Evidence of Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes will be heard by jury in his murder trial, judge rules
WALTERBORO, S.C. – (WIS) Evidence detailing Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes will be heard by the Colleton County jury in his trial for the killings of his wife and son.
Presiding Judge Clifton Newman’s decision on Monday comes after days of testimony, without the jury present, from witnesses who laid out Alex’s alleged financial misdeeds that prosecutors say he had been perpetuating for years.
This is a big blow to the defense, and a big development for the prosecution.
Prosecutors have contended that it was mounting financial debts, and the possibility of his alleged financial crimes being exposed that led him to murder his wife Maggie and son Paul.
The defense has sought to block this evidence from the murder trial, saying that it is irrelevant to the facts of this case.
Newman ultimately decided that it is essential to complete the story for the jury.
The decision will likely prolong this trial significantly, certainly by days, but more likely weeks.
Normally, other crimes a defendant is accused of cannot be admitted as evidence in another case. However, there can be exceptions to prove motive.
While proof of motive is not a requirement, Newman said the state must prove malice. He said that evidence of motive can be used to meet that requirement.
In his ruling, Newman furthered explained that this evidence is so critical to the state’s theory of the case to demonstrate Alex’s state of mind at the time of the murders that it is more probative than prejudicial.
“I find that the jury is entitled to consider whether the apparent desperation of Mr. Murdaugh because of his dire financial situation, the threat of being exposed for committing the crimes for which he is later charged with, resulted in the commission of the alleged crimes.”
That “apparent desperation” was outlined by attorney Mark Tinsley during an in-camera hearing earlier Monday morning.
Tinsley represented the family of Mallory Beach, who was killed in a 2019 boat crash involving Alex’s son Paul.
Paul was allegedly the driver in the crash and was later charged with boating under the influence causing Beach’s death.
Tinsley was suing Alex and the Murdaugh family at the time of the murders.
He testified that Alex had tried to “intimidate” him at one point during a 2019 conference to drop the wrongful death lawsuit.
According to Tinsley, there was grumbling in the legal community about holding Alex accountable in this case.
Alex had said he was broke, but could possibly cobble together $1 million for the Beach family in a settlement. Tinsley did not believe this because Alex was actively settling cases, and it was his understanding that the Murdaugh family had generational wealth as well.
Immediately following the murders, Tinsley had thought that if some vigilante had killed Maggie and Paul, the case against Alex would likely have to be dropped.
A hearing in the case were Tinsley expected to receive information about all of Alex’s financial records was slated for three days after the killings, but that hearing ultimately was canceled.
Defense attorney Phillip Barber, in a tense exchange with Tinsley, tried to downplay importance of the scheduled June 10, 2021 motions hearing in Mallory Beach case.
“I think it’s fair to say that there wouldn’t have been an explosion on June 10, but the fuse was lit,” Tinsley said.”
Another witness the jury could hear from following Newman’s ruling is Jeannie Seckinger, the bookkeeper at Murdaugh’s former law firm, PMPED, who confronted Alex on June 7, 2021, the day of the murders, about $792,000 in missing legal fees Alex owed to the firm.
Those two events, prosecutors allege, weighed heavily on Alex’s mind.
They say that “the walls were closing in,” so they argue that the murders were his way of diverting attention from his financial schemes, instead making it appear as though his family was being targeted.
His attempt, prosecutors say, was to make himself an object of sympathy, a tactic that appeared to work but only for a time.
The late morning and early afternoon Monday featured powerful testimony from Mushelle “Shelley” Smith, the caretaker for Alex Murdaugh’s mother, also known as Ms. Libby.
Smith testified that on the night of the murders on June 7, 2021, Alex showed up at the home in Almeda after 9 P.M. that night, confirming his statement of alibi.
Smith said he called on the house phone when he arrived, and appeared “fidgety.”
She also said his arriving that late at night seemed odd to her. Smith testified that Alex appeared clean, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and doscksider shoes.
Notably, she testified that Alex stayed at the house for 15 to 20 minutes.
But a few days later, after the family stopped by for dinner following Randolph Murdaugh’s funeral, Smith said Alex pressed her, saying “if anyone asks” to tell them that he was there for 30 to 40 minutes the night of the June 7, which she stated was not true.
On the witness stand, Smith started to cry.
“That statement by Alex Murdaugh affected you?” prosecutor John Meadors asked.
“Yes,” Smith said.
“How?” Meadors asked.
“I was nervous,” Smith replied.
Because of this, after being pressed about the timeline, Smith then called her brother who is a law enforcement officer.
Prosecutors have placed the murders of Paul at 8:50 P.M., and Maggie shortly after. The defense also stated Murdaugh left Moselle after 9 P.M.
Whether Alex was at Almeda for 15 minutes, or 40 minutes, both Smith and Alex’s accounts of that night appear to confirm he showed up to the home after prosecutors say the murders happened.
Smith also testified that Alex offered to pay for her wedding, which she said seemed nice, but may also appear to the jury as though this was an effort to get Smith to cooperate with his version of events on June 7.
She further testified about another incident when Alex showed up at the Almeda house again a few days later, this time at 6:30 A.M. carrying a “blue tarp-like something.” This time, he knocked.
Alex then walked upstairs and placed the tarp on the rocking chair in his mother’s room, Smith said.
Smith further testified that she saw a blue raincoat stuffed in a second floor closet, but later under cross examination seemed to offer conflicting accounts about the raincoat and whether or not she could place it in the closet.
Moments later, SLED agent Kristin Moore testified and said that on September 16, 2021, SLED went to the home in Almeda where investigators found two blue items: the blue tarp and a blue raincoat.
The latter, Moore testified, was balled up in a bedroom closet.
The raincoat being entered into evidence caused a dispute among the prosecution and defense with neither Smith nor prosecutors definitively tying Alex Murdaugh to the large coat, other than to suggest he may have carried it along with the tarp as a bundle into the Almeda residence.
Tuesday promises to feature more squabbling over the raincoat.
On October 7, SLED processed the raincoat and tested it for blood with the tests coming back negative.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters in his opening statement said that blue bundle contained gunshot residue, but his team has yet to reveal that conclusion as evidence.
Court resumed at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 7.
Shelley Smith, caretaker for Alex Murdaugh’s mother, testifies:— Greg Adaline (@GregWISTV) February 6, 2023
1) Says Alex falsely claimed he was with his mom for 30-40 minutes the night of murders.
2) Says a few days later- she saw Murdaugh carry in a bundled blue tarp to the residence, which he left on a chair. @wis10
Defense attorney Phillip Barber, in tense exchange with Tinsley, tries to downplay importance of scheduled 6/10/21 motions hearing in Mallory Beach case.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 6, 2023
Tinsley says it wouldn’t have been “an explosion, but the fuse would be lit” in regards to exposing Alex’s financials. @wis10
Tinsley says there was grumbling among lawyers about holding Alex accountable in this case.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 6, 2023
Alex had said he was broke, but could possibly cobble together $1 million for the Beach family in a settlement.
Tinsley didn’t believe it because Alex was actively settling cases. @wis10
Day 11 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 6, 2023
Another hearing without the jury present on alleged financial crimes.
Mark Tinsley, lawyer who represented the family of Mallory Beach, testifies that Alex tried to “intimidate” him to drop the wrongful death lawsuit.
📸: POOL pic.twitter.com/c3Adith9xf
Evidentiary hearing underway with Mark Tinsley, lawyer for family of Mallory Beach. He was seeking a look at all of #Murdaugh accts, in a 6/10/21 hearing…— Greg Adaline (@GregWISTV) February 6, 2023
But the murders of Paul & Maggie put all of that on hold. Prosecutors allege- that was the point. @wis10
Week 2 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trail wrapped with more testimony about Alex’s alleged financial crimes — without jury present.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 4, 2023
SLED firearms examiner Paul Greer said casings found at the scene matched those found elsewhere at Moselle.
MORE: https://t.co/mOXLCge05n pic.twitter.com/d3wDfJ06Fc
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