BLOG: Day 10: Judge hears more on Murdaugh’s financial situation without jury
No decision yet on whether to allow jury to hear those details
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - A judge heard from banking experts without the jury present in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial Friday.
Murdaugh is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul.
But Judge Clifton Newman is hearing testimony about the nearly 100 financial crimes of which Murdaugh is also accused as he decides whether the jury in the murder trial will be allowed to hear those accusations.
This story continues below the live blog.
The additional charges range from money laundering to stealing millions from clients and the family law firm, tax evasion and a plot to get a man to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
Prosecutors insist Murdaugh committed the murders as a distraction to the other crimes. The defense filed a motion before the trial began to suppress testimony on the other charges, calling the state’s claim that the murders were a cover-up for Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds completely fabricated.
The first two witnesses to testify Friday were Palmetto State Bank President and CEO Jan Malinoswski and Michael Satterfield, the son of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper who died from injuries she suffered in a fall at the Murdaugh home in 2018.
Current Palmetto State Bank CEO Jan Malinowski testified to Murdaugh’s financial state at the time of the June 7, 2021, killings.
Malinowski testified that a deposit from an off-the-books loan for $400,000 was put into Murdaugh’s account on Aug. 9, 2021, when his account was $347,000 overdrawn.
Also on Aug. 9, Norris Laffitte sent an email asking about the bank’s relationship with Murdaugh, Malinowski testified.
Malinowski testified that Murdaugh’s total liability to the bank at that time was more than $3.5 million.
On July 15, 2021, a $350,000 wire transfer was made to Wilson Law Group, Malinowski testified.
Malinkowsi said paperwork showed a loan originated on July 15, 2021, in the amount of $750,000, but that the numbering was inconsistent with a loan that would have been created in July.
During an Aug. 17, 2021, board meeting, Malinowski said the loan was discussed and that Murdaugh’s Edisto Beach home and a share of Green Swamp, Inc. stock were used as collateral. Malinkowski testified that the mortgage was never placed on the property and the stock had already been used as collateral in another loan.
In cross examination, Jim Griffin asked about overdrawn accounts and if Murdaugh had ever been denied a line of credit with the bank.
Malinowski testified only one account had a negative balance and that no loans or lines of credit were denied until September 2021.
Griffin then asks if Murdaugh had ever defaulted on any of his loans.
Malinkowski said Murdaugh had defaulted on two loans that had been written off, but he was still sporadically making payments.
Before the jury was brought in Friday morning, the court heard testimony from Carson Burney.
Burney, a forensic accountant from the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, testified about tracing money going in and out of Murdaugh’s bank accounts.
Burney said he tracked money from the Satterfield case and found payments to multiple names connected to Curtis Eddie Smith, credit card payments and money moved from the fake Forge account into Murdaugh’s personal accounts.
When Burney is asked if the documents shown in court reflect that all the money that Murdaugh took went to his personal use and benefit he answers yes.
The jury was brought into the courtroom just after 11:30 a.m. after the financial testimonies were held.
The first heard from Tom Darnell, a fingerprint examiner from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Darnell testifies that he could only collect prints from Paul’s phone but those prints didn’t contain enough detail to compare.
Darnell said he collected DNA swabs from the guns he was presented with.
In cross examination, Dick Harpootlian asks if Darnell was called to the crime scene and if he would have expected a detailed analysis of the crime scene.
Darnell testifies if he had been called to the crime scene he would have taken detailed notes.
Most of Friday’s testimony came from forensic firearm expert Paul Greer.
Greer tested the firearms collected from the property. He also compared the markings on casings collected around the property the .300 Blackout casings found around Maggie Murdaugh’s body.
Greer testified that the casings found around Maggie’s body and casings found outside the side door of the house coming from the gun room had matched machining markings indicating they were all cycled through the same firearm.
Greer took the court through his testing of the casings and the shotgun shells collected on the property.
The .300 Blackout rifle belonging to Buster Murdaugh that was taken from the property and the shotgun that was taken from Alex Murdaugh on the night of the killings tested inconclusive when checked against the casings and shells.
Griffin, in cross examination, asks if Greer can say that the rifle and shotgun that tested inconclusive were the murder weapons.
“I’m unable to determine if they were fired by that firearm or a firearm with similar characteristics,” Greer says.
Griffin also asks if the matching mechanism markings proved the casings were all fired through the same gun.
Greer explained that they had all been cycled through the same rifle, but he couldn’t say they were all fired from the same rifle.
Griffin closed by asking Greer if he were 100% certain of his findings.
Greer said, in his opinion, the findings were accurate.
During similar testimony on Wednesday, the court heard from Jeanne Seckinger, who has worked her way up to office manager and chief financial officer in 24 years with the law firm founded more than a century ago by Murdaugh’s family. Seckinger testified that Murdaugh sometimes kept entire fees required by rules to be shared with the firm.
“That would be stealing,” Seckinger said.
Murdaugh also took money to be paid in lawsuit settlements to clients in wrongful death or accident cases, Seckinger,said. Instead of depositing money with a company called Forge Consulting for safekeeping for the clients, Murdaugh created a company called Forge under his name and kept the money.
The law firm found bank statements for a company called Murdaugh as a sole proprietor doing business as Forge in Murdaugh’s office, Seckinger said.
In all, the firm determined Murdaugh diverted more than $2.8 million this way. The law firm paid everyone back, Seckinger said,
Under cross-examination, Seckinger said the scheme had been going on since 2015 without being detected.
Seckinger also testified that Murdaugh spoke to her about trying to have his fees and other payments diverted to his wife’s accounts because he was worried about a wrongful death lawsuit filed against him, his son and others over a 2019 fatal boat crash where Paul Murdaugh was charged with felony boating under the influence. A hearing in the case was postponed after the killings.
Newman didn’t immediately rule whether to let the jury hear Seckinger’s testimony.
Instead, more state agents who handled the investigations into the killings themselves will testify to jurors and the judge will later hear more witnesses away from the jury about financial matters.
Newman said he is inclined to allow the evidence of financial misdeeds because it can complete the story of why the crimes were committed with immediate context.
Prosecutors said the evidence is key to their case. They said Murdaugh killed his wife and son at their Colleton County home on June 7, 2021, because Murdaugh was confronted earlier in the day about $782,000 in fees that should be in his law firm’s account but could not be found.
Murdaugh planned the killings to gain sympathy and buy time so he could find a way to cover up the missing money as he had numerous times before in the past decade or so, prosecutors said.
Murdaugh’s lawyers said prosecutors are trying to smear Murdaugh with bad behavior not related to the killings to bolster their weak case. They have called it absurd and ridiculous to think that Murdaugh would believe having his family brutally killed would do anything but bring scrutiny into every nook and cranny of his life.
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