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Murdaugh Murders: Prosecutor With Major Conflicts of Interest Still Not Stepping Away Despite Concerns

The solicitor previously said prosecutors with a conflict of interest can’t be objective…

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Seven days after Paul Murdaugh and his mother Maggie Murdaugh were found murdered in Colleton County, S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone has still not recused himself and his office from this high-profile investigation — and sources close to the situation are growing concerned by his continued involvement with the case considering his many conflicts of interest.

On Thursday, FITSNews was the first media outlet to report on Stone’s conflict of interest in the case. In that article, our founding editor Will Folks urged for the top prosecutor to recuse himself.

Stone still hasn’t done that, though — and it’s mind-boggling to law enforcement sources who spoke to FITSNews.

Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed sometime between 9:00-9:30 p.m. EDT on June 7 at the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property near Islandton, S.C. (known locally as “Moselle”), according to the coroner’s autopsy report first published today by the (Hilton Head Island S.C.) Island Packet newspaper.

 R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh – Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father – allegedly called 9-1-1 at around 10:00 p.m. EDT to report that he had just discovered the bodies.

While very little information has been released about the murders, law enforcement sources have told FITSNews that Paul Murdaugh was killed by two shotgun blasts – one to the chest and another through the arm and head. Maggie Murdaugh died of multiple gun shot wounds by a semi-automatic rife. They were reportedly found near the dog kennels on the property, although FITSNews sources have since confirmed that the family’s dogs were not killed during the incident (one of the many rumors swirling around this story).

The Murdaugh murders have sent shockwaves throughout South Carolina given the family’s power and history in the Lowcountry. Three generations of Murdaughs served as the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit solicitor from 1920 through 2006 — and the family exerted additional influence via the powerful law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED).

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mallory beach

RELATED | Unanswered Questions About Multiple Suspicious Deaths Connected To Murdaugh Family

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In South Carolina, the solicitor is an elected position not unlike a district attorney who is typically in charge of prosecution in a multiple-county region. The S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit, for instance, covers five counties — including Hampton County (where the Murdaughs are from), Colleton County (where the Moselle murders occurred), and Beaufort County (where a 2019 boat crash that figures prominently in this narrative took place).

On February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh was allegedly intoxicated when he crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat into a piling near the Archer’s Creek bridge just north of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island. That crash killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.

In the 2019 boat crash, fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone recused himself the day after the crash. South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson’s office prosecuted that case — charging Paul Murdaugh with three felony counts of boating under the influence. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to those charges and was awaiting his day in court at the time of his death.

So why has Stone still not recused himself in the Murdaugh murders?

Stone has so many indisputable conflicts of interest in this case, including:

  • Alex Murdaugh – who has been identified as a person of interest by our sources on this case – assists Stone’s office on certain cases and reportedly carries a badge issued by the the solicitor.
  • In 2006, Stone took over as solicitor for Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather Randolph Murdaugh III (who died of cancer last week) with support from the Murdaugh dynasty.
  • In 2016, for example, Maggie Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh, and Randolph Murdaugh all donated a total of $2,500 to Stone’s solicitor campaign, according to financial records.
  • Stone’s federal prosecutor Carra Henderson is related to Danny Henderson, who works at the Murdaugh law firm.
  • Two of the boat crash survivors are related to a person who works at Stone’s office.

In fact, Stone himself, speaking as president of the National District Attorneys Association, has urged other prosecutors with conflicts of interest to recuse themselves from cases.

“A prosecutor’s job is to objectively find the truth,” Stone said in a 2020 press release. “If a prosecutor has a conflict of interest, then he or she cannot objectively analyze the facts and the law. A prosecutor with a conflict of interest should not provide advice to law enforcement or to other prosecutors on whether or not there is a probable cause for arrest. Nor should a prosecutor give a lengthy analysis of the facts and the law that may prejudice a case in a court of law or in the court of public opinion.”

The statement from Stone is especially interesting considering that our sources have said that Stone was active in assisting SLED with the ongoing investigation — going so far as to suggest which leads they should pursue.

In fact, a recent report by The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier included pictures of Stone’s investigators chatting with a member of the Murdaugh family at the crime scene.

While a Post and Courier reporter (who wrote a whole story about Stone’s ‘ethical conundrum‘) failed to make that connection, FITSNews did. We confirmed that Dylan Hightower, Donnie Hutto and JoJo Woodward — all of whom work for the solicitor’s office — were conversing with John Marvin Murdaugh at the Moselle property in the aftermath of the murders.

See the below tweet for the photo….

Law enforcement source told FITSNews they were baffled by Stone’s involvement in the case. Typically, solicitor’s office investigators are not called to a crime scene unless their presence is requested for a very specific purpose.

The solicitor might be able to cite reasonable examples of when it is appropriate for him to be directly involved in the investigation of a crime, but it is hard to imagine any example he can provide that would explain those pictures. 

Why do we believe Stone’s recusal in this case is so important? Again, because of his own words regarding “objectivity” — and his prior example in the boat crash case.

As we have previously reported the 2019 boat crash investigation was clouded by jurisdictional confusion and suspicions of investigative interference from the very beginning. Specifically, sources recently told FITNews there is reportedly “credible evidence” showing obstruction of justice in that inquiry – allegations which are currently the focus of a separate investigation.

While no one has publicly suggested that Stone has attempted to steer the investigation in a direction favorable to the Murdaughs, why did Stone willingly risk the integrity of this investigation?

Why is he risking his own integrity by not recusing himself?

Why is he taking so long to step away from a case in which his conflicts of interest are so widely known?

If Stone — who has a six-year backlog of cases — has a specific reason for not recusing himself almost a week after the investigation, he should share that reason with the public. As of this writing, the 14th circuit solicitor’s office has refused to answer the media’s questions on this matter — which only adds to our concerns.

FITSNews continues to stay on top of every angle of this case as the investigation moves forward. Stay tuned for much more in the days to come.

This is a news analysis by Mandy Matney of FITSNews. Matney has been covering the Murdaugh case since the morning of the crash on Feb. 24, 2019.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR..

Mandy Matney

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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