On November 23rd 2022 Alex Murdaugh’s famed criminal defense attorney Dick Harpootlian and Dick’s long-time co-counsel Jim Griffin filed a blockbuster pretrial motion with the court - "MOTION TO EXCLUDE FALSE TESTIMONY ABOUT EVIDENCE DESTROYED BY THE STATE."
At issue was the t-shirt Alex was wearing the night his beloved wife and son were brutally murdered. According to the evidence attached as EXHIBITS to this motion, the State's own tests indicated that Alex was not and could not be the murderer Paul and Maggie.
Specifically, Harpootlian’s motion sought to compel the State to produce exculpatory Brady material including the results of a HemaTrace test done on August 10, 2021, which the defense asserted the State had intentionally withheld. Further, the Motion sought to prohibit the State from presenting manipulated “opinion testimony” from an extremely controversial cherry-picked Oklahoma “forensic expert” with dubious credentials and a controversial track record - whose testimony was contradicted by the State’s own exculpatory evidence.
And most damning of all, the State had for months withheld from the defense that they had destroyed Alex's t-shirt, which was one of the key pieces of exculpatory evidence in the case.
The defense even alleged that the State destroyed the shirt in bad faith so that the defense could not examine it independently.
For all sorts of reasons which I will explore herein, the public saw only one version of the evidence gleaned from the shirt.
Inaccurate claims about spatter evidence directly linking Alex to the murders of his wife and son have been extensively written about. The more credible and shocking concerns Harpootlian documents in his Nov. 23, 2022 Motion were largely ignored or rejected by media that was obsessed with the “Evil Murdaugh Crime Empire” narrative.
The alarming truth about SLED manipulating, hiding and even destroying exculpatory evidence didn’t fit the narrative media was monetizing, so the media buried the explosive revelations in Harpootlian’s Motion.
I’m going dig much deeper than media, taking to you back in time, going step by step over the State’s inconsistencies, omissions, and arguably intentional manipulations of evidence - so that you will finally have the relevant facts upon which to form your own opinions about Alex Murdaugh's guilt or innocence.
Maybe, just maybe, we can finally make sense of how the largest murder investigation in South Carolina history got so far off track.
The exculpatory evidence the defense is referring to relates to the t-shirt Alex Murdaugh wore on the night of the murders of his wife and son.
In a SLED interview of Alex's brother John Marvin Murdaugh, we learned that the t-shirt was made to memorialize a family fishing trip. In the SLED interview John Marvin recalls that he recognized the t-shirt because it had the name and logo of his old fishing boat called the Black Sheep, claiming it had been made 8-10 years before the murders.
See below, photo courtesy of SLEDI
If none of this makes sense so far, hold on, it's about to get bumpier. Some may wonder, "Why would the State withhold such evidence if it was evidence in favor of Mr. Murdaugh?"
Look no further than SLED's prior actions with a South Carolina hemp farmer in 2019. In this hemp farmer's case, presiding judge Maite Murphy sanctioned SLED Chief Mark Keel, stating on the record: “I find that Keel’s conduct regarding discovery in this case has been dilatory, prejudicial, willful, intentional and in bad faith and his responses have been false, misleading, and incomplete… Despite the clear and plain language of the rule requiring answers under oath, and the specific requests by the Plaintiff that the requirement be complied with, Keel has failed to comply with Rule 33. The Plaintiff has served Keel with four (4) sets of interrogatories. During the hearing, Keel conceded to only producing Rule 33 verifications for two (2): the 2nd and 3rd set of interrogatories.” JUDGE MAITE MURPHY, FEB. 28, 2023, ORDER FOR SANCTIONS AGAINST SLED CHIEF MARK KEEL.
There could not be more damning accusations made by a presiding judge about the conduct of SLED's Chief Mark Keel. Keel is head of SLED.
So we have evidence that prior to the Murdaugh investigation SLED was credibly accused of dilatory, prejudicial, willful, intentional acts to harm a defendant and we know that a presiding judge found that SLED was capable of acting intentionally, in bad faith, claiming that SLED's responses were false, misleading, and incomplete.
It's fair to ask, "Did SLED rectify its history of egregious misconduct when it came to convicting Alex Murdaugh?" Seems like the answer is a hard no"
Returning to Harpootlian's November 23, 2022 Motion, the defense asserted that the State was "unable to build a solid case against Mr. Murdaugh to present in court (so SLED ) instead engaged in a campaign of selective and alleged deceptive leaks to news media to likely convince the public that Murdaugh is guilty before he is tried."
Harpootlian references a leak to FitsNews which was published in an article dated April 2022.
The article in question published on April 26, 2022 stated, "A shirt worn by Alex Murdaugh on the night his wife and son were murdered was found to have a significant amount of high-velocity impact spatter on it from at least one of their bodies, sources familiar with the investigation recently told FITSNews."
The presence of this forensic evidence on his clothing "could have only come from one thing," according to sources close to the investigation. Specifically, the spatter indicates that Murdaugh was physically close to one or more of his family members when they were shot.
According to the FITSNews article, "Multiple sources have told this news outlet that the high-velocity impact spatter has been independently analyzed and confirmed by multiple forensic experts - including by at least one out-of-state laboratory." (author of the article), Mandy Matney, High-Velocity Impact Spatter Directly Ties Alex Murdaugh To Double Homicide, Sources Say, FITSNews (Apr. 26, 2022).
What exactly is high-velocity impact spatter? According to the National Institute of Justice, they say it's a classification of blood spatter patterns resulting from the interactions between a weapon, suspect, and victim, and high-velocity patterns are typically attributed to a gunshot wound."
A gullible public hungry for definitive evidence of guilt believed the FITSNEWS article. To this day many still believe the article's utterly false claims about spatter evidence on the shirt. Based upon claims made in the article belief in Alex Murdaugh's guilt exploded like a lit match igniting a tank of gasoline.
Few bothered to question why the State of South Carolina went to Oklahoma to dig up a forensic analyst named Tom Bevel, who operated out of his garage, and as we'll show you Bevel may have been willing to say just about anything the State wanted the "expert" to say.
Fewer still questioned why SLED lead investigator David Owen had to go in person to Oklahoma to persuade Bevel to write a second more favorable opinion for SLED when the first opinion did not suit SLED's agenda.
No noticed that SLED withheld the August 10, 2021 negative HemaTrace test from Bevel.
Media did not question SLED or Tom Bevel's credentials. Media didn't even do a simple Google search of Bevel's other recent mistakes, including high-profile lawsuits where Bevel is alleged to have provided flawed testimony which led to the conviction of innocent people. It;s possible that media thought the FITSNEWS claims sounded scientific.
It would appear that the State of South Carolina used FITSNEWS to successfully sell the public on the alleged credibility of Bevel, even when the State had withheld the exculpatory negative HemaTrace test from Bevel.. while leaking to FITSNEWS that Alex Murdaugh's t-shirt was "stained with high-velocity blood spatter" from son Paul's gunshot wounds.
Harpootlian brought all of this to light in his November 2022 motion, which had - attached as EXHIBIT G - the irrefutable bombshell evidence that the State's experts had tested Alec's shirt August 10, 2021, roughly two months after the murders. EXHIBIT G is the result of the highly reliable HemaTrace Test which found that there was no human blood on the parts of the shirt that months later Tom Bevel was manipulated into identifying as having 100 points of "spatter."
How could brain "spatter" not contain blood? How could Paul's killer, standing less than four feet from Paul when Paul's brain was blown apart, not be covered in blood and tissue?"
Short answer is, "There is no way that the killer was not covered in blood and tissue spatter from the blowback of the brutal wound that killed Paul."
The negative Aug. 10, 2021 HemaTrace test proved that Alex Murdaugh did not have blowback blood and tissue on his shirt, ergo Alex was not the killer.
The shirt Alex was wearing showed signs of DNA transfer from being in close proximity to Maggie and Paul while checking their bloodied mutilated bodies for signs of life, but the negative HemaTrace test ruled out any blowback blood and tissue that the killers would have had on their clothes.
And the State knew this two months after the murders on August 10, 2021.
Paul's DNA isn't anywhere near the 100 spots Bevel eventually identified according to SLED's own tests.
But here's the real kicker: the defense experts were able to conduct any tests on the t-shirt because the State conveniently destroyed the shirt.
What??? That's right!!!
Just like Judge Maite Murphy previously observed of SLED corruption, the State destroyed the single most important piece of exculpatory evidence in this case!
Let that sink in for a few minutes.
And get this: Bevel originally said the shirt had no gunshot back splatter, but suddenly, after a cozy in-person chat with lead SLED Investigator David Owen, about 100 spatter points materialized.
So, initially, Bevel sees no spatter and since that won't work to get a Grand Jury to indict Alex, Owens hops a flight to Oklahoma to meet with Bevel in his lab, a.k.a his garage, and based solely on this conversation, Bevel suddenly sees over 100 splatter stains – which is convenient, considering that's exactly what the prosecution needed to paint Alex as the triggerman.
Readers should also note that Bevel never actually examined the t-shirt itself because - that's right - SLED had destroyed the shirt.
You've got to be wondering if SLED actually had to go all the way to Oklahoma to find a guy practicing out of his garage, who would be willing to testify for SLED without ever actually examining the t-shirt itself.
Something smells fishy in the Lowcountry, and it ain't a shrimp boil cooking up.
With Sled withholding the negative HemaTrace test result, the t-shirt being destroyed, and Bevel's lack of credibility and the 180 turn-around in question, did this "evidence" really sink Alex Murdaugh?
Stay tuned, folks, because, in this twisted tale, truth is harder to find than a decent oyster po'boy.
To get this straight, I'm going to back up to the beginning and put this mess in sequential order for you.
So, let's recap:
The Lowcountry Shocker: The Alex Murdaugh saga morphed into a CSI nightmare, folks. Remember that white T-shirt he wore when stumbling upon his family's bodies? Turns out the shirt became Exhibit A in a bloodstain battle royale, but hold your horses – the plot twist might leave you spitting out your sweet tea.
Scene 1: Bloody Chaos: June 7th, 2021. Maggie and Paul Murdaugh are found massacred. SLED swoops in, snags Alex's shirt (probably still damp with shock sweat), and tests a bit from the hem for blood. Surprise! It glows pink with phenolphthalein, a fancy way of saying "Maybe blood, maybe bleach." They dig deeper, DNA test the cutting, and boom – Maggie's DNA pops up, Paul's is nowhere to be found.
Scene 2: Doubling Down on Blue: Fast forward to July 2022. SLED blasts the shirt with another blood test, this time with leuco-crystal violet, LCV. This stuff loves hemoglobin, but also has a bad habit of getting fooled by bleach and laundry detergent.
Guess what? Parts of the shirt turn blue. SLED marks the "suspicious" zones, cuts 'em out, and sends 'em for DNA testing. The samples taken from the top two-thirds of the shirt's front, alleged by the State to contain spatter from shooting Paul, mostly showed positive results for Maggie's DNA. Paul was either excluded or not taken into consideration due to his relation to other contributors. None of the samples tested positive for Paul's DNA.
Scene 3: DNA Dance-Off: The results? More mind-bogglers, which I will heroically try to present in the least confiding way possible. One back-of-the-shirt scrap has evidence of Maggie's DNA, Paul's is mysteriously absent. Cuttings from the bottom front (not spatter, mind you) have traced of transfer DNS from Paul and a bit from Maggie, and at another spot transfer from Maggie, while not excluding Paul.
But the real jaw-dropper: the top two-thirds (claimed spatter by the State) is mostly Maggie's dna, with Paul not detectible.
Scene 4: The Plot Thickens Exponentially: Okay, folks,
Guess what the HemaTrace test screeches back? A resounding "Not a drop of human blood found!"
By the way, this is exactly one day before SLED Agent David Owen tells Alex Murdaugh in an SLED meeting that he is their suspect in the murders of his wife Maggie, and son Paul.
How on Earth can you meet with Alex Murdaugh and ask him if he killed his wife and son, when your scientists at SLED found no blood on Alex's t-shirt?
To put this into context, here is the exact exchange between Agent Owen and Alex Murdaugh, exactly one after SLED found no, none, zip, nada blood on Alex's t-shirt. The following excerpt is from the book, Defending Alex Murdaugh, Not Guilty by Reasonable Doubt.
Agent David Owen, “I have to go where the evidence and facts take me.” Alex, “I understand that.” “You think I killed Paul?” Owen reasserts, “I have to go where the evidence and facts take me.” “I don’t have anything that points to anyone else at this time.” (except the exculpatory no blood evidence from one day prior). Alex is still sitting calmly with his legs crossed, arms over his knees as he asks Agent Owen, “so does that mean that I am a suspect?” Owen, “you are still in, like I told Corey earlier, you are still in this, [The Circle].” Alex continues to sit, this time nodding his head as if to say, ok this is where we are, Owen continues. “With everything that we talked about, with the family guns, the ammunition, nobody else’s DNA, I have to put my beliefs aside and go with the facts.”
The Twist You Didn't See Coming: Remember those positive DNA tests? Turns out, SLED can't tell if the DNA came from before, during, or after the "stains" appeared. And get this: they're super sensitive, picking up DNA traces as tiny as a nanogram – that's less than a speck of dust! So, with no human blood confirmed, who knows if those DNA traces have anything to do with the alleged stains at all!
Exhibit F: The Cover-Up?: After charging Alex SLED after charging Alex with the brutal murders of his wife and son on July XX, 2022 the State dragged their feet about responding to the defense's discovery request. By law, the State was required to turn over to the defense all evidence in its possession within 30 days. The State dragged its feet and took months to comply with all discovery requests. When it did, the HemaTrace test was oddly mislabeled and hidden in a mismarked file, in a dump of about 5000 documents.
Some may say that it its fair to say that the State intentionally hid the negative HemaTrace test because the State did not want the defense to find the negative HemaTrace test for trial. It's also fair to observe that SLED completely ignored Judge Maite Murphy's previous abominations about lying, manipulating and omitting evidence.
You've gotta be asking, why was SLED so biased against Alex Murdaugh. SLED works for us, the public. SLED represents us. SLED is supposed to be seeking the truth.
SLED is supposed to be following the evidence where it leads, not manipulating and leading the evidence to where SLED wants to go.Why was this process hidden from the defense and the public?
All this started with Tom Bevel, a retired Oklahoma cop turned "blood and spatter guru" hired by the State of South Carolina. Mr. Bevel is a retired Oklahoma City police officer. His academic qualifications? Administration of criminal justice. His scientific background? He doesn't have any.
Bevel's first report stated clear as day that there was - no gun-related splatter on the shirt.
Then, poof! After a cozy chat with lead SLED lead investigator David Owen, Bevel does a 180. Suddenly, the shirt is awash in over 100 spatter stains, like a Jackson Pollock painting gone south.
Talk about flip-flopping faster than a Hilton Head tourist on a sunburn rampage.
And worse, because of SLED's ineptness or its intentional bad faith the defense can't even test the shirt themselves because the State, conveniently destroyed it.
If that isn't "manipulating" evidence, what is?
Around January 4, 2022, SLED dispatched materials to Mr. Bevel for his assessment concerning crime scene reconstruction and BSA (blood spatter analysis). Senior Special Agent David Owen later reviewed Mr. Bevel's draft report dated February 3rd on February 4th. The report, as per Exhibit I, addressed Investigative Question (IQ)-4, examining the bloodstains on Alex's white t-shirt in relation to the back spatter from a gunshot.
The report's findings included:
• Two areas positive for blood using LCV
• No misting size blood spatter
• Edges of stains appearing diffuse
The opinion of Tom Bevel concluded that the stains on the white t-shirt were consistent with transfers, not back spatter from a bullet wound.
According to Harpootlian, agent Owen, along with supervisors Lt. Charles Ghent and Capt. Ryan Neill, discussed the report on February 7th. A subsequent Zoom meeting with Mr. Bevel occurred the next day. Following the meeting, Lt. Ghent informed Lt. Kukila Wallace that Mr. Bevel sought further examination of the shirt for blood pattern analysis. Lt. Wallace and Lt. Todd Schenk visually examined the shirt on February 15th post-LCV processing, determining its condition. Notably, the shirt had been destroyed, turning entirely blue with fuzzy, diffuse stains—attributed to a known issue with LCV tests.
On February 23, 2022, Agent Owen reportedly arranged to meet with BGA to examine the evidence, traveling to Oklahoma on March 9th.The final report from Mr. Bevel, dated March 10th, changed from his first final report to SLED and stated findings inconsistent with the initial report from February, without additional evidence obtained post-destruction of the shirt. Mr. Bevel now claims that the shirt has 40 misting-sized blood spatter, and 100+ stains are consistent with spatter on the front of the t-shirt. According to the defense, emails dated November 23, 2022, indicate that Bevel employed Photoshop to alter the color of stains on Murdaugh's T-shirt, leading to a about-face shift in his opinion.
Despite defense counsel's unawareness of the shirt's destruction, a request on November 4, 2022, urged the State to send the shirt to an external laboratory for microscopic examination. The State responded on November 17th, stating the shirt had "turned black," hindering microscopic examination. Counsel for Murdaugh viewed the shirt on November 21st at SLED's laboratory facilities in Columbia, acknowledging its condition.
Let's do a quick timeline for everyone at home to play along.
• January 4th, 2022, SLED sends Tom Bevel materials, (the shirt, pictures of it or portions thereof) to be analyzed for spatter and some crime scene reconstruction.
• On February 3rd, 2022, Tom Bevel sends Agent Owen his results from his testing of Murdaugh's shirt. Bevel reports back, no misting and no spatter from a bullet wound on Murdaugh's shirt.
• On February 7th, 2022, Agent Owen meets with his SLED supervisors to inform them of Bevel's findings.
• On February 23rd, 2022, just 2 weeks later, Agent Owen makes arrangements to go to Oklahoma to meet Bevel.
• On March 9th, 2022 flew to Oklahoma to meet with Tom Bevel to presumably discuss Mr. Bevels findings on March 10th.The shirt at this time is completely blue from the LCV testing and is considered "destroyed" from said tests. But was brought to Bevel regardless.
• On March 14th Agent Owen received a PowerPoint from Mr. Bevel. A 2nd PowerPoint was sent to Agent Owen from Bevel on March 22nd 2022. Neither of these two PowerPoints has been produced to our knowledge. Agent Owen spoke with Bevel on March 22nd and 23rd.
• On March 29th, 2022, 54 days after Tom Bevel gave his first report to Agent Owen saying that there was no misting and no spatter. Bevel now reports that there areare approximately 40+ misting-size blood spatters and 100+ stains are consistent with spatter on the front of the t-shirt. This from, what scientists consider from all the LVC testing, a destroyed shirt. But the actual shirt had no bearing on Bevel's final report on March 29th.
During a meeting with the Murdaugh defense counsel, Creighton Waters admitted that Mr. Bevel could not obtain any information from an examination of the destroyed shirt in March 2022 that Owen flew to him, and that Bevel's final report relies on the same SLED laboratory photographs taken before January 4, 2022, that were the basis for his initial report sent on February 3rd, 2022.
Alex Murdaugh's shirt, now blue was considered destroyed by SLED.
The defense argued that Mr. Murdaugh was not granted Due Process under the law. But in order to establish a due process violation, Murdaugh must show either (1) that the State intentionally destroyed the evidence in bad faith, or (2) that the evidence had apparent exculpatory value before its destruction, and that Murdaugh cannot obtain comparable evidence through other means.
This principle, articulated in State v. Cheeseboro (2001), emphasizes the importance of due process in criminal proceedings. Remedies for the loss or destruction of evidence include barring further prosecution and suppressing relevant evidence, as highlighted in California v. Trombetta (1984).
The destruction of Mr. Murdaugh's shirt by SLED raises questions of potential bad faith by the State. Although it could also be attributed to gross negligence, as per State v. Reaves (2015). It appears that the Murdaugh defense lacked sufficient evidence to definitively determine the nature of the chemical destruction of the shirt.
The bad faith extends beyond the shirt's destruction. The defense alleged that SLED engaged in manifest bad faith by dishonestly concealing the destruction while obtaining a false report from Mr. Bevel. This report allegedly falsely claimed over a hundred high-velocity impact spatter bloodstains on Mr. Murdaugh's shirt consistent with a gunshot, a fact contradicted by SLED's knowledge that the shirt had no human blood. The motive behind altering Mr. Bevel's initial report, which stated the stains were not consistent with blood spatter, was evident in a Zoom call meant to influence his opinion according to the defense.
The defense also contends that SLED's actions amount to a lie of omission, as they never informed Mr. Bevel that no human blood was on the shirt. Despite pressure and a personal visit from Agent Owen, Mr. Bevel's opinion remained unchanged. Even without considering SLED's alleged deceptive conduct, Mr. Murdaugh meets the Cheeseboro standard for a due process violation according to the defense, as the shirt possessed apparent exculpatory value before its destruction.
The question we have to ask is why all the seemingly cloak and dagger from SLED on exculpatory evidence that Alex Murdaugh's shirt had no blood or spatter on it? Why wouldn't SLED release the Powerpoints between Agent Owen and Tom Bevel. Did SLED somehow manhandle Tom Bevel into changing his initial findings because they had no other hard evidence? How did Special Agent David Owen, lead investigator in all things Murdaugh allegedly not know until November, 2022 that SLED found no human blood misting or spatter on Murdaugh's t-shirt before he testified before a Colleton County Grand Jury to gain an indictment of Murdaugh for murder based on Bevel's final March 29th, 2022 report stating blood mist and spatter?
How is it possible that the SLED findings were never communicated to Agent Owen after the indictment? In Agent Owen's sworn testimony in the trial of Alex Murdaugh, Agent Owen was asked, " In your outline to the Colleton County Grand Jury, it indicates on page 18 that you found DNA in the areas of spatter that were identified that belonging to Alex, Maggie and Paul, do you remember that?"
Agent Owen responds under oath, "yes, and that was in the report I had in my possession." Griffin shoots back a question, " And was that accurate?" Owen responds after thinking, " Now that I have that HemaTrace report, the HemaTrace indicates that the parts that she tested no human blood was found." Griffin's next remark, "So you didn't know at the time, but you know now, that what you told the Colleton County Grand Jury was not correct, is that fair?"
Owen, " That is correct, in reference to the shirt, you are correct."
Whoever was feeding FITSNews with inside information on the Murdaugh t-shirt in April of 2022 was providing FITSNewswith completely wrong information, most likely to sway public opinion on Murdaugh's alleged guilt at the time.
If the wrong information on the Murdaugh shirt did not come from SLED, then who did the reporter get it from?
I reached out to Will Folks, founding editor of FITSNews for a comment on the information his news outlet was provided by SLED on this situation. Mr. Folks stated, "I have zero doubt our sources were justified in passing along info because there was a SLED report which concluded what we reported."
Indeed there was the Bevel report that stated over 100+ stains on Alex's shirt that are consistent with spatter, (blood). However, there was also the SLED report from November 2021 that also stated there was no human blood, and the August 10th, 2021 tests of the shirt cuttings of Murdaugh’s T-shirt where HemaTrace tests tried to confirm the presence of human blood.
SLED said every cutting from the shirt tested negative for human blood.
So the SLED logic appears to be this. We, (SLED) found no human blood on Murdaugh's shirt two times, with two different tests. Sled sends it out to an outside test, they, (Bevel) confirm no spatter. Then Owen goes to Bevel, Bevel Photoshops the t-shirt to then say there are 100+ stains on the shirt.
SLED leaks selected versions of their manipulated misinformation to FITSNews as fact. Disregarding their own negative tests.
Was SLED's lead agent, (David Owen) truly not informed that there was no blood on two separate SLED tests until after the Murdaugh indictment? That's over a year (from August 20, 2021) that the lead SLED investigator claimed that there were 100+ stains of back spatter on Murdaugh's shirt.
Until someone talks, we may never know why SLED lied and manipulated this exculpatory HemaTrace evidence, but at least now, you have many of the true facts and the accurate timeline for details related to the evidentiary value of the T-shirt Alex Murdaugh's wore on the night of the Murders on June 7th, 2021.
Alex's shirt had no misting, spatter, or human blood according to the State of South Carolina's Law Enforcement Division.
Given that we also know that Paul's killer was so close to Paul at the time Paul's brain was blown to kingdom come, the killer had to have been covered in blowback or backspatter, Alex Murdaugh is not the killer of Paul and there is no physical evidence that he's the killer of Maggie.
Stay tuned as I dig deeper for you.
Speaking of T-Shirts, check out our entire collection of Murdaugh, Bourbon, Gamecocks, Beer, Wine and Coffee Lovers.