Judge still deciding if Murdaugh jury will hear about alleged financial crimes
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The judge presiding over the Alex Murdaugh murder trial is allowing testimony on Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, but so far, not with the jury present.
Murdaugh, 54, is charged with killing his 52-year-old wife, Maggie; and their 22-year-old son, Paul, at the family’s hunting property in rural Colleton County on June 7, 2021. Along with the two murder charges, Murdaugh faces about 100 more counts with most of the charges coming before his murder indictment in July 2022.
Judge Clifton Newman listened to testimony from witnesses on Murdaugh’s alleged crimes without the jury present while he considered whether the jury would subsequently be allowed to hear the witnesses.
Prosecutors argue that the accusations, which range from money laundering to stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, tax evasion and a plot to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy, are key to their case.
To make its case, the prosecution called Jeannie Seckinger, the chief financial officer for the former Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick law firm, which now operates under a different name, the Parker Law Group LLP.
Murdaugh worked for PMPED and eventually resigned from the firm in September 2021.
Seckinger testified that she was able to confirm Murdaugh stole millions from both his clients and the firm for at least six years and it was on the company to pay it all back.
The state provided receipt after receipt of money being diverted through Murdaugh’s account that mimicked the one the firm used called “Forge” including for his best friend, Chris Wilson.
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh about the $792,000 that was unaccounted for the same day as the murders.
The timing matters, she said, because they backed off after the murders and then again after the Labor Day shooting of Murdaugh, which the state argues were both manufactured distractions.
“You know, nobody knew what to think, a lot of thoughts went through but fear went through,” Seckinger said. “Was this retaliation? Was he involved in something bigger that was going to get us more in trouble?”
If Newman rules that the jury can hear the evidence of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, Seckinger is expected to be called to testify again, this time before the jurors.
Newman also heard testimony from Murdaugh’s best friend, Chris Wilson.
Wilson tried the cases with Murdaugh that resulted in the missing $792,000.
In testimony that got emotional at times, Wilson told prosecutor Creighton Waters that Murdaugh has been his best friend.
Waters asked Wilson if he still felt that way about Murdaugh.
“I don’t know how I feel now, Mr. Waters,” Wilson said.
Wilson testified Murdaugh indicated the fees from the case they tried together were going to be put into an annuity and Murdaugh’s firm had been informed of the decision.
Wilson said he trusted Alex and it didn’t raise any red flags with him.
“I always thought he made a lot of money,” Wilson said.
Wilson would become emotional when asked about visiting Murdaugh after the killings.
Wilson broke down crying on the stand and Murdaugh could be seen at the defense table rocking back and forth and looking down.
Wilson testified that Murdaugh approached him about the $792,000 and said he couldn’t structure the money the way he intended and would have to pass it through Wilson’s trust account to pay Murdaugh’s law firm.
Murdaugh would send Wilson $600,000 and Wilson would front the other $192,000 because it was his trust, Wilson testified.
Wilson said the $192,000 that Murdaugh owed him had been discussed a few times with Wilson making Murdaugh sign a promissory note on Aug. 17, 2021, for repayment in 60 days.
Wilson said he was informed of the trouble with Murdaugh at the law firm by Lee Cope and called Murdaugh to meet with him in person.
The two would meet at Murdaugh’s parents’ house in Almeda on Sept. 4, 2021, just hours before Murdaugh’s failed alleged insurance scheme.
Wilson said they never fought during the meeting.
Wilson said he was told Murdaugh was shot while he was on his way home. He said he didn’t turn around to go see him or try to contact him.
After Wilson’s testimony, Newman asked Waters about the remaining financial witnesses.
Waters says the state has witnesses to speak on Murdaugh’s financial situation on the night of the killings and they have a witness to speak on the boat crash.
Waters described Murdaugh as burning through cash leading up to the killings.
“He constantly had to achieve more money to avoid the reckoning that was happening,” Waters said.
The state has contended that the murders were to be used as a distraction from Murdaugh’s financial troubles.
“It’s about the fear of what was about to be exposed,” Waters said.
Waters compared the killings to the Sept. 4 shooting saying they mirrored each other.
“When the hounds are at the door,” Waters said. “When Hannibal’s at the gates for Alex Murdaugh, violence happens.”
Defense attorney Jim Griffin said what was heard in court Thursday was that Murdaugh would borrow money from the firm all the time and pay it back. Griffin says the murder of Maggie Murdaugh caused the delay in refinancing the Edisto property and no logical connection exists between the murders and the finances.
Griffin said there was no financial gain for Murdaugh in killing his wife and son.
Newman will hear testimony Friday morning from the banking witnesses to determine if their testimony will be admitted. The decision on evidence from the boat crash will be made when the witness is available.
Murdaugh has denied any responsibility in the killings.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.