By Ross Ibbetson In Walterboro, Sc, For Dailymail.Com
19:02 20 Feb 2023, updated 19:13 20 Feb 2023
- Murdaugh, 54, is accused of killing Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, at the family’s hunting estate in Moselle in South Carolina’s Lowcountry on June 7, 2021
- Jurors have been shown 3 police interviews, with prosecutor Creighton Waters instructed them to ‘listen to what he’s saying – listen to what he’s not saying’
- Body language experts say Murdaugh is ‘trying to act like a grieving father’, pretends to cry and tries to deflect the cops’ attention away from his guilt
Alex Murdaugh’s body language at the scene of his wife and son’s murders, in police interviews and during his trial has sparked debate both inside and outside the courtroom.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters told jurors at the start of the trial that they would have to ‘watch his expressions closely’ and listen carefully to ‘what he’s saying and to what he’s not saying.’
The State says Alex’s unusual responses help prove the 54-year-old brutally murdered Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, at the family’s 1,800-acre hunting estate in Moselle in South Carolina’s Lowcountry on June 7, 2021.
Body language experts told DailyMail.com that in his first 911 call on the night of the killings his high-pitched wailing is an attempt to ‘act like a grieving father.’
They say that Alex is lying because under police questioning he repeats questions, gives vague answers, blames his son’s boat crash and turns his body away from cops to shield himself from scrutiny.
Here body language experts analyze key moments from the Murdaugh trial…
‘Did you kill Maggie and Paul?’ Murdaugh crosses his arms and legs and repeats the question the first time he is asked point blank if he is the killer
Perhaps the most significant interview with cops came on August 11, 2021, two months after the killings.
The sit-down with cops was Alex’s third third interview with police – but the first where they put him firmly in the frame for Maggie and Paul’s brutal murders.
Body language experts say he repeats the officer’s question, a ‘classic’ ruse for an accused to buy themselves time. Alex goes on to say he ‘understands’ why they have to ask him, nodding his head at the cops.
Dr Michael McCutcheon of Forensic Education said: ‘Imagine if someone accused you of rape and your reply is “I understand”. Guilty.’
At the end of the largely friendly interview, chief investigator David Owen told Murdaugh not to hesitate if he had any questions and the legal scion thanked him. Then he dropped the hammer.
‘Did you kill Maggie?’ he asked.
‘No,’ Murdaugh replied, crossing his arms. ‘Did I kill my wife? No.’
‘Did you kill Paul?’ Owen continued. ‘No, I did not kill Paul’, Murdaugh replied.
Dr Carole Lieberman, who has provided expert witness testimony in criminal cases, said that Murdaugh’s crossed arms and legs are an attempt to shut the police out.
The psychiatrist says this is ‘indicative of his desperation to prevent the police from getting “inside” of him to see what he’s hiding. He also has an aggressive frown, as if warning them to stop probing.’
Dr McCutcheon noted that the first thing Murdaugh does is to repeat the question.
‘This is a classic example of a person preparing to lie. They are giving their brain a minute to process the information. He didn’t repeat a question the whole interview until it mattered,’ the body language expert said.
Dr Lieberman said he repeats the question ‘as if wondering if he heard him correctly because it’s a preposterous question – or so he would like the officer to think.’
There is also a shift in language with Murdaugh dropping informal contractions and saying emphatically, ‘No, I did not.’
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘Throughout his interview he uses contractions. Something is making him change his language. We see this when a suspect really wants to convince us they did not do it. People don’t randomly change their language.’
Dr Lieberman interpreted this as if Murdaugh is outraged ‘as if he’s offended that this officer would dare to ask him such questions.’
She said: ‘It’s as if he wants to say, “Do you know who I am?” He wants to remind the officer that he comes from a legendary legal family which has been respected for generations.’
But Dr McCutcheon argues that the ‘biggest tell’ actually comes afterwards when Murdaugh tells the cop he can sympathize with why he had to ask the question.
‘The biggest body language tell is that he is continually nodding his head yes after being accused. I have accused many innocent people of crimes to eliminate them as suspects. They get angry, they yell at me and tell me I’m wrong,’ Dr McCutcheon said.
‘He gets accused of murdering his wife and son and he is calm. He is not offended that they would think he would kill his family. When they tell him they just follow the evidence he continues to nod yes and says “I understand”. Imagine if someone accused you of rape and your reply is “I understand”. Guilty.
Alex is ‘trying to act like a grieving father’ during 911 call and sounds too calm as he speaks to the dispatcher
Alex called cops at 10.07pm on the night of the murders. Prosecutors say his wife and son had already been dead for more than an hour after the disgraced attorney shot them.
Body language experts said he is ‘trying to act like a grieving father’ and that he sounds too composed as he speaks to the dispatcher.
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘The first thing here is his politeness. He repeatedly and calmly is able to call the dispatcher “ma’am”. Instead of insisting on help he is patient and polite. You would expect “I need an ambulance!” or something more urgent.
‘He does say please hurry but it is so low key. He doesn’t ask what he can do for them or anything pertaining to them. Essentially he calls 911, says his wife and son were shot, and they are not breathing.
‘That is very little information. He doesn’t say what he did or tried to do to resuscitate them. Lastly, he says he is leaving to go get a gun. He is going to leave them there!’
Dr Lieberman said: ‘His 911 call does not feel authentic. It seems like he is trying to act like what a grieving father and husband would sound like.
‘He’s trying to appear heartbroken. He knows they’re already dead, yet he wants to give the impression of needing 911 to send someone urgently – as if there’s a chance they could be saved.’
Alex ‘does a bad acting job’ as cops arrive at the murder scene and immediately starts laying out his alibi
When cops arrived at the hunting property they found Alex pacing around talking on the phone to one of his brothers.
One of the first things he tells Sergeant Daniel Greene is that he believes the shootings are connected to threats Paul received after his drunken boat crash.
At the time of the murders, Alex was being sued by the family of 19-year-old Mallory Beach who was killed when Paul plowed his boat into a pier in February 2019.
Both Dr McCutcheon and Dr Lieberman say he immediately starts talking about Paul’s accident to deflect attention away from himself.
Dr Lieberman says he is pretending to cry and his high pitched wailing is ‘a bad acting job of how he thinks a man should behave’ after finding his wife and son dead.
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘He is thinking about his next steps, not the condition of his family. Even in the most brutal murders, family members believe there is a chance their loved ones could still be alive.
‘Instead of being concerned with the life and death of his family he starts to lay out his alibi. This is very strange at this point and time. He says he was driving with Paul earlier (unnecessary information), he says he went to his mom’s for an hour and half and then victim blames by saying that Paul was involved in a boat crash and has received threats because of it. This is all highly unusual. Most people will be holding their breath just waiting to hear about their loved ones. He is very casual.’
He notes that the only occasion that Murdaugh appears agitated is when he mentions that he is going to have to inform Maggie’s family she has been killed.
‘The only time he gives a stress indicator is when he says he has to call her parents at around 4 minutes and 30 seconds. He touches his head. He strokes his hair back,’ Dr McCutcheon said.
‘Everybody has a stressor tell. Mine is that I stroke my head too. For example, if you told me I need a new water heater and it will cost 5,000 dollars, I will probably touch my head like he did because I am stressing about how to pay for it.’
He says that the ‘turns on the tears only for the phone call. Then they get turned right off.’
The expert says Murdaugh is overly polite to the officers, thanking them and apologizing for his crying multiple times.
But this is a ‘duping technique’ in a bid to garner sympathy, Dr McCutcheon believes.
He said: ‘The thinking is that if he can seem cooperative and appreciative, the police won’t think he is a suspect. He thanks them numerous times and apologizes after crying.
‘Why I think the real tears fell right at the beginning is because he didn’t apologize once he stopped crying.’
Dr Lieberman said: ‘Murdaugh seems to be doing a ‘bad acting’ job of how he thinks a man should behave after just discovering that this wife and son are dead. He puts on a high pitched hysterical tone to his voice and pretends to be crying.
‘He tells the story right away about Paul’s boating accident as a diversion to immediately shift the focus to families who are victims of the accident, and motivated to kill Paul. This is to deflect any suspicions from him.
‘He also keeps pretending that he doesn’t know that Paul and Maggie are dead. He asks about whether medical personnel have checked them and tended to them, as if holding out hope that they could be alive.
‘But, Murdaugh knows that they were killed in a vicious manner and that they couldn’t possibly still be alive. He’s simply pretending that he doesn’t know that because he’s not the killer.’
Legal heir is ‘all over the place’ in his first interview with cops and uses vague language to shield his alibi
Alex broke down in tears as he described finding Maggie and Paul’s mutilated bodies at the kennels in his first interview with detectives.
The 30-minute interview took place at 12.57am – about four hours after the killings – inside a state agent’s vehicle. Murdaugh’s personal lawyer Danny Henderson was also in the car.
‘I knew it was really bad,’ Murdaugh told them at the beginning before breaking down in tears. ‘I could see his brain,’ he added, referring to Paul.
Dr McCutcheon believes he is crying real tears when he was talking about Paul.
However Dr Lieberman argued he has ‘brief fits of what looks like crying’ and that the shock has begun to wear off.
‘He is not feeling regretful for what he did, but the magnitude of it is beginning to hit him,’ she said.
Dr Lieberman says he holds his hand over his crotch throughout the interview as a subconscious act of protecting himself because he is feeling vulnerable.
Both experts believe Alex uses deliberately vague language during this interview to avoid getting himself snared in the specifics of what actually happened.
Alex told the cops that he checked both his son and his wife’s bodies for pulses when he found them, despite his white t-shirt and shorts appearing clean.
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘I think he has some real tears in this one, but only at the beginning when he talks about his son Paul. We need to listen carefully to his language in this clip. When the police ask him what he did, he says he “touched” them.
‘If you saw a loved one shot, and you tried to help them, you would use a word that has more impact. “I grabbed him, I hugged him.”‘
Alex described to cops how he tried to roll Paul over and that when he did so, his son’s phone fell out of his pocket so he placed it on his back.
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘He also uses unnecessary language here. He says ‘I think…’ that means it didn’t happen. He is buffering the lie by using language like ‘I think’.
‘Now, imagine your child is shot with his brain matter visible and you talk about the cell phone! He doesn’t say he tried to revive him or hold him or anything like that. He says he touched him and he “thinks” he turned him over and his cell phone fell out. Then he says he “tried to do something with it”.
‘If your loved one is dying, would you be worried about the phone at that point? If he did indeed check a pulse he would have been covered in blood. That is not the case here.
‘When he says he called 911 he uses unnecessary language again, “Pretty much right away” he called. That is not the same as if he said “I called 911 right away”. This is a very big deception indicator.’
The expert said that an example would be if someone asked you to call them and then you rang them 15 minutes later. If that person asked why it took so long and you said ‘I called pretty much right away,’ that shows you did not call right away and were doing other things first.
Dr Lieberman said that Alex’s statements ‘are all over the place.’
‘It seems like he is making it up as he goes along, trying to figure out what the most appropriate thing to say is, and what is least likely to make him seem guilty,’ she said.
‘He’s very vague, saying, “It was bad,” not describing the gruesome scene. He keeps changing his story as to what he did and in what order, because he’s afraid to give himself away.’
She believes the ‘most interesting’ aspect of his body language is the position of his hand over his crotch.
‘He is feeling vulnerable and exposed, so he’s unconsciously trying to shield the most unprotected part of his body,’ Dr Lieberman said.
‘He has brief fits of what looks like crying, shivering and a little bit of mucus coming out of his nose. At this point, the shock is beginning to wear off. He is not feeling regretful for what he did, but the magnitude of it is beginning to hit him.’
Rocking back and forth in court, chewing and sobbing: The alleged killer’s most common common courtroom ticks
Throughout the trial, Alex has hunched forward at the defense table to sob, particularly during graphic evidence from the night of the killings.
He often rocks back and forth as he cries, which Dr Lieberman believes is a self-soothing action.
The legal scion has also been spotted chewing frequently when he appears under stress, which the M.D. says is a ‘sign of anxiety.
Dr Lieberman said that ‘in the courtroom Murdaugh has most often engaged in three types of body language:
‘Tears – The police and others made a point of saying that at the crime scene and afterwards, Murdaugh seemed to try to look like he was crying, but there were no tears. In the courtroom, however, he did have tears. This is because he was actually crying for himself, the gloomier his future looked.
‘Rocking back and forth – At times Murdaugh rocks back and forth in his seat. This is a self-soothing movement that he unconsciously resorts to when he’s feeling worried about his fate, such as when a damning piece of testimony or evidence is revealed.
‘Chewing – Murdaugh sometimes makes a chewing movement, as if he’s chewing gum. It’s more likely that he’s chewing the inside of his cheeks, as a sign of anxiety.’
Alex touches his face to calm himself during second police grilling and ‘blades his body’ away from cops to shield himself from questioning
Alex was interviewed by cops for a second time on June 10 – three days after Maggie and Paul were killed.
He sat with cops in their car and was accompanied by his attorney Jim Griffin.
The grilling was the subject of fierce courtroom debate as SLED agent Jeff Croft said Alex told cops ‘I did him so bad,’ in an apparent confession to killing Paul.
However, Alex’s defense hotly contested that interpretation – even playing the video at a third of the speed to jurors to claim he said: ‘They did him so bad’.
Dr McCutcheon said: ‘When he is in court watching his interview he makes two major errors. The police say “we know it is hard” and Murdaugh shakes his head “no”. He is telling us that it is not hard. Then when he hears the playback of “I did him so bad” he nods his head yes. This is confirming what he just said in the video.’
While in the car, the expert picked up on how Alex touches his face – an attempt to soothe himself – and how he turned his body away from the cops.
‘While he is in the car, he touches his eyes and face. This is a pacifying behavior. It resets our brain. This is before he starts to ‘cry’,’ Dr McCutcheon said.
‘The crying is interesting because he turns his body away from the interviewers. Many guilty will blade their body away as a way to unconsciously shield themselves from the questions.
‘When the officers tell him he saw something terrible, then he starts to cry. There are no tears and he makes an immediate recovery after five seconds.’
TIMELINE: NIGHT OF THE KILLINGS
Alex Murdaugh, 54, is accused of shooting his wife, Maggie, 52, and younger son Paul, 22, at the family’s hunting estate in Islandton, South Carolina, on the night of June 7, 2021.
Here are the key events in the timeline laid out by prosecutors:
At 7.56pm, Paul sent a Snapchat video to friends showing the 22-year-old riding around the estate with his father.
At 8.15pm, Murdaugh’s wife Maggie arrived home and the trio ate dinner together. Autopsies showed similar stomach contents in Maggie and Paul.
About 8.30pm, Paul’s phone starts moving towards the kennels.
Then at 8.44pm, a second video taken by Paul at the kennels – soon to become a murder scene – allegedly proves that Maggie, Paul and Alex were together.
At 8.49pm the prosecution say Paul’s phone locked and went silent forever, never to send another text or make another call.
Between 9pm and 9.30pm, Paul and Maggie were killed – according to the coroner.
At 9.06pm, Murdaugh’s car is fired up.
The alleged killer said he went to go visit his mother, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, in Almeda – around a 15-minute drive.
At 10.07pm, Murdaugh called 911 claiming he had arrived home a to find his wife and son shot dead.