A journalist at the heart of a ferocious debate – and a civil conspiracy lawsuit – over the leaking of confidential materials tied to a high-profile ‘Murdaugh Murders’ wrongful death case is coming clean.
Vicky Ward, 53 – originally of Chelmsford, England – submitted an affidavit this week tied to a conspiracy (or “outrage”) lawsuit filed last December by attorney Mark Tinsley on behalf of the family of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, South Carolina.
In her affidavit (.pdf), Ward acknowledged Gregg Roman – a paid researcher for a powerful defendant in both the conspiracy and the wrongful death lawsuits – provided video and photographic depictions of Beach’s dead body to her late last summer as she was preparing one of many recent documentaries about the Murdaugh family.
These materials were allegedly obtained from confidential mediation documents tied to the wrongful death lawsuit – which was filed back in 2019 against a host of defendants, including wealthy convenience store magnate Greg Parker.
(Click to view)
To recap: Beach (above) was killed in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019 after being flung from a 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat allegedly piloted by the late Paul Murdaugh. The boat slammed into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. on that fateful early winter morning – with Murdaugh and others on the boat in a “grossly intoxicated” state at the time of impact.
Seconds before the boat crashed, GPS data obtained by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) indicated the vessel was traveling at a speed of approximately 29 miles per hour (or approximately 25 knots).
The boat allegedly driven by Murdaugh at the time of the crash belonged to none other than his father, Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred 54-year-old attorney who now stands accused of killing both his younger son and his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021. Of interest? These murders were committed just three days before Alex Murdaugh was scheduled to appear in court to answer for his failure to turn over financial records to the Beach family attorneys in connection with the wrongful death case.
The boat crash is viewed by many as the moment the “House of Murdaugh” – a crumbling legal dynasty which enjoyed near-dictatorial power over a five-county region in the southernmost tip of South Carolina for decades – began to collapse.
So … who bears responsibility for the crash? That’s what the wrongful death case is about …
And who leaked the files from the wrongful death case? That’s what the conspiracy lawsuit is about …
To quote the late 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. State prosecutors agreed, and he was charged with three counts of boating under the influence by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
Murdaugh was murdered before he could stand trial on those charges, though.
According to surveillance video, Paul Murdaugh purchased alcohol at a Parker’s Kitchen store in the hours before the crash using a fake identification card belonging to his older brother, Buster Murdaugh.
Ward’s three-episode documentary – entitled Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty – aired back in June on Investigation Discovery. The documentary – which zeroes in on the boat crash – featured blurred depictions of Beach’s dead body which were allegedly obtained from the confidential mediation files.
Ward and Roman – co-producers of the documentary – are both listed as defendants in the conspiracy case. So is Parker, founder of the Parker’s Kitchen chain of convenience stores, who earlier this year admitted to running a stealth campaign against the Murdaugh family in an effort to absolve himself and his company of blame for the boat crash.
“Of course I did,” Parker told reporter Valerie Bauerlein of The Wall Street Journal back in August when he was grilled about this campaign. “Anybody in my situation would have done exactly the same thing.”
Parker has also engaged in a legal jihad in an effort to avoid being held liable for the crash. However, efforts by his attorneys have been unsuccessful so far – and the wrongful death case is currently set to go to trial on January 9, 2023.
In addition to Ward, Roman and Parker, the conspiracy case filed by Tinsley last December also named Parker’s attorney Jason D’Cruz, Parker’s general counsel Blake Greco, private investigators Max Fratoddi and Henry Rosado, as well as Private Investigation Services Group of Bluffton, S.C. as defendants.
This lawsuit (.pdf) alleged a conspiracy involving Ward and these other parties to “affect the proceedings” of the Beach family’s wrongful death case – including an effort by some of those defendants “to inflict severe emotional distress upon (Beach’s family) to diminish their resolve.”
As part of that conspiracy, the suit alleged these defendants “arranged for and/ or participated in the production of the confidential video to Vicky Ward” and “singularly, or in concert, arranged for and provided Ward with photographs of Mallory Beach’s dead body.”
Ward is now admitting as much …
“The video was shared with me by Gregg Roman,” she wrote in the affidavit, which was submitted this week in Hampton County, S.C.
“(The video) was provided to me on September 9, 2021 by means of a text message through the Signal messaging application that included a clickable hyperlink,” Ward continued. “I watched the video on or around the day I received it by clicking on the hyperlink and accessing the video.”
“From my communications with Roman, I understood, and continue to understand that (he) permitted me to disclose, as part of my reporting, that I had obtained it,” Ward added.
Ward’s affidavit supports claims made last fall by Tinsley regarding the sourcing of the video.
“She told us what she had and where she got it,” Tinsley told me at the time.
(Click to view)
(Via: Wikimedia Commons)
According to Ward (above), she was “unaware that there was a possibility that possession or use of the video might be in violation of any law or court rules” at the time she obtained it.
Ward also reiterated her previous denials about having paid for the video – albeit with one key caveat.
“To the extent that I may have ever stated to anyone that ‘we’ paid for or purchased the video, it was merely an acknowledgement that, to my understanding, a license to use these materials in the documentary had been purchased,” she stated. “I was not involved in any such purchase or payment for license or acquisition of the video.”
Ward also acknowledged receiving “photographs of Mallory Beach’s body taken during its recovery by law enforcement.” According to her, these photographs were also provided by Roman on September 13, 2021 – four days after he sent the video.
The leaking of confidential materials from the Beach family’s wrongful death case has been in the news this month after surveillance footage from Beaufort Memorial Hospital taken in the aftermath of the boat crash was leaked to HBO Max for its recently released documentary, Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty.
Columbia, S.C. attorney Joe McCulloch has claimed responsibility for that leak.
THE AFFIDAVIT …
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 Indianapolis Colts’ greyscale lid pictured above.
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