have done cases together off and on since 1998, sharing cases between their different firms. Wilson says it’s usually a 50/50 split on attorney’s fees recovered and costs recovered. Alex recovered more costs because his firm was larger and could better handle costs.

In almost every case worked money would come to Wilson and he would disperse the money to clients. Money comes in and clients have to sign checks (made to wilson law firm) sometimes check have to sit for 10 days (depending on the court) and then Wilson signs check to other law firm

Wilson’s fee agreement signed by clients notes fees and costs would be recovered by law firms. Generally a separate fee and cost check would be issued.

In an Allendale case in 2021 (3 separate cases wrapped into 1), checks were made payable to PMPED (Murdagh law firm) and signed by Wilson. A case involving Mac Trucks (the Ferris case): Wilson got the case involving auto versus tractor trailer company and driver where a drive shaft had fallen off the truck and vehicles drove over the fallen drive shaft. Wilson asked Alex to get involved because it looked like a product liability case. Alex agreed. Motions were filed back and forth before a circuit court judge, no jury, with an agreement there would be no appeal on the decision (appeal would tie up any money going to injured party). Trial was in 2021 in Richland County. There was a concession on liability; Alex did the closing arguments. Verdicts of $4 million for injured man, $1.5 for wife. $792,000 was to go to Alex, $791,000 to Wilson and third lawyer got a little more.

Part of settlement money came by wire, a larger portion came by check. Wilson waited 12 days before disbursal. Alex indicated he wanted his money placed into a structured annuity and check needed to be made directly to him, Alex said he had cleared it with his firm, so Wilson wrote the checks.

Wilson’s check to Alex for $600,000 was voided because Alex said the check had to be written to two accounts. A check for $192,000 was deposited into a BOA account

Wilson identifies the checks for $225K to Alex for fees (part of the re-write) and $335K to Alex (part of the re-write) he cut and signed. He believes someone from Alex’s office picked up the checks.

Wilson trusted Alex.

His general impression was Alex made more money than he did, he made money for the firm and the firm’s lawyers would mention big cases they worked on with Alex. Wilson’s suspensions weren’t aroused because he had no reason to distrust Alex. Wilson believed Alex had authority in the firm to make decisions without partners’ input.

Check for $14,619.13 for cost reimbursement and a second one for $14,619.14 both made payable to Alex’s firm.

Wilson’s paralegal received a memo from Alex’s paralegal said they had cost reimbursement but not fee reimbursement and wondered where the check was.

Another email from Murdaugh firm came to Wilson saying Alex thought he was to be paid more in costs.

Wilson identifies email chain between Murdaugh firm and Wilson’s paralegal on June 2, 2021, about Alex believing he and outstanding payments to him. Wilson had paid Alex with 3 separate checks in March.

Lee Cope contacted Wilson where Cope asked if all the money had been disbursed and Wilson said it had not because there were liens and medical bills that needed to be paid.

Wilson reached out to Alex asking if there was any money owed to him to contact Wilson and let him know the amount but there were liens and bills outstanding. $792,000 had already been paid to Alex in March. Alex said he would make sure the money had been entered properly in the firm’s books.

A few weeks after the murders, Wilson asks Alex if the money regarding the fees was ok, and Alex said yes. Alex called about the fees and said he wasn’t able to structure the fees and had to go to the firm through Wilson’s trust account. Wilson said if Alex gave him the money (he got $600,000 of the $792,000), Wilson would run it through the trust account (Wilson is short $192,000). Alex is asked about the money short and was told he couldn’t access the money so Wilson personally put the money in the account to cover the shortage (Wilson was responsible for the trust). Wilson sent the law firm an email to confirm he was holding the money in trust until further contact with the firm in July 2021. Wilson never heard anything until September 2021 when Cope called him asking about the money in trust and telling Wilson they needed the money to pay clients Alex had stolen from. Wilson asked Alex about the money at a conference and Alex said he was working to sell property to settle the debt. Alex also had some inheritance from his father’s death.

Wilson said he asked Alex to sign a promissory note on August 13, 2021, that Alex would repay him within 30 days. Wilson and others thought Alex might kill himself and needed the signed note so that Wilson might make a claim against Alex’s estate should something happen to him.

Cope told Wilson on September 3, 2021, that Alex was stealing money from the firm and from clients. Wilson tried calling Alex and tried texting. He finally got a response the evening of Sept. 3 and Wilson asked Alex what was going on. Wilson wanted to meet in person. Alex said he was sorry. Wilson drove toward Beaufort where he thought Alex was but met him in Alameda, at his parent’s house.

Wilson asked Alex what the hell was going on and if there’s something else Alex had done and involved Wilson in that Wilson needs to know about. Alex confessed to having a drug problem, addicted to opioids, was stealing money, and had “shit him up” and “shit a lot of people up.”

Wilson says he was so mad, he doesn’t remember how the conversation ended on Sept. 4. He left and rode through Hampton and headed to Columbia where he lived. Later he had heard form Cope that Alex had been shot in the head and was heading to Savannah Hospital. Wilson didn’t believe Alex was suicidal that day. Wilson called Alex’s brothers but have not spoken or contacted Alex since then. Wilson said Alex wrote him a letter that Wilson turned over unopened to his attorneys. Wilson said Alex called or texted him from a phone number he didn’t know to be Alex’s and he didn’t respond.

Looking Ahead

The trial resumed Friday at 9:30 a.m. for arguemtns without the jury present. Testimony with the jury in place will resume at 11:30 a.m.

You can find trial updates here every day.  Live streaming coverage can be on wltx.com, on the WLTX+ streaming app on Amazon Fire and Roku TV, and on the News19 WLTX YouTube page.

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