Over the weekend, our executive editor Liz Farrell penned a story on the latest developments in the Mallory Beach wrongful death suit – one of the highest-profile civil actions swirling around the family of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh.
Missed her report? Click here …
Beach, 19, of Hampton, S.C., was killed shortly after 2:00 a.m. EST on February 24, 2019. On that fateful morning, a 17-foot, center console fishing boat owned by Murdaugh (the man at the center of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga) and allegedly driven by his late son, Paul Murdaugh, slammed into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge at a high rate of speed.
Paul Murdaugh was “drunker than Cooter Brown” at the time of the crash, to quote his late grandfather.
(Click to view)
Beach (above) was flung into the dark, cold water following the boat’s impact with the bridge – never to be seen alive again. Her body was found a week later by fishermen more than five miles from the crash site.
What led to this tragedy?
Using a driver’s license belonging to his brother, Buster Murdaugh, the 19-year-old purchased alcoholic beverages at a Parker’s convenience store in Ridgeland, S.C. hours before the fateful crash. Accordingly, the civil suit lists the Parker’s chain, Greg Parker (the company’s founder) and Buster Murdaugh as co-defendants. It also lists Alex Murdaugh as a co-defendant.
Other co-defendants named in the original filing have settled out of court.
Murdaugh was criminally charged with three counts of boating under the influence in the wake of the incident, but he never stood trial on those charges because he and his mother, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, were murdered on the family’s hunting property on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties on June 7, 2021.
No one has been charged in connection with this double homicide, although Alex Murdaugh remains a ‘person of interest’ in that ongoing investigation.
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While the charges against Paul Murdaugh died with him, there is an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the boat crash – one reportedly focused on Alex Murdaugh and other members of his family. This inquiry is currently before the S.C. statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C. Meanwhile, Alex Murdaugh is currently staring down more than fifty charges in connection with an alleged web of criminal activity revolving around him, his powerful South Carolina family and the influential law firm it founded a century ago.
Alex Murdaugh is currently incarcerated at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Richland County, S.C.
More charges against Murdaugh (and various co-defendants) are expected soon, according to sources familiar with the ongoing investigations into this alleged criminal web. He was granted bond in the amount of $7 million by S.C. circuit court judge Alison Lee on one set of charges early Monday, but remains incarcerated without bond on a pair of previous charges per the order of president Murdaugh judge Clifton Newman.
As these investigations and civil cases continue to unfold, the Beach civil case has ramped up on several fronts.
The case drew considerable attention earlier this fall when the corporate defendants decided to retain powerful S.C. House ways and means chairman Murrell Smith as one of their attorneys. In addition to his influence over the Palmetto State’s $32 billion annual budget, Smith is also chairman of the über-influential S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) – the panel responsible for determining which judges get to stand for election before the state legislature (and which ones don’t).
As I noted at the time of his hiring, Smith’s appearance on behalf of Parker’s raised all sorts of red flags – if for no other reason than the presiding judge in the case was up for judicial “screening” before Smith’s panel in 2022.
The whole arrangement seemed … unseemly. Sort of like efforts by Greg Parker to wine and dine influential lawmakers at the highbrow Hall’s Chophouse in Columbia, S.C. (many of those dinners were not initially reported on these lawmakers’ statements of economic interest, incidentally).
Parker’s goal? To change South Carolina’s liability laws and get his company off the hook in cases like this one.
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(Pic: Askryan via Wikimedia Commons)
Lately, though, the drama in the Beach case has revolved around British-born author, reporter and commentator Vicky Ward (above) – who is currently working on a Murdaugh-related documentary. Specifically, Ward has been accused of obtaining confidential mediation materials in the Beach case from Parker’s attorneys (or from someone acting on their behalf).
Ward denied the allegation and invoked South Carolina’s journalistic “shield law” in refusing to reveal her source – and refusing to be deposed by Tinsley.
As someone who has previously gone to the mat to protect his sources, I respected that. And said so at the time.
However, Tinsley accused Ward of revealing her source to him – thus violating confidentiality and invalidating any protection the shield law would have afforded her.
I reported on this drama back in October when it first broke (here and here), but the stakes were raised exponentially this month when some of the materials at issue appeared in a trailer for Ward’s upcoming documentary. In addition to the mediation footage, the trailer included graphic photos of Beach taken in March 2019 when her body was found in a Beaufort County marsh one week after the fatal boat crash.
Ward is adamant she had no role in the publication of the trailer – describing its release as accidental.
“The video at issue was created and intended for internal use by the production company I am working with,” she said. “It was for internal development purposes only and supposed to have been seen by approximately ten people. I was as horrified as everyone else to learn that FITSNews had published it.”
According to Ward, “an outside contractor at the production company inadvertently uploaded the internal video to an open (as opposed to private) Vimeo site. As soon as this was discovered (unfortunately, after Fitsnews published it and not before) immediate action was taken to remove access to the video.”
“I am appalled by Fitsnews’ publication of the video,” Ward continued. “A simple phone call would have ensured that the video, uploaded in error, completely without my knowledge or involvement, was taken down. I am deeply upset for the Beach family. As with all of my investigative reporting activities, I am devoted to finding and telling the truth. Any suggestion that I would ever seek to exploit a tragedy is utterly false and disgusting.”
Ward reiterated that she has “never bought any materials for use in a proposed documentary about the Murdaughs … nor have I ever met, or spoken to, Greg Parker or his lawyers. Nor did I publish, promote, or create the video, that was wrongly described as a ‘trailer’ and which contained very sensitive photographic images as reported by FITSNews.”
In response to the release of the trailer, Tinsley filed suit on behalf of the Beach family against Parker’s – as reported exclusively by Farrell. Yesterday, Farrell also reported exclusively on Parker’s response to that filing – which consisted of some rehashed allegations against this news outlet (and specifically against our news director Mandy Matney).
As Farrell reported, Parker’s attorneys accused Tinsley of “manipulating the media, misleading the court and ‘wagging the dog.’” In particular, their filing accused Tinsley of voiding the confidentiality of the mediation materials – including the video – by sharing them previously with Matney.
“The filing falsely claimed Tinsley showed Matney the video in question – which would have meant confidentiality of the video no longer existed,” Farrell explained.
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Parker’s attorneys claim Tinsley (above, left) shared these confidential materials with Matney sometime in the summer of 2020.
Let me address this point as unambiguously as possible because Parker’s attorneys – perhaps eager to create some sort of false equivalency as it relates to the allegations against their client – continue regurgitating this lie in their court filings.
So here goes: At no point was anyone from this news outlet ever given access to confidential mediation documents in the Mallory Beach case.
Period. Exclamation point.
What Parker’s attorneys have alleged (repeatedly, at that) never happened.
Here is what did happen: Matney asked Tinsley to furnish her with a quote from Mallory Beach’s mother, Renee Beach, for a story she was working on last summer – and Tinsley provided her with one.
That’s it …
Again, I understand why Parker’s attorneys might wish to fabricate a false equivalency as a means of deflecting attention away from what their client has been accused of doing as it relates to these materials. And I understand why they – like Murdaugh attorney Dick Harpootlian – might wish to try and take Matney down a notch given the aggressiveness with which she has pursued justice in this case on behalf of a wide range of victims.
(Good luck with that, by the way).
But we are fast approaching strike three when it comes to this particular allegation … at which point I intend to dispense with the niceties and revert back to my well-known predilection for disproportionate responses.
Hit me once? I will ignore you. Hit me twice? I will ask you (politely) not to do it again. Hit me a third time? I will wait in the tall grass for you.
So call the ball, Greg Parker …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that New York Knights’ lid from ‘The Natural’ pictured above).
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