In explosive court documents filed Wednesday, Connor Cook said that Alex Murdaugh pressured him to “keep his mouth shut” in the aftermath of the fatal boat crash that killed Mallory Beach in 2019.
Cook, who sustained a broken jaw in the crash, said that he was “scared” to tell investigators the truth — that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat on February 24, 2019 when Beach was killed.
Specifically, he said he was scared because of the Murdaugh family influence.
“I mean, just anything they get in, they get out of,” Cook said of the Murdaugh family. “I’ve always been told that.”
In July, attorneys representing Connor Cook dropped a petition alleging that law enforcement conspired to shift the focus of the investigation away from Murdaugh prior to him being ultimately charged with three felonies in connection with the crash.
On August 18, attorneys representing the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) filed shocking documents — including Cook’s entire deposition from the Mallory Beach lawsuit — requesting the court to reject the petition.
The pre-suit petition and accompanying documents allege that officers from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office possibly conspired to essentially frame Connor Cook as the driver of the boat.
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In new court documents filed this week, SCDNR officials call Cook’s petition “potentially frivolous.”
The documents were filed two months after Paul Murdaugh, 22, was found murdered with his mother Maggie Murdaugh, 52, on their hunting property in Colleton County, South Carolina.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony boating under the influence charges in connection with that crash.
On February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh allegedly crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat owned by his father, Alex Murdaugh, into a piling just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina. Cook was one of five survivors of that crash — and he was a suspect early in the investigation.
“A wide-ranging, discovery fishing expedition would not alter the fact that Connor Cook has suffered no damages,” SCDNR said in court documents.
SCDNR officials claim that Connor “lied early and often to investigators, refusing, even to this day, to provide a statement to SCDNR indicating he knew Paul Murdaugh was driving.”
However, Cook told attorneys in his January 2020 deposition that he didn’t cooperate with SCDNR during the investigation because that’s what Paul’s father Alex Murdaugh — the wealthy, well-known trial lawyer — told him to do.
‘Just Needed To Keep My Mouth Shut’
In deposition, Connor Cook said that Alex Murdaugh approached him while he was getting X-rays at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, just hours after Mallory Beach went missing in the horrific boat crash. This statement is supported by a nurse’s affidavit.
Connor Cook told attorneys that Alex Murdaugh told him “that everything was going to be all right” and that “I just needed to keep my mouth shut and tell them I didn’t know who was driving and he’s got me.”
Cook then told attorneys that Alex Murdaugh referred him to Cory Fleming — a longtime friend of the Murdaugh family who represented Gloria Satterfield‘s family in a wrongful death settlement against Alex Murdaugh in 2018.
Connor Cook said that on the night of the crash, Alex Murdaugh told him that Fleming “would be the best” lawyer to represent him in the investigation and Connor retained him as his lawyer for a period of time before he changed attorneys.
In deposition, Cook said that he was scared to tell SCDNR investigators the truth when they questioned him the night of the crash.
He said he was scared of the Murdaughs because of “who they are.”
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Three generations of Murdaughs all served as solicitors over a five-county region in the South Carolina Lowcountry from 1920-2006, enabling the family to amass hundreds of political, prosecutorial and law enforcement connections. The passengers on the boat were aware of this influence.
In deposition, Cook was asked if he knew of any other incidents that would make him concerned about the Murdaughs.
“There’s a couple of things that had happened in Hampton that I heard about,” Cook said.
Cook then told attorneys about rumors claiming that the Murdaughs were allegedly involved in two other deaths.
“Well, one was said that Paul had pushed his housemate down the stairs and she died and nothing ever happened,” Connor Cook said.
In 2018, 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield (mentioned above) died from a “trip and fall” in Hampton County, South Carolina. She was reportedly the Murdaugh’s housekeeper at the time of her death.
Alex Murdaugh was the only defendant listed in the settlement of her death. In that case, Murdaugh’s insurance provider paid $500,000 for personal liability in a wrongful death and $5,000 for medical payment from the accident, according to court document, which don’t state specifically how or where she died.
Fleming’s law firm — where Alex Murdaugh previously worked — received $177,500 of the total sum from Murdaugh’s insurance company, according to court documents. Judge Perry Buckner, a close friend of the Murdaugh family who spoke at Randolph Murdaugh’s Order of the Palmetto Ceremony, approved the settlement.
In deposition, Connor Cook didn’t seem to know details about either death when attorneys questioned him pushed him for more information.
“And another one, there was something that Paul was supposedly involved with a guy, got found beat up in the middle of the road that they got out of,” Cook said.
Here, Connor Cook is talking about Stephen Smith — a 19-year-old nursing student from Hampton, S.C. who was found dead in the middle of Sandy Run Road on July 8, 2015.
Like the probe of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, the 2015 investigation into Smith’s death was chaotic from the beginning — derailed by jurisdictional obscurity and suspicions of investigative interference.
The Murdaugh name was mentioned at least 40 times throughout the course of the investigation, but no suspects were ever officially named in the investigation.
Two weeks after Paul was found murdered, The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith. SLED opened the investigation “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
SLED has not said what information they found to open the case — which was previously in the hands of the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP). The case is still unsolved.
Cook was deposed in January 2020 — long before the Murdaugh name was plastered on magazine covers across the country.
In deposition, Connor Cook told attorneys he hadn’t hung out with Paul Murdaugh since the fatal boat crash. He said they were friends growing up, but mostly hunted together at Moselle, which is the property where Paul and Maggie were found murdered on June 7, 2021.
Connor said that alcohol was openly provided to minors in the walk-in deer cooler at Moselle, where the Murdaughs often hosted parties.
Obstruction of Justice?
While the criminal investigation of Paul Murdaugh ended with his death, authorities are now looking into obstruction of justice allegations involving his prominent family members, according to FITSNews sources and attorneys representing boat crash survivors.
In Connor’s deposition, he told attorneys that Paul called his grandfather on the way to the hospital and said that Connor was driving the boat.
Paul’s father, Alex Murdaugh, and grandfather, former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, appeared at the hospital ten minutes after Paul Murdaugh, according to witness statements.
According to witnesses, Alex Murdaugh appeared to be more concerned with “orchestrating” a plan in the criminal investigation than he was about finding Mallory Beach.
Alex Murdaugh was a volunteer solicitor who reportedly carries a badge issued by the the solicitor (South Carolina’s version of a district attorney) at the time.
A security guard overheard Paul’s father on the phone saying “she’s gone, don’t worry about her” — when Mallory had only been missing for a few hours, according to the SCDNR file.
Austin Pritcher — one of the SCDNR officers accused of manipulating his reports to favor Paul Murdaugh — only offered Connor Cook a field sobriety test that night. He wrote in his report that he was instructed to get a field sobriety test from only one person that night: Connor Cook.
However, the lead investigator Michael Brock — who is also accused in the alleged conspiracy — wrote in his report that he told Pritcher to give field sobriety tests to both Cook and Paul Murdaugh.
Later in deposition, Pritcher said that he offered Connor Cook a field sobriety test because he was starting to “zero in” on him as the main suspect. Connor Cook refused to take the test and Pritcher “filled the sheet out for refusal.”
Paul Murdaugh was never offered a field sobriety test — so no such document exists for him.
SCDNR never sought a warrant to compel the hospital to draw Paul’s blood that night, but the hospital did anyway because he was perceived as behaving so erratically. The doctor said that no drugs were found in Paul’s system.
SCDNR spokesperson David Lucas told FITSNews that Paul Murdaugh’s blood at 4 a.m. February 24, 2019 “indicated an ethanol level of 286.1 mg/dL in serum.” According to the Mayo Clinic, that would mean he was 3.5 times over the legal limit to drive almost two hours after the crash.
According to the SCDNR investigation files, two of the boat crash survivors told authorities that they were afraid of the Murdaughs and assumed that they were working on a coverup.
Paul’s girlfriend told her nurse at Beaufort Memorial Hospital on the night of the crash that Paul and his drinking habits “almost killed them in a vehicle accident before while he was intoxicated.”
She didn’t mention details, but said they were in his truck.
When Anthony Cook, Mallory Beach’s boyfriend and Connor Cook’s cousin, spoke with SCDNR officers after the crash he “made several comments about the Murdaughs being able to get away with things in the past and that is why he and his cousin do not think anything will happen if Connor talks to law enforcement.”
During Connor’s deposition, the attorney said “Paul Murdaugh may have had some other accidents that were alcohol-involved.”
Connor said he heard “rumors and stuff” about these alleged alcohol-fueled accidents.
“I heard he wrecked his truck a few times because of alcohol, but I never witnessed it with my own eyes,” Connor said.
‘The Murdaughs are out to pin it on him’
In August, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office released hours of dashcam video from the scene at tragic Archer’s Creek Bridge on February 24, 2019.
The videos show Anthony Cook was clear with law enforcement from the very beginning that his cousin Connor was not driving the boat at the time of the crash.
Particularly, Anthony Cook told Austin Pritcher — one of the SCDNR officers accused of manipulating his reports to favor Paul Murdaugh — that Paul was driving moments before the craft crashed into a piling.
“Who was driving the boat?” Pritcher asked.
“(When) I grabbed my girlfriend and got down to the bottom of the boat, Paul was driving,” Anthony said.
“Paul was driving?” Pritcher asked.
“Yes, sir,” Anthony responded.
Pritcher did not write that in his SCDNR report, however.
Instead, he wrote that Anthony “did not know” who was driving the boat.
Pritcher wrote in his report that other officers who arrived on scene “thought it was Connor Cook or Paul Murdaugh” driving the boat — yet in all of the police reports, there is no evidence of any witnesses on scene telling law enforcement that Connor was driving.
The exchange between law enforcement and “Keith” Anthony Cook (shown on video below) is one of the only recorded statements from witnesses in the case.
Because of the initial confusion in the investigation, it took two months for authorities to charge Paul with three felony counts of boating under the influence. Unlike the vast majority of felony BUI cases, Paul Murdaugh never set foot in a jail cell. At the time of his death, he was facing 25 years in prison for the charges.
Anthony told SCDNR several days after the accident that “Connor was not driving the boat” and said that his cousin Connor was scared because “the Murdaughs are out to pin it on him.”
In deposition, Connor Cook told attorneys several times that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat when Mallory Beach was killed.
“I mean, we all knew I wasn’t driving,” he said.
That night, Paul Murdaugh and five of his college-age friends, crammed into Alex Murdaugh’s 17-foot boat, were on their way back from an oyster roast on Paukie Island.
After the oyster roast, the crew headed to downtown Beaufort where Paul and Connor both ordered two rounds of shots at Luther’s Rare and Well Done.
After leaving downtown Beaufort, Paul’s behavior worsened and he started arguing with his girlfriend, according to witness statements.
Murdaugh then pushed, spit on, and slapped his then-girlfriend in the face, according to multiple depositions.
In deposition, Connor said Paul “was pissed and everybody was ready to get home, so he hauled ass” in the final moments leading up to the crash.
“Did anybody ever tell Paul to stop the boat and take them to the dock to get off?” an attorney asked Connor.
“Yes, sir,” Connor said. “Anthony and Mallory.”
“What did Paul say?” the attorney asked.
“That it would be all right. We (were) fixing to make it home,” Connor said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative 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. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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