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Ashleigh Banfield is the host of ‘Banfield’ which airs weeknights at 10pm ET on NewsNation 

It was the cell phone of Paul, Alex Murdaugh’s murdered son, that exposed the smoldering deceit that his father had been telling for a year and a half.

Alex, a 54-year-old disgraced attorney, had claimed he was nowhere near his doomed wife, Maggie, 52, and child, Paul, 22, when they were brutally gunned down on their sprawling, low country South Carolina estate in June of 2021.

And ever since that fateful night, Alex maintained, to anyone who would listen, that he was at the main house napping and had no idea of the horrors that were playing out 1,100 feet away outside the family’s kennels.

But it was the dumbest, most damaging lie that he could have ever told.

Because a chance video that Paul filmed of one of the dogs inside the kennels, featured the high-pitched, yet haunting, voice of Alex Murdaugh in the background.

If there’s one thing the Alex Murdaugh murder trial has taught us, it’s that star witnesses are lurking in almost everyone’s back pocket.

In the video, Alex could be heard kibbitzing with Maggie about a chicken on the property. And it proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Alex was there, at the kennels, just minutes before his family was annihilated.

So clear and convincing was the electronic evidence presented to the court that even Alex had to reverse course on the witness stand and concede, after 20 months, that it was, indeed, his voice on the tape.

If there's one thing the Alex Murdaugh murder trial has taught us, it's that star witnesses are lurking in almost everyone's back pocket.

If there’s one thing the Alex Murdaugh murder trial has taught us, it’s that star witnesses are lurking in almost everyone’s back pocket.

The mountain of electronic data that was paraded through this South Carolina courtroom most certainly helped sealed Alex's fate.

The mountain of electronic data that was paraded through this South Carolina courtroom most certainly helped sealed Alex’s fate.

A deliberating juror told Good Morning America that was the moment – right then and there – that he decided Alex was guilty.

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But that wasn’t the only electronic data that proved critical in putting Alex Murdaugh behind bars for the rest of his life.

The mountain of electronic data that was paraded through this South Carolina courtroom most certainly helped sealed Alex’s fate. And it is this type of data that nearly every one of us carries as we go about our daily lives.

It was jaw-dropping to learn during this trial that a simple cell phone will record, for posterity, nearly every instance of its own movement when the device’s backlight is activated.

There’s also a record made of every change from portrait mode to landscape mode when a phone is lifted to the face.

We all know it happens. We just didn’t know that all those movements are tucked away, in a tiny memory vault located deep inside the device.

And so, when experts testified about Maggie’s phone moving after her death, it gave us a striking glimpse into what might have been going on.

The expert testimony suggested Alex was holding her phone in one hand and his phone in the other, while calling her to leave a phony alibi message.

As a former attorney, he may have been trying to fool future investigators into thinking that he was calling her from the main house to tell her that he was off to visit his aging mom.

But when dead Maggie’s phone was lifted, the screen changed from landscape to portrait. One could almost picture Alex fumbling the phones in his hands.

The problem for Alex was that Maggie’s phone recorded the movement two seconds before Alex’s call came in. It certainly appeared that he was watching her phone to confirm that his call was received.

Also jarring, was the realization that the phone will log every step you take, even if you’re not hooked up to a fitness app and tracking them.

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Alex’s lie, that he was sleeping while his family was being slaughtered, was defenestrated by the frantic 283 steps captured by the electronic spy in his pocket.

Alex, a 54-year-old disgraced attorney, had claimed he was nowhere near his doomed wife, Maggie, 52, (center) and child, Paul, 22, (second from right) when they were brutally gunned down on their sprawling, low country South Carolina estate in June of 2021.

Alex, a 54-year-old disgraced attorney, had claimed he was nowhere near his doomed wife, Maggie, 52, (center) and child, Paul, 22, (second from right) when they were brutally gunned down on their sprawling, low country South Carolina estate in June of 2021.

So clear and convincing was the electronic evidence presented to the court that even Alex had to reverse course on the witness stand and concede, after 20 months, that it was, indeed, his voice on the tape.

So clear and convincing was the electronic evidence presented to the court that even Alex had to reverse course on the witness stand and concede, after 20 months, that it was, indeed, his voice on the tape. 

And dead Maggie’s phone also seemed to be recording his steps. That data was consistent with the prosecution’s claim that Alex hurriedly hosed himself off and washed away any blood evidence after shooting his loved ones.w

When the smartphone connects to the Bluetooth of a vehicle, another tiny digital witness is born, becoming another window into criminal behavior.

Alex’s suburban recorded his 80-mile per hour dash through dark and winding country roads, something he assumed he was doing in secret.

When his GMC slowed, precisely at the location where Maggie’s phone was found flung out into the woods, it was hard to believe that he hadn’t done it.

Finally, an innocent snapchat video that Paul recorded less than an hour before the killings, which showed his dad fussing with an obstinate sapling that had just been planted, provided yet another clue.

The clothes Alex was wearing in the video were not the clothes he had on when he claimed to ‘discover’ his dead family just hours later. And no one could find the button-down and the chinos that he was wearing in the video.

Surprisingly, the only electronic spies that weren’t featured in this trial are now almost standard evidence in most other courtrooms – doorbell cameras.

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There wasn’t one operating at the main house, and there certainly wasn’t one down by the kennels.

Normally, those cameras are everywhere else, keeping track of every drive, walk, or other innocent (or sinister) move.

A veritable network of neighborhood cameras provided the genesis of the investigation into Bryan Kohberger and his White Elantra. The images of Kohberger’s car eventually lead to his arrest.

Before joining NewsNation, author and host Ashleigh Banfield, served as a legal analyst and host for Court TV, anchor for 'Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield' on CNN, and a correspondent for ABC News, among other roles.

Before joining NewsNation, author and host Ashleigh Banfield, served as a legal analyst and host for Court TV, anchor for ‘Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield’ on CNN, and a correspondent for ABC News, among other roles.

His vehicle was captured speeding through a neighborhood in Moscow, Idaho around 4:00am, which is the approximate time that four innocent University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in their own home.

This proliferation of electronic witnesses and their increasing importance in American jurisprudence cannot be understated.

The human eyes of decent, law-abiding citizens cannot peer into all the dark corners where criminal behavior festers, but these electronic eyes are a powerful and pervasive substitute.

Electronic and video data have become the most important criminal investigation tools since fingerprinting, black and white photography, and DNA became ubiquitous in court.

So the next time someone bloviates that ‘it’s just a circumstantial case,’ it’s good to note that this kind of evidence is circumstantial evidence, and it’s downright compelling, because it has the power to remove all reasonable doubt.

Increasingly, it can be considered even more powerful than direct evidence, as we learn more and more of the fallibility of eyewitness accounts.

There’s no doubt that phones and gadgets have become essential to modern life.

Now, as it turns out, they’ve become essential tools for avenging death. 

Ashleigh Banfield is the host of ‘Banfield’ which airs weeknights at 10pm ET on NewsNation. Click here to find NewsNation in your area.  

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