Murdaugh stands accused of killing his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and youngest son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on his family’s hunting property in Colleton County, South Carolina on June 7, 2021. He pleaded not guilty and is currently standing trial in Walterboro, S.C.
Today is day number nine of these proceedings – and is scheduled to kick off at 9:30 a.m. EST with a debate before judge Clifton Newman over the admissibility of evidence and testimony regarding the numerous financial crimes Murdaugh is staring down.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – led by state senator Dick Harpootlian and veteran trial lawyer Jim Griffin – have objected to the introduction of this evidence and testimony, arguing it is unfairly prejudicial to their client and violative of rule 404(b) of the South Carolina rules of criminal procedure.
According to that rule, evidence of “other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person.” However, the rule does permit such “prior bad acts” to be admitted in order “to show motive, identity, the existence of a common scheme or plan, the absence of mistake or accident, or intent.”
Prosecutors have long maintained the potential exposure of his alleged financial crimes was Murdaugh’s motive for murder, but lead prosecutor Creighton Waters saw this door open to him in a huge way during dramatic testimony on Wednesday.
And he charged through it …
For yesterday’s dramatic daily feed, click here.
At the opening gavel of each day of the trial, we will launch two new polls asking readers to weigh in on 1) whether they think Alex Murdaugh is guilty or not guilty of murdering his late wife, Maggie Murdaugh and, 2) whether they think he is guilty or not guilty of murdering his late son, Paul Murdaugh.
The goal of our daily polls is to track how perception of Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence related to the murders of his two alleged victims changes over the course of the trial.
Here are today’s polls …
Based on the information you have now, is Alex Murdaugh is guilty or not guilty of the murder of Maggie Murdaugh?
Based on the information you have now, would you say Alex Murdaugh is guilty or not guilty of the murder of Paul Murdaugh?
LIVE FEED …
5:40 p.m. EST – Jim Griffin responds to Creighton Waters arguments that the “hounds were not at the gate.” He quotes Seckinger’s testimony and says the law firm was a brotherhood of trust.
5:33 p.m. EST – Judge Newman asks Waters how many more witnesses he plans to call on the financial matter. Waters says he has another law firm employee, testimony regarding the confession of judgement in the Satterfield case, and a bank witness to establish the financial condition of Murdaugh at the time the murders occurred. He says in order for the jury “to understand the reality of what Murdaugh was facing, they have to understand the extent of what is being potentially being exposed. They have to understand why he was doing these things and why he was running out of time.”
5:32 p.m. EST – Waters has completed his direct examination. The defense has no questions for Wilson.
5:30 p.m. EST – On September 4, 2021, Wilson tells Waters he met Murdaugh at his parents house on the front porch. He says he asked Wilson what was happening. Murdaugh told Wilson he had an opioid problem for 20 years and that he “s*** him up.”
5:25 p.m. EST – Wilson states Lee Cope contacted him to tell him Murdaugh had been stealing fees on September 3, 2021. He was with friends and says he was shocked. He tried to call and text Murdaugh and got no response. Murdaugh did text back that he was in a meeting and would talk to him later. He spoke to Murdaugh on Friday, September 3, 2021 in the evening by the phone. Wilson said he told Murdaugh he needed to speak with him in person and Murdaugh said he was sorry.
5:22 p.m. EST – When Wilson asked Murdaugh about the fee repayment, he said he would get it soon but the money was tied up in his father’s estates. Murdaugh indicated he would possibly selling property soon. Wilson did not want to push him. On August 17, 2021, Wilson asked him to sign a prommisory note indicating he would pay him back. Murdaugh signed a handwritten note. Wilson says everyone was concerned he would kill himself. He said he had him sign the note in case Murdaugh died and he had to make a claim against his estate.
5:20 p.m. EST – Wilson says he placed $192,000 into his client trust account based on the promise that Murdaugh would pay him back.
5:15 p.m. EST – Wilson confirms to Waters that he did communicate with Murdaugh the night Paul and Maggie were murdered. He is crying and needs a tissue. A few weeks after the murders, Wilson asked Murdaugh if everything had been handled with the fees. Murdaugh said it was.
5:12 p.m. EST – Wilson tells Waters that he reached out to Murdaugh and told him if he had an issues with the disbursement fees, to let him know. Murdaugh told him he had to just make sure the firm had the fees on the books and that he was putting them into annuities. The fees totaled $792,000.
5:10 p.m. EST – Wilson states he had a conversation with Lee Cope the last week of May 2021 regarding these cost fees. Lee asked him if all the money had been disbursed. He explained it had not been because they were holding some money in case some liens came in. He told Cope he would have to check into it.
5:08 p.m. EST – Wilson identifies this email thread to Waters. On June 2, 2021, another email was sent regarding these costs. Wilson states the fees were disbursed in three separate checks in March of 2021.
5:05 p.m. EST – Wilson states his paralegal, Vicki, received an email in May of 2021 from Murdaugh’s paralegal, Annette, inquiring where PMPED’s fees were on the Farris case. She stated that they received the cost check, but haven’t received the fee check. His paralegal told Annette that Murdaugh had received the fees just like Wilson did. Wilson did not know about this email until September of 2021. Vicki received another email from Annette which was an email toward the end of May 2021 that was sent by Jeanne Seckinger that said something to the effect of, “Alex thought he was owed more costs in the case. Had some questions about costs.” He says they were trying to get more information to see if they were owed more costs. Vicki did forward that email to Wilson.
5:02 p.m. EST – I’m back. – Jenn Wood
4:58 p.m. EST – As Waters continues to go through the financial records related to reimbursements and other payments with Wilson, his command of these complicated financial issues is impressive. When you consider he’s been equally well-versed in questioning the evidentiary witnesses tied to the double homicide, it is even more impressive. Hard to believe that a few weeks ago people (including me) were wondering whether Waters could hang with Murdaugh’s lead attorney Dick Harpootlian. I think people are now wondering whether Harpootlian can hang with Waters.
4:57 p.m. EST – Wilson adds: “I never had any dealings with him that would lead me to distrust him.”
4:55 p.m. EST – Waters to Chris Wilson: “You trusted your friend, right?” Wilson responds in the affirmative.
4:54 p.m. EST – As lead prosecutor Creighton Waters continues his questioning of attorney Chris Wilson regarding these disbursement checks, let’s not forget Wilson is also one of the people Murdaugh called on his ride from Moselle in the immediate aftermath of the June 7, 2021 homicides. He is likely to be questioned in that context as well.
4:44 p.m. EST – Wilson explains how firms handle disbursements. He says whoever receives the settlement check handles the disbursement. With cases he worked with Alex Murdaugh, Wilson typically handled the disbursements. The settlement check comes in addressed to his firm. He signs it and has the client come in and co-sign it. It is put in the client trust account. Fees incurred during the case are reimbursed to the attorney.
4:41 p.m. EST – Wilson states when he first started practicing, he would work cases with Murdaugh as Murdaugh’s firm was larger and had more resources. He explains how two firms share a case. He says generally it would be a 50/50 split on fees recovered.
4:36 p.m. EST – Wilson is primarily a personal injury attorney who practices in Bamberg, South Carolina. He states he has known Alex Murdaugh since high school. He went to law school with Alex Murdaugh and lived with him part of the time. Wilson states Murdaugh was one of his best friends. He breaks down when asked how he feels about him know and says, “I don’t know how I feel about him.”
4:34 p.m. EST – Prosecutors have called Chris Wilson to the stand for an in camera hearing.
4:32 p.m. EST – Prosecutors have completed their direct examination. Jim Griffin for the defense asks Gunn if he had ever sold any life insurance to Murdaugh on Maggie or Paul Murdaugh. Gunn says he did not.
4:26 p.m. EST – Gunn called again to ask about another list of clients. He stated he told Cope that other than Deon Martin was the only name on the list he had ever worked with Murdaugh on and that the case was closed. Gunn also tells Waters that the account Murdaugh opened at Bank of America as “doing business as Forge” is not related to the real Forge Consulting.
4:24 p.m. EST – Gunn tells Creighton Waters that in September of 2021, he was contacted by Lee Cope who asked in in confidence if he sent him a list of clients if Gunn could tell Cope if he had opened cases with Forge Consulting. None of the clients did have cases. Cope also asked him if Forge Consulting had an active account with Bank of America. Gunn states he did not.
4:21 p.m. EST – Gunn states he was generally aware of the boat crash case and the resulting criminal and civil litigation following. He states he had general discussions about structuring fees, but doesn’t recall a specific conversation about structuring fees relating to the boat accident.
4:18 p.m. EST – Gunn testifies that he had a friendly relationship with Murdaugh. The last structured settlement that Murdaugh worked with him on was Deon Martin. Gunn states after communications with Murdaugh went unanswered, he closed the account.
4:15 p.m. EST – Gunn is explaining structured settlement’s to the court. Structured settlements are settlements placed into an annuity that provide regular payments while receiving interest on the lump sum.
4:13 p.m. EST – The State calls Michael Gunn to the stand. Michael is a principal at Forge Consulting. (Note: The real Forge) His testimony is being done in camera.
3:25 p.m. EST – Hightower says that the area the phone was phone had a lot of leaves. There was a slight tilt to it when it was found. He states he would have thrown the phone out of the driver’s side window with his left hand. He also states when they found the phone he wanted to put it in airplane mode to protect the data. He wanted to protect data in the cloud from being overwritten.
3:20 p.m. EST – Hightower states that Maggie’s phone was found about 15-20 feet from the road. He says he stayed with the phone until the SLED agents arrived. No measurements were taken prior to SLED agents arriving. He states Maggie’s phone had a SIM card but did not remove it.
3:15 p.m. EST – Hightower testifies he did not take drone images at night from the house to the kennel.
3:10 p.m. EST – Harpootlian asks if Colleton County Sheriff’s Office indicated if they had a suspect or theory. Hightower says no. He states he was not aware that a statement had been released stating there was no threat to the public. Harpootlian asks if he recalls any indication they were concerned about an active shooter. Hightower says he does not recall.
3:07 p.m. EST – Harpootlian is questioning Hightower about the briefing that was conducted on June 8, 2021 prior to going to the Moselle crime scene. Hightower claims there were multiple people speaking at the briefing. He could not recall specifically who said what in the briefing.
3:05 p.m. EST – The prosecution has completed their direct examination. Dick Harpootlian has begun his cross examination.
3:02 p.m. EST – Hightower states that he obtained the call detail records from Alex Murdaugh’s phone via search warrant. When he compared the cell records obtained via subpoena and what was downloaded from Murdaugh’s phone. There were gaps on his downloaded phone data and on his subpoenaed call logs. It appeared that the calls had been deleted.
3:00 p.m. EST – On June 10, 2021, Hightower testifies he was at John Marvin Murdaugh’s hunting property to extract data from phones. He completed a logical extraction which is a less invasive download than a full extraction. He downloaded phones from Randy, Alex and Buster Murdaugh. He states it was not unusual for SLED to request his assistance in matters of this type. He states he felt pressure to do these extractions quickly due to the declining health of Randolph Murdaugh III.
2:55 p.m. EST – Maggie’s phone was found with her screen facing up according to Hightower. The photo shows water drops from the night before. He took pictures of the landscaping around the phone to identify exactly where it was found.
2:50 p.m. EST – Hightower states he marked the phone with two orange landscaping flags. The phone was found on the right side of Moselle Road.
2:45 p.m. EST – Hightower confirms the location on a photo. It is entered into evidence without objection. He states he drove to where he believed the phone. He drove southeast down Moselle Road until they got close to it and then got out and searched for it by foot. He has identified photos that he took of Maggie’s phone. He said he never touched the phone. He contacted Ryan Neal, Katie McAllister, and Jeff Croft from SLED. The photos of her phone have been admitted into evidence.
2:40 p.m. EST – Hightower is testifying regarding locating Maggie Murdaugh’s cell phone. When he learned Maggie’s phone was missing, he stated he communicated that he thought they should try using the Find my iPhone feature. They brought him what he believes to be Buster’s phone and he opened the Find my iPhone feature. He began walking towards the iPhone and when he realized it was further than 50 yards away, he hopped in a truck with John Marvin Murdaugh and drove towards it. JoJo Woodward and Donnie Hutto from the Solicitor’s Office went with him. It was about one half a mile from the entrance to the kennels.
2:37 p.m. EST – Hightower brought the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office drone with him to the scene. He took the drone images on June 8, 2021 around 1:30 – 2:00 p.m. Images from the drone are entered into evidence without objection.
2:35 p.m. EST – When they arrived, the crime scene had been released by the crime scene investigators. All crime scene tape was down and multiple PMPED lawyers were walking around the property. Once the tape is removed, it is no longer an active crime scene.
2:30 p.m. EST – Hightower learned of the case on June 8, 2021 and traveled to Moselle with other 14th Circuit Solicitor Investigators in multiple vehicles. He states he has been involved in the investigation of almost all homicide cases in the 14th Circuit. This was not unusual.
2:20 p.m. EST – Dylan Hightower has taken the stand. Dylan is an investigator with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office
1:07 p.m. EST – Judge Newman says the State has to prove the state of mind of the defendant.
1:05 p.m. EST – Judge Newman tells the court he is happy to sit and hear all the evidence. He states it would prevent needless presentation of facts twice.
12:55 p.m. EST – Creighton Waters tells Judge Newman they have a number of witnesses prepared to testify to how the alleged financial crimes relate to motive. Griffin states this will cause an undue delay in the case. The State’s intent is not to try 100 white collar crime cases, but to present the financial crime information that is relevant to the murder.
12:50 p.m. EST – Seckinger said PMPED was adamant they were not going to be part of having any portion of diverting or hiding fees. She says he would have likely faced “bad repercussions.”
12:49 p.m. EST – When Alex Murdaugh asked Seckinger about his 401k, it was not the first time he had asked. She believes every time he asked, it was in relation to the boat case.
12:38 p.m. EST – Seckinger states she looked at invoices relating to client disbursements and they looked to be legitimate.
12:35 p.m. EST – Seckinger states they met with all of the clients from whom Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole money. She testified most of them were shocked and did not have a clue. She says she might not have met personally with all of the clients but someone from the firm did meet with each one.
12:25 p.m. EST – Seckinger tells Griffin that after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, the financial issue with Chris Wilson was taken over by Lee Cope who is an attorney at PMPED.
11:53 am EST – Cross examination by Jim Griffin will begin after a 10 minute break.
11: 51 am EST – Seckinger testifies Russell Laffitte is a brother-in-law. Witness states inquiry of firm into missing funds was pushed aside after double murders. Seckinger testifies that after September 3, money was still missing form the Chris Wilson settlement.
11:47 am EST – Witness testifies regarding an email from Murdaugh to Russell Laffitte at Palmetto State Bank requesting the checks from one of the settlements be recut into four different checks, which the firm did. From there the monies were converted to Murdaugh for personal use. Two other cases reviewed, witness states monies were misapplied and law firm reimbursed clients.
11:43 am EST – Seckinger testifies to payments misappropriated to Palmetto State Bank in 2011 and 2012. Arthur Badger, Hakeem Pinckney and Natarsha Thomas were the settlements in question. Bank converted checks for Murdaugh’s personal use.
11:26 am EST – Waters presents misappropriations packets to the court for Seckinger’s review, citing client names and fund amounts, case by case. Seckinger confirms the funds as stolen by Murdaugh and reimbursed back to clients by PMPED.
11:21 am EST – Seckinger reviews documents explaining to clients what had happened to their funds and how reimbursements would take place. Witness testifies this had been going on for years.
11:15 am EST – Seckinger reviews a document listing clients who’s monies had been diverted to Forge @ Bank of America, the fake account. Witness testifies to 2M in diverted funds from August 2015 to early 2021.
11:11 am EST – Seckinger says a deep dig into the firm’s books was conducted in September to see what else had occurred. Witness testifies the firm found other payments made through Palmetto State Bank. Funds had been directed there to be held for beneficiary but had been converted to personal use for Murdaugh.
11:10 am EST – The decision was held off to announce the departure due to a partner’s son getting married. Seckinger testifies she heard that Murdaugh had been shot on Labor Day. Witness testifies she was fearful.
11:07 am EST – Seckinger identifies Murdaugh’s signature on fee check. Leadership convened a meeting to discuss what had been recovered and the choice was made to show Randy Murdaugh what had been found. Witness testifies that two partners arranged to confront Murdaugh. Murdaugh admitted it and resigned.
11:03 am EST – Attorney Bakari Sellers tells FITSNews that if the court allows the financial crimes in as evidence, Seckinger will have to testify again in front of the jury. Micheal Gunn confirms to PMPED that no disbursements were made to Forge Consulting. Check of fees then found on Murdaugh’s desk.
11:00 am EST – July 19th an email came to the witness and Lee Cope from Wilson that they money was available and could be forwarded to the law firm. Witness testifies that in September more misappropriations were found and Chris admitted he did not have all of the money. Seckinger testifies that Murdaugh’s signatures were found on other checks.
10:59 am EST – Seckinger testifies that the hearing to determine the financial disclosures in the wrongful death case relating to the boat crash was canceled. It was decided a week later that Cope would call Chris Wilson regarding the fees in question. States they did not want to harass Murdaugh at the time.
10:57 am EST – Seckinger states that at 4:00 p.m. the same day, June 7, 2021, her phone rang and Murdaugh wanted info on his 401K balance as he was working on financials for a hearing later on in the week regarding the boat case. She states she was surprised he working on that instead of tending to his father.
10:55 am EST – Seckinger states that Murdaugh assured her the money was in Chris Wilson’s account and they could get it at any time between June 2 and June 7, 2021. On June 7th, Seckinger testifies that she approached Murdaugh regarding the disbursements and was given a dirty look by Murdaugh. Seckinger tells the court she needed proof he had not received those fees himself. Murdaugh assured her the money was there. Murdaugh then took a phone call regarding the dire condition of his father, thus changing the mood of the conversation.
10:52 am EST – Seckinger testifies that she spoke with Lee Cope regarding the matter. They decided they would send an email requesting the disbursement paperwork and supporting documents via email on May 27th.
10:48 am EST – Seckinger testifies regarding a case that was brought to her attention in May regarding a check received for client expenses by Chris Wilson but no fee check was supplied. Seckinger testifies her concern was that Murdaugh was hiding money from the boat case litigation.
10:44 am EST – Witness states Murdaugh told her the settlement money went to Forge Consulting as a structure. Seckinger states firm was concerned Murdaugh was deferring money away form the boat crash. Witness states firm thought that was wrong and they wanted no part in that.
10:38 am EST – Seckinger testifies to her knowledge of the boat crash cash and the litigation surrounding it. Seckinger states in late May 2021, she and Murdaugh discussed structured settlements and how Murdaugh had sent the funds to Forge Consulting and that he was putting money in Maggie’s name. He stated he was friends with Michael Gunn from Forge Consulting and was going to send the money there for structuring as a favor to Gunn.
10:37 am EST – Waters presents the employment agreement that all shareholders sign. All fees earned should come through and be paid directly to the firm, per the agreement. Seckinger testifies if the monies go directly to the shareholder and not the firm, it would be stealing.
10:34 am EST – Seckinger describes her job duties during the relevant time period and how the partners/shareholders were compensated on a yearly basis. Witness testifies partners usually received a bonus check at the end of the year along with bi-weekly payments throughout the year.
10:25 am EST – State calls Jeannie Seckinger of PMPED, now The Parker Law Group. Judge Newman tells jury there are matters that will need to be discussed outside of their absence, excuses them.
10:22 am EST – Defense attorney Barber on cross. Asks about various other data points that were not requested by the State. Witness dismissed.
10:19 am EST – State calls Snapchat custodial witness, Heidi Galore. In her capacity, her team responds to law enforcement and legal entities. Describes Snapchat as a social network. Galore testifies to the types of records the company keeps. Galore reviews evidence of subscriber info and the file requested from the search warrant. Witness states the subscriber as Paul Murdaugh. Galore describes a short video of a man and a tree and that it was uploaded into the Memories file of the platform on June 7, 2021 @ 7:39 est. Galore testifies video was sent out same day @ 7:56 est.
10:08 am EST – Court in recess while State lines up financial crimes witnesses.
10:06 am EST – FITSNews legal expert and prominent defense attorney Jack Swerling explains Rule 404(b), “Under Rule 404 b, SC Rules of Evidence, prior bad acts or other acts are admissible to to prove motive, intent, absence of mistake or accident if evidence is clear and convincing. Prejudicial effect must be balanced against probative value and must not outweigh probative value to be admissible. Rule 403. Conviction not required but would be appropriate consideration as to whether it’s clear and convincing.”
9:55 am EST – Jim Griffin states he wants to get some objections on the record. Griffin sites a federal case and argues that there was no scheme.
9:51 am EST – Courtroom is full today. Judge Newman states that as relates to Rule 404, other reasons such as motive and intent do allow evidence. Judge Newman states there will be a hearing to address it formally.
9:40 am EST – Court in session. Judge Newman addressing ruling yesterday to the State’s question of the witness redirect whether he was aware of things that had occurred the day of the murders. The cross examination turned into the witness testifying as a character witness for Mr. Murdaugh, all indicating an opinion of that witness. Door was opened for State to respond with questions. He will continue to allow the State to bring up Murdaugh’s financial crime charges.
8:24 a.m. EST – Just had a great conversation with personal injury attorney Bill Young of Greenville, S.C. about the big motion that judge Newman will hear this morning. Stay tuned for that …
7:40 a.m. EST – A quick update on the day ahead …
6:55 a.m. EST – In case you missed our recap of yesterday’s “seismic” proceedings, here is that report …