Some quick thoughts on the “Snapchat murder trial”
There are suddenly a number of newsworthy criminal cases going on around the nation… Let’s turn first to the southern gothic playing out in South Carolina.
Your narrator was pleased to appear on Sunday Night In America with the razor-sharp Trey Gowdy over the weekend to discuss aspects of the case (see it here).
Since then, there have been developments.
At present, the Murdaugh homicide case is far from a slam-dunk. The prosecution scored big today with the Snapchat video that witnesses attested featured the voice of the accused, Alex Murdaugh. That puts him at the murder scene — a fact he’s denied.
But the defense has scored as well, bringing forth the intriguing fact that while Alex’s wife’s phone was being moved and dumped on a roadside, Alex’s own phone was moving independently elsewhere.
(Alex’s booking photo. What’s with the smile?)
Strong stuff — and both sides will have to undo the impressions the other side made today.
But the most dramatic moment may well have been the playing of the audiotape of Alex saying either, “I did him so bad” or “They did him so bad.” I would suggest that either way, the audio is not clear enough not to have reasonable doubt. BUT…
I wonder why the following point has not been raised: If Alex said “they” — why? Why would he be ascribing the killing to a group? Is the logic that somehow this is connected to the “boat” theory? (That is, the idea that son Paul was killed because of the fatal boat accident he was involved in some years previous). Who then would this “they” be? And could that not be disproven?
I find this a weakness in the “they” theory — and would seek to exploit it, were I the prosecution (perhaps in summation).
Another question: Why has there been no discussion of a gun locker? Hunters — especially wealthy ones with hunting lodges — would routinely keep their expensive guns locked up in a case, no? For safety and security reasons? So… was there one? And if so, was it damaged?
Because if it was there, and not damaged… point for the prosecution.
And finally: Alex told police that after discovering the bodies by the kennel, he went to the main house to retrieve the shotgun, in case the killer was still nearby. But shells from the gun used to kill Paul have been matched to past spent shells found around the hunting compound.
So: I think the ballistics aspect of this case is going to come back in, in a big way. Because Alex just put that gun in his own house. And if that is the gun that was used to kill Paul… the reasoning for the defense would have to be that the killer somehow returned the gun to the home. Not a winner.
Shotgun shells generally do not match up, ballistically, as precisely to a particular gun as rifles or handguns do. Because shotguns are “smooth bore,” the grooves on the shell will not be as precise.
The matching of the shells, therefore, will likely be done by gauge, brand, and perhaps toolmarks on the shell bottom (that is, where the hammer strikes the primer on the shell, causing it to detonate). Expect a battle of experts.
An atmospheric: Notice the staging here. Generally, a perp who goes to trial is cleaned up to the max, with a new haircut, suit, tie (a gang-banger on trial rarely resembles his booking photo). Here, the defense has gone in the other direction. Alex has no tie, his undershirt is showing, he’s constantly shaking, his monitor is often covered, etc. The guy’s an unmade bed.
None of this is an accident — defense attorneys will look for any edge they can get. All of this is of a piece with Harpootlian’s opening statement, in which he graphically described the shotgun blast blowing Paul’s brains out. The intention is to convey a father who could not possibly have done such a thing — and is suffering terribly under the accusation.
And one last, Grisham-esque point: South Carolina allows its state legislators to work as attorneys on the side. Harpootlian is one such state legislator (a Democratic state senator, apparently). This, seems to me, makes him an awfully important figure down there.
All I can say is, I hope the prosecution vetted the jurors for political connections. Because that jury selection seemed to be done in record time.
A short article by your narrator dropped over the past weekend on foxnews.com, outlining where I thought the case would be going (find it here). One of my premises was that the case would expand (we’re seeing that already). But a few quick thoughts.
Shouldn’t there be more talk of Chief Davis stepping down? This is a department that needs to completely rebrand, in order to regain the trust of Memphis citizens. And one of the necessities for doing that is for a new face at the top. However unfair: Why is this not part of the narrative? (We’ll be looking closer at this in an upcoming article on our website).
Where is the mother of Tyre’s child? He reportedly has a 4-year old son. The son, certainly, will have a claim on money from the eventual civil litigation against the Memphis PD and the city, as will the mother as the child’s guardian. Thus far, mother and son have not come forward. Odd.
Expect some more indictments soon… likely on lesser charges. And don’t be surprised if the murder charges of some of the original five are superseded. Murder 2 against all five may not be feasible, given that not all of the officers appear to have participated fully in the beating.
And I believe, even more potentially significant than any further video: Where is the autopsy report? With the cause of death?
There are still a lot of questions around this case (I was flattered to discuss that with Jesse Watters on Watters’ World earlier this week). Memphis better get out ahead of it. Because I think we’re in for some more drama.
Well the Probable Cause Affidavit — essentially, a document in support of an arrest warrant — dropped today (click here for the link).
We’ll be looking at it more closely… but it sure doesn’t appear to help Alec’s cause. Overall point: Baldwin should’ve kept his mouth shut after the event. He’s helped sink himself by inconsistent statements and assertions of being a “firearms expert.” But I’m not sure keeping his mouth shut is in his DNA.
I knew cops who had run-ins with Mr. Baldwin here in NYC, over the years. Let’s just say, none of them are weeping for him now.
Terrorism in New York
Kudos are due to an old unit of mine, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau. The Intel folks had two big wins over the past week: the conviction of Sheikh Abdullah Faisal in a (rare) state terrorism case; and the indictment (again in state court) of Victoria Jacobs, a/k/a Bakhrom Talipov, for using cryptocurrency to fund Syrian-based terrorism groups.
The Faisal case began when your narrator was still at the helm of operations in the unit, some years ago, so I am very familiar with it. I need not name those who tirelessly brought the case to fruition; they know who they are. The same goes for the prosecutors, who did an outstanding job in a novel use of long-arm jurisdiction. An important conviction, which has not received the attention it is due.
As for the Jacobs case, in the words of the Manhattan DA’s press release: “This case marks the first time that terrorism financing is being prosecuted in New York State Court and is one of the rare cases worldwide where cryptocurrency is alleged to have financed terrorism,” said District Attorney Bragg.
We’ve criticized Bragg plenty in this space for his approach to criminal prosecutions. But his office deserves praise for moving forward with a daring, groundbreaking terrorism case. As, of course, do the cops who brought it in. Congratulations to them.
I was once told by a superior, as I was leaving that unit some years ago, that “nobody cares about terrorism anymore.”
I’m glad someone still does. Because it certainly didn’t go away.
I leave you with a beautiful shot of a sunset over Ellis Island, historic gateway to America, courtesy of photographer Sam E. Antar:
See? Things aren’t so bad…. (is that incredible or what?)
Back soon, gang. Until then — stay safe!