BLOG: Day 12: Financial evidence takes center stage in Murdaugh trial
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The jury in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial on Tuesday got their first chance to hear about money Murdaugh allegedly stole from his former law firm and clients.
Jeanne Seckinger took the stand Monday morning to describe the internal investigation she conducted while she was the chief financial officer at Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick.
Murdaugh is on trial in Colleton County for the murders of his wife, Maggie; and their youngest son, Paul, on June 7, 2021. The jury will also hear about the nearly 100 charges that range from money laundering, to stealing millions from clients and the family law firm and tax evasion.
Prosecutors have said those witnesses are key to their case in Murdaugh’s double murder trial to show he was worried his alleged crimes were about to be discovered and that Murdaugh killed his family to get sympathy and buy time to cover up the missing money.
Seckinger’s check of the records at the law firm uncovered evidence that Murdaugh had been stealing money from the firm and clients since 2015, she testified.
The schemes were uncovered after a settlement was made in a case Murdaugh shared with another attorney and his best friend Chris Wilson.
The case was tried through Wilson’s firm with Murdaugh assisting in the case.
When it came time for fees and expenses to be paid, Seckinger testified that only an expense check arrived.
She said she was later told by paralegals for both Murdaugh and Wilson that the fees had been paid directly to Murdaugh. A check for a portion of the fees was later found in Murdaugh’s office and made out directly to him.
Seckinger testified that that wasn’t the way fees were paid at the firm, saying all fees went through the law firm to be paid out as bonuses at the end of the year.
Seckinger said Murdaugh had approached her about moving some of his fees into a structured account in order to put some money in Maggie Murdaugh’s name as the case for the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach grew closer.
Seckinger says the behavior concerned her because it was “hiding assets.”
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh on the afternoon of June 7, 2021, about the missing fees but the conversation was cut short because he received a phone call about his father’s failing health.
In cross examination, defense attorney Jim Griffin questioned Seckinger on the inquiry on June 7, 2021, and the subsequent inquiry into Murdaugh’s dealings through the fake Forge account.
“He managed to fool a lot of people, including myself,” Seckinger said.
Griffin asked Seckinger about the nature of the June 7 question about the $792,000 in missing lawyer fees and if the original concern was more about Murdaugh hiding assets.
Seckinger said yes and the conversation had shifted to a conversation between friends after news of Murdaugh’s father.
Seckinger has known Murdaugh since she was 16 years old she told the court Monday.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked if, after knowing Murdaugh so long, she felt like she knew him.
“I don’t think I ever really knew him,” Seckinger said. “I don’t think anybody knows him.”
After the deaths of Paul and Maggie, Seckinger said the investigation into the missing fees was put on hold for around a month.
After delaying the investigation, the email from Chris Wilson saying the money was in his trust had been received so the murders weren’t the only factor in the delay.
Griffin questioned Seckinger on the evidence uncovered in September 2021 of financial misappropriations dating back to 2015.
Seckinger said she had no reason to not trust Murdaugh and no clients had reported missing money.
Seckinger said Murdaugh’s bonuses were regularly in the high 6-figures or 7-figures and said seemed to be more successful through building relationships instead of work ethic.
She said he could “manipulate people into settlements and clients into liking him,”
“He did it through the art of bulls---, basically,” Seckinger said.
She told Griffin, during cross examination, that Murdaugh’s fees for 2021 would have been $1-2 million.
The judge presiding over the Alex Murdaugh murder trial told the courtroom Tuesday that a juror had to go to the emergency room but that it would not affect the trial.
Judge Clifton Newman did not specify the nature of the medical emergency but said it was one of the six alternate jurors. The trial will go on without that person, he said.
Newman also addressed an issue with a juror raised on Monday, when the juror expressed concern about what would happen to him financially if the trial lasted longer than three weeks. Newman said Tuesday the juror would stay and that something had been worked out with the juror’s job.
One focus of Monday’s testimony centered on a blue raincoat. Shelley Smith, who took care of Murdaugh’s mom, testified that she saw Murdaugh at his parents’ home holding what she described as a blue tarp.
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Defense attorney Jim Griffin argued against allowing the raincoat into evidence after Smith’s insistence that it was a tarp she saw Murdaugh with. But the state pushed back by bringing up Griffin’s questioning during cross-examination as the defense acknowledged the raincoat’s existence.
When Smith was shown a photo with the jacket balled up in a closet she said that was the item she saw. A blue tarp was also collected from the home. Photos of the tarp show one side of the tarp to be silver, something Smith said she never saw.
Kristin Hall, a former SLED investigator, testified that she had collected gunshot residue tests on the raincoat as well as a white t-shirt, green cargo shorts and a pair of shoes collected from Murdaugh on the night of the killings. She also testified that she had conducted a GSR test on the seatbelt taken from Murdaugh’s Chevy Suburban.
Smith said Murdaugh came to the house on the night of the murders and stayed between 15 and 20 minutes. She said he was wearing a T-shirt, shorts and boat shoes and that she couldn’t see any blood on him or left on the bed when he was next to his mother.
After the funeral for Murdaugh’s father Randolph, who died days after the shootings, Smith said Murdaugh came into the room and told her he was at Almeda for 30 or 40 minutes on the night of the murders.
Murdaugh later mentioned helping her with an upcoming wedding and finding her a new position with the school system where she worked, Smith said.
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