Over the weekend, I delved into the latest drama associated with the Mallory Beach wrongful death lawsuit – the highest-profile civil action linked to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga.
To read that article, click here.
This case stems from a February 24, 2019 boat crash which killed Beach, a 19-year-old from Hampton, S.C., in the prime of her life. The lawsuit connects to the now-notorious Murdaugh family via the late Paul Murdaugh – who was allegedly at the helm of the 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat as it slammed into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. on that fateful early winter morning.
Beach was flung into the cold, dark waters upon the boat’s impact. Her body was discovered a week later.
The boat allegedly driven by Paul belonged to none other than Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred 54-year-old attorney who now stands accused of killing both Paul and 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, Alex’s wife and Paul’s mother.
To quote Randolph Murdaugh III – one of three Murdaughs to hold the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006 – Paul Murdaugh was “drunker than Cooter Brown” at the time of the crash.
Some of the alcohol which allegedly contributed to Murdaugh’s severe intoxication was purchased at a Parker’s Kitchen convenience store in Ridgeland, S.C. Paul used a South Carolina driver’s license belonging to his older brother, Buster Murdaugh, to buy the booze. As a result, the store and its owner – convenience store czar Greg Parker – are named as defendants in the suit.
As most of our audience is aware, Parker has embarked on what can only be described as an all-out jihad against the Murdaugh family and, more recently … anyone who dares to get in his way.
Parker seemingly has two main objectives in this increasingly irrational campaign: Further vilifying the Murdaughs (hardly a difficult task) and weakening the resolve of the Beach family to proceed with its lawsuit against him.
Whatever his motive … Parker is no longer hiding his authorship of the scorched earth campaign. That much was made clear via an expansive piece on the Murdaugh saga published last week by reporter Valerie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal.
Parker’s unscrupulous antics have led to a separate lawsuit – one involving the leaking of confidential photographs (and video footage) of Mallory Beach’s dead body, among other information. All of these confidential materials were included in the mediation files from the boat crash case – and were supposed to have been under seal.
Who leaked what sealed documents – and to whom – has become a central narrative in the civil suit (much as it has on the criminal side of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ saga, incidentally).
Earlier this month, attorneys for the various parties in the civil case met before S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall in Spartanburg, S.C. At that hearing, there was little discussion of leaks – but plenty of debate over whether the defendants in the boat crash case should be “severed.” Severing – or bifurcating parties to the case – would allow separate trials to proceed against each individual defendant.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – argued their client would be unfairly prejudiced in his murder trial if the boat crash were allowed to proceed concurrently. According to Harpootlian, if Murdaugh were to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in the boat crash case, it could be taken as an admission of guilt.
Similarly, waiving the Fifth in the boat crash case could compromise his murder defense.
“If he waives the Fifth, he opens himself to all sorts of questioning,” Harpootlian said.
In fact, Harpootlian accused state criminal prosecutors of using the boat crash civil suit as a “stalking horse” – or false pretext – to bolster their murder case against Murdaugh.
This week, Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley told me the notion of severing parties was off the table, as far as he is concerned.
According to Tinsley, the bid to split the case is an effort by Parker’s attorneys to “point their fingers at the Murdaughs without having the Murdaughs there – and drag the Beach family through two wrongful death lawsuits.”
“I will oppose anything that prolongs this entire ordeal for the Beach family,” Tinsley told me. “We’re not interested in trying two wrongful death cases and having the family relive and recount the depths of their loss twice.”
The wrongful death case was originally scheduled for this October, but Hall made it clear that it was unlikely to be held prior to the end of the year. Among the various reasons for the delay, he pointed to the recent death of one of Murdaugh’s attorneys, the late John Tiller.
Murdaugh is currently scheduled to stand trial for murder in January 2023, but it remains to be seen whether that schedule will stick. For the latest on the murder trial, click here.
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.
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