The freelance reporter who denied buying confidential court files for her upcoming documentary on the Murdaugh family has produced a three-minute trailer for the series that heavily features footage from the very same material she denies purchasing.
The footage in question appears to have been taken from a mediation video prepared by Allendale-based attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the estate of Mallory Beach in a wrongful death suit against disgraced Hampton county attorney Alex Murdaugh, Alex’s adult son Buster Murdaugh and Gregory M. Parker, the CEO of Parker’s Kitchen gas stations and convenience stores.
The trailer also includes multiple graphic photos of 19-year-old Beach taken in March 2019 when her body was found in a Beaufort County marsh one week after being thrown from a boat driven by the now-deceased Paul Murdaugh.
Those photos are ones that only the parties in the lawsuit have access to and have never been made public by law enforcement.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tinsley filed a motion at the Hampton County Courthouse accusing Parker and his representatives of violating South Carolina Alternative Dispute Resolution’s rules on confidentiality by providing the materials to the reporter, Vicky Ward.
Ward — perhaps best known for her starry-eyed treatment of Jeffrey Epstein in a 2003 “Vanity Fair” profile and the resounding thumbs-down she later received as a journalist from his victims who were “horrified” by how she treated them — was subpoenaed in late September by Tinsley to testify in a deposition about what materials she had purchased and from whom.
After Ward’s attorney invoked the “shield law” in refusing to be deposed, Ward provided FITSNews with this statement:
“The allegation that I bought anything is false. I had a very pleasant meeting with Mark Tinsley but there were obviously some crossed wires in our conversation which he may have misinterpreted. I never bought anything from anyone for journalistic purposes and I never would. I am deeply sorry he got that impression.”
In his motion Tuesday, Tinsley says that around Sept. 14, 2021, Ward told him that she had “purchased portions of what she called ‘the Beach case file’ and that the same came from ‘Parker and his law firm’ of ‘Baker Hostetler‘ but that she felt ‘they were slimy,’ they ‘had an agenda’ and that she ‘has nothing to do with them’ other than she received ‘their stuff.'”
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In the court document, Tinsley pointed out that Ward seems to have been provided with select information from mediation.
“Ms. Ward further confirmed that she had a copy of the Plaintiff’s mediation presentation video among other materials related to the case,” Tinsley wrote. “However, she had not received any of the depositions of the Parker’s employees or any of the policies produced by Parker’s.”
Referencing a motion filed by Parker’s attorney a year ago in which they sought to “use” the mediation video to assert their own arguments for a venue change, Tinsley said Tuesday:
“Sort of begs the question what use were they going to put it to. Now we know. They were going to use it to intimidate the plaintiff — the family. To harass them and in the most unconscionable manner imaginable inflict emotional distress on them by publishing those photos.”
Tinsley’s motion asks Parker and his representatives to show the court why they should not be sanctioned or held in contempt of court. The motion is set to be heard at 10 a.m. Dec. 10, 2021, at the Moss Justice Center in York.
The wrongful death lawsuit against the Murdaughs and Parker was filed shortly after the fatal Feb. 24, 2019, boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh, then 19, and five of his friends, including Mallory Beach, all of whom were under the legal drinking age at the time.
The suit accuses Alex Murdaugh of entrusting the boat to Paul despite knowing about Paul’s habitually excessive drinking, Buster of procuring a state-issued ID for Paul to use to purchase alcohol and Parker’s of allowing the sale of alcohol to minors as a result of persistent negligence in their business practices.
Four additional defendants — Paul’s grandfather and former 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor, Randolph Murdaugh III, the Murdaugh Family Trust, Luther’s Rare and Well Done and the Wood Family — were dropped from the lawsuit in 2019 after all four parties quickly settling with the Beach estate.
Paul, who was murdered in June 2021 along with his mother at his family’s Moselle hunting property in Colleton County, was facing three felony counts of Boating Under the Influence at the time of his death.
Recently, Alex and Buster Murdaugh’s assets were frozen and are now under receivership as a result of this civil suit.
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Ward’s documentary trailer is not the first time the mediation materials have been at the center of a dispute between Tinsley and Parker.
A video was referenced in two November 2020 motions filed by attorneys for Parker’s — one asking the court for permission to use the footage to “support Parker’s pending Motion to Transfer Venue and Motion to Amend Answer”; the other accusing Tinsley of “discovery abuse.”
Parker’s attorneys alleged that Tinsley had a “personal relationship” with FITSNews news director Mandy Matney and had shared the video with her. The attorneys’ “evidence” of this was that Tinsley and Matney are linked as “friends” on Facebook and that FITSNews published a quote from Mallory’s mother, Renee Beach, that apparently was also said in the video.
At the time, FITSNews chose not to publicly address the filings because we believed that the weakness of evidence spoke for itself. A Facebook “friendship” is hardly a “personal relationship” and the quote used by FITSNews was clearly attributed.
Matney was never shown a video by Tinsley. The quote from Renee Beach was provided to Matney by Tinsley when she asked for comment from his client.
The gruesome photos of Mallory Beach’s body are used interstitially — also, insensitively and sensationally — to punctuate the drama and portray a sense of impending doom throughout “The Murdaugh Murders” trailer, which is presented by Blackfin, Vicky Ward and People magazine. The trailer promotes their “exclusive access to dozens of never before seen videos” and claims it will “expose everything” in the Murdaugh saga.
One particularly disturbing photo in the trailer includes a too-thin blur over most of Mallory’s face.
It is not clear why producers found it necessary to include the death scene photos of a young woman whose cause of death was never in question — particularly without having the approval of her family.
The tone of the video is unsurprising given Ward’s apparent reputation of prioritizing entertainment value over human value.
Epstein victim Maria Farmer said the following about Ward in a July story for Page Six:
“I am horrified. Just leave us alone! Can’t she make money off of other victims? She’s a ‘presstitute’ and vulture … She won’t stop torturing us, and it is hurting so badly. Whenever we hear the name ‘Vicky Ward,’ we cringe.”
Farmer has accused Ward of profiting off their stories and told Page Six that she has sent Ward a cease-and-desist, which Ward denies.
Ward also maintains that her version of the Epstein story, which included accusations of rape and abuse, was scrubbed by then-“Vanity Fair” editor Graydon Carter, who responded by saying, “We didn’t have confidence in Ward’s reporting … she simply didn’t have the goods.”
Ward’s trailer also mixes audio from the 9-1-1 call made by Alex Murdaugh the night his wife and son were murdered with images and video from the 2019 boat crash.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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