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More Than 100 Pages Of Documents Released In Lawsuit Against Powerful SC Family

The case could stay in the county known as a ‘judicial hell hole.’

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Beaufort Boat Crash

It’s been a year since 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed in a fatal Beaufort County boat crash involving one of the most powerful families in the South Carolina, and recently filed documents shed some light on what’s happening in the tragic case that has captivated the Palmetto State for the last year. 

One year after Richard Alexander Murdaugh‘s boat crashed into a piling outside of Parris Island, allegedly driven by an intoxicated Paul Murdaugh, more than 100 pages of documents from attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit were filed this week. Each document tells us more about evidence in case, a timeline in the civil case and the importance of location if it goes to trial.

The lawsuit, filed by Mallory’s mother Renee Beach in March, accuses Parker’s 55 Gas Station in Ridgeland of selling alcohol to Paul Murdaugh and another boater — who were both under the age of 21 — in the early evening hours of Feb. 23, 2019. Witness statements have said Paul, appearing underage, used an ID that should have been flagged by the cashier before the transaction.

Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony BUIs in the crash, but he was not named in the lawsuit — a move that was widely criticized. Instead, the lawsuit blames Parker’s Corporation, Richard Alexander Murdaugh, and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. — Paul’s father and brother —  for Beach’s wrongful death. 

In response to Parker’s requests in early January for a change of venue from Hampton County — a place that has been called  “a judicial hell hole” — back to where the lawsuit was originally filed in Beaufort County, Beach’s attorney Mark Tinsley filed a request accompanied with several affidavits asking for the trial to stay in Hampton County. 

Attorneys representing Paul’s father and brother have not filed anything in the case since July, but records don’t show any evidence of them settling in the case. 

Meanwhile, Beach’s attorney Mark Tinsley and Parker’s attorneys have been going at it — filing motion after motion, affidavits, and responses — mostly since the beginning of January when the gas station company brought on an additional attorney in the case.

Richard Alexander Murdaugh, who owns the boat in the crash, was accused in the lawsuit of failing to supervise his son when he knew or should have known his son was illegally using a license to buy and consume alcohol.”

Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. was accused of  allowing his younger brother (Paul) to use his driver’s license to purchase alcohol at Parker’s gas station. The alcohol was later shared with the five other boaters, according to the suit. 

Because of Paul Murdaugh’s powerful family ties, two judges asked to be recused from the case and requested the Chief Justice assign the case to someone else. Paul’s grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather all served as solicitors of the 14th judicial circuit from 1920-2006. 

Paul Murdaugh

Because the lawsuit is so focused on the alcohol sale that took place in several hours before the crash around 2:30 a.m Feb. 24, the new documents don’t reveal a lot about the criminal case against Paul Murdaugh, nor do they shed much light on evidence of the crash itself.

Murdaugh is expected to testify in the civil case, according to court records.

In the motion to compel, attorneys representing Parker’s used sharp language when describing what happened in the hours leading up to Mallory Beach’s death. Twice, they mentioned how this was not the first time 19-year-old Murdaugh had used a fake ID and drank alcohol illegally. Instances, which could be important in the criminal case against Murdaugh.

Though he faces three felony BUI charges, Murdaugh does not have to wear any sort of alcohol-monitoring device while out on bond. The BUI charges were not Murdaugh’s first brush with the law in Beaufort County. In 2017, he was charged with “purchase or possession of beer or wine by a minor,” according to court records. This charge was dismissed after his father and another attorney represented him and he completed an alcohol diversion program in 2018. This history has never been mentioned in the criminal case against Paul Murdaugh – another move that was widely criticized.

In the motion, Parker’s attorneys said that Paul Murdaugh had used his older brother’s ID “at a myriad of bars, restaurants and similar establishments” before the transaction in question around 5:30 p.m. Feb. 23, 2019. They referred to this as a “plan of deceit” by the brothers and said their representative was “hoodwinked by this deception.”

“After the purchase, Paul Murdaugh then made his way to a river house owned by a family trust that was made available to him with no adult supervision, where he then proceeded to drink alcoholic beverages,” the response letter said.

This was mentioned in the original lawsuit that also named Paul’s grandfather Randolph Murdaugh — who served as the 14th circuit solicitor for almost two decades — as a defendant. Randolph Murdaugh was previously accused of allowing the boaters, who were all under the age of 21, drink alcohol “available for consumption” at his property. Randolph Murdaugh was dropped from the lawsuit last summer.

“After spending time at the river house, Paul Murdaugh then gathered his friends to embark on an evening boat ride despite the thick fog, low visibility and the lack of minimal safety equipment utilized on the boat,” Parker’s attorneys said in the motion to compel.

Emergency responders said multiple times over dispatch that the heavy fog made it difficult to see in Archer’s Creek later that night. None of the boaters were wearing life jackets.

“All the passengers completely disregarded the obvious dangers in this plan and proceeded with it anyway,” the motion said. “Paul Murdaugh became intoxicated that evening as he had on many other occasions and, after drinking at several different locations in the presence of adults, was involved in a boating accident.”

All six boaters were ejected during the crash, according to police reports. When emergency responders arrived on scene, they said all five boaters were “grossly intoxicated.”

Beach’s body was missing body for a week before she was found in a marsh five miles from the crash.

New Information

This week, dozens of depositions, affidavits, and motions were filed mostly by Beach’s attorney Mark Tinsley. In them, we’ve learned some new information on the the alcohol sale at Parker’s that day:

  • A witness remembered seeing Paul Murdaugh purchasing different sorts of alcohol at Parker’s (as corroborated by video tape). He remembered that Murdaugh looked “too young to be drinking.” He said the cashier appeared to have glanced at his license but didn’t take the time to check the psychical characteristics or question him. He said he remembered saying something like “Y’all be careful tonight.”
  • A Lexington, South Carolina woman will be testifying in the case saying that Parker’s “was a well-known establishment” for kids under 21 buying booze.
  • The cashier who sold the White Claw, Natural Light, and Michelob Ultra, to Paul Murdaugh “knew of his family” and them “having a law firm.”
  • Another boat passenger used a fake ID she got from “ID God” online to purchase alcohol at Parker’s that day.
  • In deposition, the Parker’s cashier who sold alcohol to Paul Murdaugh did not appear to be familiar with policies related to alcohol sales.

In 2016, Parker’s faced a similar lawsuit about its alcohol sales and procedures in Beaufort County. A Hilton Head man was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver who purchased alcohol at Parker’s before the crash. Parker’s reached a settlement with the man’s family, paying them $39,407 in 2018.

The above screenshot shows Paul Murdaugh buying alcohol around 5:30 p.m. Feb. 23.

On Friday, attorney Mark Tinsley filed a motion to compel in response to Parker’s letter, claiming “Parker’s is fighting to keep relevant evidence and information or information reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence sought by this motion hidden from the real victims, the people harmed by Parker’s wrongful conduct.”

He said Parker’s system “for identifying underage buyers of alcohol is broken and does not work.”

Tinsley has previously accused Parker’s of withholding evidence in the discovery process, which has stalled the case.

The parties in the case were not able to meet the Jan. 23 deadline, and now mediation is scheduled for April 6.

“Judicial Hell Hole

Citing emotional distress in going to Beaufort County where Mallory Beach was killed, six members of her family filed affidavits asking for the case to stay in Hampton County where they live. A witness also filed an affidavit asking for the case to be in Hampton County.

This is in response to Parker’s attorneys’ motion to transfer venue to Beaufort County on the grounds it “would promote convenience of the witnesses and ends of justice.” Parker’s then filed five witness affidavits supporting the change of venue.

While the recently filed affidavits accompanying the motion for a change of venue show geographic reasons for the trial to move, historical context gives a better insight for why Parker’s would want to change the venue —and perhaps why this case has sparked so much interest. 

A 2004 report by the American Tort Reform Foundation named Hampton County the No. 3 Judicial Hell Hole in the U.S.

While this report is dated, many of the problems and the names in the report still exist in Hampton County today and play relevant in the case. Specifically, the report named both the Murdaugh Law Firm and Beach’s lawyer, Mark Tinsley. 

For years, South Carolina law allowed plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits against businesses “virtually in any county in the state” — specifically wherever the corporate defendant does business or owns property. 

Because of Hampton County’s longtime reputation of siding with plaintiffs and rewarding unusually high for damages, a large amount of plaintiffs went to Hampton County to file their lawsuits, the report said.

In one year, more than 67 percent of the county’s lawsuits were filed by residents from other counties and 41 percent of the cases involved incidents that didn’t occur in Hampton County, the report said.

According to the report, one law firm “brings a majority of the major suits in Hampton County,” — and that is Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Elzroth & Detrick.

The report listed “intimidation through use of subpoenas” as one of the reasons why Hampton was a Judicial Hell Hole. 

The attorney named in the example of this? Mark Tinsley, Beach’s lawyer.

The report also said the “litigation climate” hurt the economy in Hampton County by scarring away businesses. In the early 2000s, Walmart considered opening a store in Hampton County, but decided against it after “a lawyer reportedly warned company executives that locating a store there could place the retailer’s entire South Carolina operation at risk. 

Still today, Hampton remains one of the few counties in South Carolina without a Walmart. It’s one of the poorest counties in the Palmetto State with a medium household income of $32,147 and a declining population.

There are three ongoing cases associated with the boat crash — Beach’s lawsuit, a federal lawsuit filed by an insurance company against the Murdaughs over claims from the civil suit, and the criminal case against Paul Murdaugh.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the criminal case. Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, who is also a state senator and one of the most prominent lawyers in South Carolina, along with Jim Griffin are representing Murdaugh in the criminal case.

A trial date has not been set in Murdaugh’s criminal case, Robert Kittle of the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office told FITSNews.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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