COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Witness testimony on cell phone data continued Wednesday in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial, with two of Paul Murdaugh’s close friends taking the stand.
Alex Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL: DAY 7 RECAP
Get caught up on the Alex Murdaugh investigations
Prosecution and defense attempted to create a digital timeline of the night of the murders using data from Paul, Maggie, and Alex’s cell phones.
They focused on a window beginning June 7, 2021 at around 8:40 p.m. That’s when Paul had his last phone call with his friend Rogan Gibson, who took the stand.
Minutes later, Paul is texting back and forth with a girl about movies. At 8:44 p.m., he took a video of Rogan’s dog. That video placed him, Maggie, and Alex together at the kennels just minutes before the murders are believed to have occurred.
Around 8:49 p.m., meaningful human activity appears to stop on Maggie and Paul’s phones.
Paul’s friends, however, testified that Murdaugh’s relationship with his family was solid.
On Thursday, Judge Clifton Newman is expected to address whether evidence connected to Murdaugh’s financial crimes will be admitted in court as evidence of motive.
Court is set to resume at 9:30 a.m.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL LIVE BLOG:
5:40 p.m. – Newman plans to address whether information about Murdaugh’s other crimes will be admissible as evidence of motive Thursday morning. Court adjourned.
5:39 p.m. – Prosecution asks who a person in the video is. Loving identifies him as Chris Wilson, Murdaugh’s best friend.
Loving is asked again about the Snapchat video he received from Paul earlier in the day. The video is played in court.
Loving is asked again about the family dynamic. He describes it as good. Prosecution asks if Loving knew anything about Murdaugh’s finances or financial troubles, the boat wreck and subsequent lawsuits, about Murdaugh being confronted at work the day of the murders, etc. He says no.
5:19 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
They ask Loving what time he received a Snapchat video from Paul on June 7, 2021. He says he doesn’t remember, but maybe around 7:00 p.m. It showed Paul and his dad riding around, laughing, having a good time. Loving says Paul would frequently send Snapchats.
Defense asks about Paul’s habit of leaving things all over the place. Loving confirms Paul left things — including guns — everywhere.
Loving is asked about Paul’s relationship with his father. He describes it as awesome. He is asked the same question of Maggie and Alex’s relationship and describes it the same way.
Defense asks if upon hearing of the murders that night, Loving was fearful for his own safety. He says he wasn’t at first, then people he talked to made him nervous, so he got out of his and Paul’s apartment.
They show video of a birthday celebration held for Murdaugh in Edisto over Memorial Day Weekend.
People can be heard singing “Happy Birthday” and celebrating. Murdaugh hangs his head and rocks back and forth in the courtroom.
Defense asks if Loving went to Moselle the day after the murders. He said he did along with several more of Paul’s friends. Loving says Alex was emotional, crying, and could hardly talk.
4:46 p.m. – Will Loving, Paul’s friend from Columbia, is on the stand. They met when he was around 15 and Paul was 13. They lived together in Columbia at the time of the murders.
Loving and Paul frequently hunted together. He is asked about the 300-blackouts they used. They outfitted Paul’s replacement 300-blackout with a “sight” to improve hunting abilities.
Loving explains that the replacement 300-blackout wasn’t good for hunting at night because it didn’t have thermal optics and you couldn’t see what you were shooting at night.
They sighted the gun in right outside of the gun room in late March or early April of 2021.
Loving said Paul had a shotgun that he favored, a Benelli with a distinctive blue/purple camo pattern.
Loving said Paul called him about getting a hot tub for the house they were about to move into, then sent him a Snapchat. The Snapchat was Paul and Alex riding around looking at trees.
Prosecutors ask about Maggie’s habits. Loving says she liked to go down to the kennels, she would often walk or ride a bike, and spend time with the dogs.
Loving talks about Paul’s cell phone habits. He says Paul used his phone a lot and would typically respond quickly. He says Paul kept the phone in one of his front pockets, he would’ve remembered if Paul kept it in his back pocket.
Loving says he was called multiple times the night of the murders. One of Paul’s cousins told him around 12:07 a.m.
Prosecutors ask if Loving is familiar with the boat wreck. Loving says he was aware of the wreck and the subsequent legal troubles. He says that he didn’t talk about it much with Paul.
Loving is asked if he knows why the family sold the Hampton County property. He says he heard through the grapevine it was to pay for some of the lawsuits. He never heard that directly from Paul or Alex.
They go back to discussing the 300-blackout. Prosecutors ask about the range. Loving says he thinks Paul told him it’s accurate to around 50-75 yards. He calls it pointless for night hunting.
Prosecution asks if Paul liked to spend time in a lot of different places. Loving says he was all over.
Loving is asked if he has seen the video at the kennels and if he recognizes the voices. He says yes. The video is played. Loving identifies Paul, Maggie, and Alex’s voices with 100% confidence.
4:26 p.m. – Court is in recess for 10 minutes.
4:24 p.m. – Prosecution follows up with the Gibson. They ask about his perception of Murdaguh’s wealth. Gibson says he knew Murdaguh to be pretty wealthy. Prosecution asks “as you sit here today, did you really know him.” Gibson says yes. Prosecution asks again “did you really know him? Gibson says “Yes, I know Mr. Alex.”
3:55 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examining Gibson. He is asked to tell the jury more about Paul. Gibson says Paul could get along with just about anybody. He says Paul is one of his best friends and that testifying is hard.
Gibson says that he had a good relationship with Murdaug as well. He says Maggie was like a second mother to him.
Gibson says that Paul and his father had a good relationship.
He says all of the Murdaugh homes were open to all of Paul and Buster’s friends. He says that Murdaugh appeared to enjoy being around his family.
Gibson is asked about the boating accident Paul was in in 2019. He asks about threats Paul received as a result. Gibson said he didn’t think any were “real serious.”
Defense asks about the video. Gibson is asked to identify each of the speakers based on what they are saying. He does.
Gibson says Murdaugh was distraught in the days after the murders. He says they both cried a lot.
Defense asks Gibson if he can think of any circumstance in which Alex could brutally murder Paul and Maggie. He says not that he can think of.
3:13 p.m. – Rogan Gibson is called to the stand. Gibson is from Hampton County. Gibson has known Paul all his life, but moved in next to the Murdaughs when he was around 11 years old.
Gibson and Paul were close friends until the day Paul died. He was close with the entire family. He frequently spent time at Moselle and the family’s other properties.
Gibson says they liked to ride around the property and go hunting. They often used 300-blackouts, he said.
Paul was on his cell phone a lot, according to Gibson.
Gibson said Maggie liked to stay at Edisto because of the yellow flies at Moselle. Paul would stay at Moselle if he was home.
Gibson’s dog, Cash, was staying at Murdaugh’s kennels on June 7, 2021 because he was staying at his girlfriend’s house in Beaufort for work.
Gibson and Paul were on the phone around 8:40 p.m. that night talking about his dog’s tail. Gibson said he heard Maggie and he thought he heard Alex. Paul said he would FaceTime him so he could see the tail, but the service was spotty so he would send him a video if the FaceTime didn’t work.
That was the last time Gibson talked to Paul. He chokes up talking about it.
Gibson found out the next day that Paul and Maggie had been killed. He came home from Beaufort, went to his house, then went to Moselle.
Prosecution goes through phone calls and texts between Paul and Gibson that night. Gibson tried to call Paul several times at 9:10 p.m., 9:29 p.m., 9:42 p.m., 9:57 p.m.,and 10:08 p.m.
Gibson texted Maggie at 9:34 p.m. asking her to tell Paul to call him.
Alex called Gibson several times during the 10:00 p.m. hour.
Prosecution asks how Paul sounded when Gibson talked to him on the phone around 8:40 p.m. He says they all sounded normal. They did not sound like they were afraid of anything or like anyone they didn’t know was around.
Prosecution asks if Gibson recognizes the voices of his “second family” in the video found on Paul’s phone. He says he is 100% sure it is Paul, Maggie, and Alex.
The video is played again in court. Gibson again identifies the voices in the video as Paul, Maggie, and Alex.
3:06 p.m. – Defense attorney Jim Griffin gives further context for Murdaugh’s case in which Varnavoe testified as an expert witness. Murdaugh’s father also worked on the case. In involved members of the “Cowboys” drug gang, which Griffin says is known to be dangerous in the area. Varnavoe agrees.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh was “shook up” that night. Varnavoe says he was.
Griffin asks if Varnavoe knew Murdaugh was previously in possession of a shotgun that he got from the house after calling 911. Varnavoe said he was made aware later. Griffin points out that residue could’ve transferred to Murdaugh’s hands from that gun. He asks if any found residue is tested further. Varnavoe says no.
2:45 p.m. – The state calls Colleton County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Nathan Bryan Varnavoe to the stand. He is a Walterboro native. He investigated the murders.
Varnavoe conducted a gunshot residue test on Murdaugh the night of the murders.
Varnavoe knew Murdaugh because previously testified as an expert witness in one of Murdaugh’s cases.
Prosecutors ask Varnavoe to demonstrate how a GSR test is given.
They ask if Murdaugh’s hands were shaking during the test. Varnavoe says he does not remember Murdaugh’s hands shaking.
Varnavoe filled out a form after giving the test. On the form, he wrote that Murdaugh had no debris or blood on his hands. He described Murdaugh’s hands as clean.
Prosecutors ask if Varnavoe remembers what Murdaugh was wearing. He says he remembers Murdaugh wearing a white t-shirt. It did not appear to have any blood on it or be dirty.
12:43 p.m. – Court resumes.
1:19 p.m. – Court is in recess until 2:35 p.m.
12:57 p.m. – Prosecution follows up. They ask about Alex and Maggie’s phone being carried at the same time.
Prosecution brings up steps on Maggie’s phone between 8:53 p.m. to 8:55 p.m. No steps are recorded after that. Alex’s phone records steps between 8:05 p.m. and 8:09 p.m., then a gap until 9:02 p.m.
Prosecution points out that the video was recorded at 8:44 p.m.
Prosecution points out that if a screen is off, a phone will not record an orientation change.
They again review texts Maggie sent the afternoon of June 7. She texted someone “ty. I’m waiting at doctor. Alex wants me to come home. I had to leave door open at Edisto but trust Mexicans to shut and lock for me. His dad is back in hospital. The last doctor claims no cancer, it’s pneumonia.”
The move to the camera on Maggie’s phone activating for one second at 8:54 p.m. Dove says it seems to just have activated in the background, it does not seem like someone was trying to turn it on.
Defense asks if it’s possible that Maggie was scared of someone shooting at her and tried to activate the camera but then shut it off. Dove says he can’t speak to how someone would respond in a situation.
11:51 a.m. – Cross-examination begins. Defense asks if it is possible to see the contents of a text message without opening the message. Dove says yes.
Defense asks if Paul may have curtailed use of his phone since his battery was at 2%. Dove says it is possible.
They ask about orientation changes and where Maggie’s phone was found.
One orientation change started at 9:06:22 p.m. During the period of that orientation change, a call came in from Murdaugh.
Dove is asked about a man named Al Johnson, a private investigator who specializes in digital forensics. He analyzed the phones in this case, but Dove said he had not seen Johnson’s reports.
Dove is asked if the steps on Maggie and Alex’s phones sync up at any point in time. They review the reports and determine that there are no steps synced. Defense asks if one person had both phones on them and was walking a significant distance, wouldn’t coordinating data points appear on both phones? Dove says yes.
They discuss texts on Maggie’s phone.
Maggie sent a text at 3:55 p.m. about leaving Editso and having to go back to Moselle because Alex’s father is sick. She texts back and forth with the person about Alex’s father’s health. She also mentions that Alex needs to relax because he is doing too much and it is not healthy.
She gets a text minutes later from Murdaugh asking how her doctor appointment is going. She replies that she is waiting.
At 7:05 p.m., Murdaugh texts her saying “Paul says you are getting pedi!! Call when you are done.” Pedi is understood to mean a pedicure.
Another text from Murdaugh comes in at 9:08 p.m. saying “going to check on M, be right back.” Dove is asked if he can tell when the message actually displayed on Maggie’s phone. He says it displayed at
At 9:47 p.m., Murdaugh texts her saying “call me, babe.”
Defense narrows in on the timeline from about 8:50 p.m. to 9:08 p.m.
- Paul’s phone locked at 8:49:01 p.m. and did not unlock again. That was the last activity indicating human use.
- Maggie’s phone display turned off at 8:49:28 p.m. There is an orientation change going to landscape at that time. At 8:49:31 p.m. the phone is locked.
- At 8:53 p.m., Maggie’s display comes on. There is an orientation change at 8:53:12 p.m. going to portrait.
- From 8:53:15 p.m. to 8:55:32 p.m., Maggie’s phone records 59 steps. Dove says that the distance in meters is available in the extracted data.
- The display goes off at 8:53:28 p.m.
- The display comes on at 8:53:32 p.m.
- Siri is last activated at 8:53:20 p.m. Siri can be triggered by a word or the side button being pushed.
- The display went off at 8:53:44 p.m.
- The display came back on at 8:54:32 p.m.
- The camera is activated two seconds later. Dove is asked if it was activated from the lock screen, he said he assumes so since the phone was not unlocked. The camera is active for about one second. Dove says he doesn’t know if the camera actually came on, it was just shown in the application usage log.
- At 8:54:40 p.m., an orientation change to landscape begins.
- A phone call from Murdaugh came in at 9:04 p.m.
- Murdaugh calls Maggie twice at 9:06 p.m.
- Maggie receives a text at 9:08 p.m., but her screen did not come on again until 9:31 p.m.
- Alex Murdaugh’s phone recorded 283 steps between 9:02 p.m. and 9:06 p.m.
- Defense indicates Murduagh’s car engine started at 9:08 p.m.
Defense asks if throwing a phone from a moving car would cause an orientation change. Dove says it could. Defense asks if the orientation change at 9:06, which is the final orientation change until it is found, could be it being thrown from a car. Dove says it is hard to tell.
Defense notes that Murdaugh’s car started around the same time Maggie’s final orientation change happened, so if he was at home in his car, he couldn’t have thrown it because he can’t be in two places at once. Dove says he doesn’t know if the phone being thrown caused the change.
Defense brings up again that Murdaugh and Maggie’s phones did not have matching step patterns, which they would if the same person was carrying the phones.
Defense begins asking about the methods of data extraction. Defense asks if data could be lost over time, Dove says yes, especially GPS information. Defense presents GPS data from Maggie’s phone, which was extracted six days after the murders. The earliest entry is June 9, 2021 with latitude and longitude putting at a SLED location. Defense asks if the phone was extracted earlier, would we have GPS data from that night. Dove says probably.
Defense asks if putting the phone in a Faraday Bag would’ve preserved GPS data from that night. Dove says probably if it was used correctly.
11:17 a.m. – Court resumes. Prosecution again questions Dove about Paul’s conversation with Megan.
At 8:29:06 p.m., Megan said “you didn’t send me any movie recommendations.” It was read at 8:29:17 pm.
A text was sent to Megan at 8:29:36 p.m. saying “haha, I didn’t have a good one.” He followed up at 8:29:48 p.m. saying “Wills might.”
Megan responded at 8:30:10 p.m. saying “omg.” It was read at 8:30:13 p.m.
Paul responded saying “haha kidding.” At 8:48:05 p.m. he sent a message saying “star was born is the move.” That was the last outgoing message from his phone.
At 8:48:29 Megan responds “no, I need something happy.” She follows up with “don’t like watching sad movies.” Those texts were read at 8:48:59 p.m.
At 8:49:35 p.m., he received a text from Rogan. The text was never read.
They move on to activity information:
Information stops at 10:34 p.m. because the phone died.
Dove says there is pretty continuous usage over about a four-hour period on Paul’s phone, using apps like Messages, Snapchat, etc.
From 8:44:49 p.m. to 8:45:47 p.m. there is activity from the camera. Location data puts Paul near a red-roofed building on the Moselle property, according to Dove.
Dove is asked if he sees anything in the activity report after the last text was read “that would indicate the phone is being actively used by a human being.” Dove says no.
The state presents the health report for Paul’s phone, which contains the steps.
- 105 steps recorded between 6:54 p.m. and 7:03 p.m.
- 208 steps recorded between 7:14 p.m. and 7:22 p.m.
- 139 steps recorded between 7:25 p.m. and 7:34 p.m.
- 121 steps recorded between 7:35 p.m. and 7:41 p.m.
- 89 steps recorded between 7:45 p.m. and 7:55 p.m.
- (unknown) steps recorded between 7:55 p.m. and 8:05 p.m.
- (unknown) steps recorded between 8:05 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
- 140 steps recorded between 8:15 p.m. and 8:21 p.m.
- 283 steps recorded between 8:32 p.m. and 8:42 p.m.
Phone did not record any other steps on Paul’s phone after 8:42 p.m. Dove testified that the phone may have moved a short distance and those steps may not have been recorded.
They move back to Maggie’s phone, discussing an orientation change that occurred between 9:06:12 p.m. and 9:06:20 p.m., which Dove believed could have been someone picking up the phone or the phone falling and tumbling end over end.
Dove is asked if the phone being thrown could cause an orientation change. He says it would be hard but is possible. A phone could be thrown a short distance without recording an orientation change.
Dove is asked about photos and videos on Maggie and Alex’s phone. He is asked if anything relevant to the investigation was found. He says no.
On Paul’s phone, Dove said he found relevant information: A video taken at 8:44 p.m. The video is what caused the camera to activate. The video is introduced as evidence.
Dove says it looks like they are in a kennel area and Paul appears to be trying to take a video of a dog.
In the video, Dove says three distinctly different voices can be heard.
The video is played in court. Alex Murdaugh sobs as the video is played.
A voice sounds like it is playing catch with a dog, saying “good catch.” Another person says what sounds like “he has a bird in his mouth!” Two people argue about whether something is a guinea or a chicken. A third voice can be heard as well. A spraying sound is heard throughout the video.
10:59 a.m. – Court is taking a 10-minute break.
9:36 a.m. – Prosecutors resumed questioning SLED Lt. Britt Dove, a cell phone forensic expert, about Maggie’s cell phone data.
At 10:05:13 p.m., Dove says activity on the phone indicates Find my iPhone was running. Importantly, he noted that he can’t tell if that meant someone was trying to locate the phone via Find my iPhone, or if it was running in the background of an app opened earlier in the day.
Dove says there was no significant GPS data recorded on Maggie’s phone that night.
Murdaugh’s phone is admitted into evidence. Dove says the phone was given to him in September of 2021. A hard drive containing data extracted from Murdaugh’s phone is admitted as well.
Dove notes that the hard drive does omit attorney-client privilege information found on Murdaugh’s phone.
None of the calls in Murdaugh’s call logs were removed. The call log is sealed to protect phone numbers in the log.
Dove goes through the call log. He placed several FaceTime calls to Maggie in the days leading up to the murders, as well as at 10:25 p.m. on June 7, the night of the murders. There is a gap from June 4, 2021 to June 7, 2021 at 10:25 p.m. Dove testifies that the gap likely indicates information was removed from the call log. A user can easily delete select calls from their recent call log.
Additionally, calls Maggie received from Murdaugh that night did not appear in his log. Dove is asked if anything done in his analysis would’ve deleted those specific datapoints. He says no.
They move on to reviewing text message data extracted from Murdaugh’s phone.
Murdaugh was part of the same group text that Maggie was in, so he also received the message from John Marvin Murdaugh at 8:31 p.m. asking if anyone wanted to go visit their sick father the next day, and the text from Lynn at 8:31 p.m. saying she was in court all day.
The texts were not read on Murdaugh’s phone until after 1:00 p.m. the next day.
They review texts sent earlier in the day and establish that Murdaugh read each of them about 20 minutes after they came in. Dove said in general, Murdaugh read texts within around an hour of receiving them, with some exceptions.
At 9:08 p.m., Murdaugh texted Maggie “going to check on M, be right back.”
At 9:47 p.m., Murdaugh texted Maggie “call me, babe.”
He texted Rogan Gibson at 10:24 p.m. saying “call me.”
They move on to the activity report from Murdaugh’s phone.
Dove goes through steps recorded on the phone:
- 49 steps recorded between 6:02 p.m. and 6:07 p.m.
- 173 recorded between 6:14 p.m. and 6:23 p.m.
- 57 steps recorded between 6:42 p.m. and 6:43 p.m.
- 283 steps recorded between 6:52 p.m. and 7:02 p.m.
- 165 steps recorded between 7:03 p.m. and 7:11 p.m.
- 200 steps recorded between 7:15 p.m. and 7:21 p.m.
- 47 steps recorded between 7:28 p.m. and 7:37 p.m.
- 29 steps recorded between 7:41 p.m. and 7:48 p.m.
- 270 steps recorded between 7:55 p.m. and 8:05 p.m.
- 74 steps recorded between 8:05 p.m. and 8:09 p.m.
- 283 steps recorded between 9:02 p.m. to 9:06 p.m.
- 195 steps recorded between 9:22 p.m. and 9:32 p.m.
- 60 steps recorded between 9:35 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.
Dove again testified that the steps are not 100% accurate and do not indicate location. It just registers motion such as walking or running. The phone is able to distinguish between that type of movement and movement such as driving.
Prosecutors hone in on the gap between 8:05 p.m. and 9:02 p.m., asking Dove if he believes the phone was being walked around within the roughly one hour between 8:09 p.m. and 9:02 p.m. Dove says no.
Regarding device events such as orientation changes, Dove said there was data from earlier in the evening on Alex’s phone but there was a gap with no activity the night of the murders. Dove acknowledged that he got the phone months after the murders and the data he extracted from the night of the murders would not be as detailed simply because some of the data had likely been automatically deleted.
They go back to review the group texts that came in at 8:31 p.m. Prosecution points out that they came in during the gap in time steps were recorded, but were not read even after Murdaugh started moving again.
Paul Murdaugh’s phone is introduced into evidence. Dove received the phone August 13, 2021. They had to send it to the U.S. Secret Service to unlock it.
Paul Murdaugh’s call log is entered into evidence under seal to protect phone numbers.
They focus on calls the night of June 7, 2021.
A call was declined at 8:32 p.m.
The phone had an outgoing call to Rogan Gibson at 8:40:20 p.m. The call was answered and lasted just over four minutes.
An outgoing FaceTime to Rogan Gibson occurred at 8:44:34 p.m. It was answered and lasted 11 seconds.
That was the last outgoing call made and no other incoming calls were answered on Paul’s phone.
They move on to discussing texts from Paul’s phone.
He received multiple from someone named Megan texts at 8:48 p.m. The texts said, “no, need something happy” and “don’t like watching sad movies.” The texts were read at 8:48:59 p.m.
At 8:49:35 p.m., he received a text from Rogan. The text was never read. There were approximately 36 seconds between the texts from Megan being read and Rogan’s text being received.
At 9:58 p.m., Rogan texted again saying “yo.” That text also went unread.
Prosecution brings up that Maggie’s last read text was at 8:49:27 p.m.
Of note, Paul’s phone was on 2% battery when the texts were coming in. However, Dove says that if he read Megan’s texts, the battery wouldn’t have prevented him from reading Rogan’s text 36 seconds later.
Dove estimated that a phone on 2% would die in a matter of minutes if it was being used heavily. He emphasized that he wasn’t sure and would need to do testing, but he approximated 10-15 minutes. Prosecution points out that the phone didn’t die for over an hour.
The battery died at approximately 10:34 p.m.
They move on to an activity log for Paul’s phone, which includes location data.
9:35 a.m. – Court is in session.
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