Alex Murdaugh’s best friend testifies against him in his double murder trial, details betrayal and stealing
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WIS) -Alex Murdaugh’s best friend testified him in his double murder trial Thursday, detailing how the disgraced Lowcountry attorney stole nearly $200,000 from him and betrayed his trust.
Attorney Chris Wilson testified for hours, Murdaugh’s former law school roommate, said the two spoke nearly every day. Wilson said he never suspected anything, until Murdaugh confessed to his opioid addiction and that he’d been stealing money from clients and his law firm for years.
That news hit him “like a ton of bricks,” Wilson said.
In early 2021, after the pair won a personal injury case, known as the Ferris case, Murdaugh asked Wilson for his $792,000 share of the attorney’s fees to be deposited directly into Murdaugh’s account instead of to his law firm.
Wilson said this was unusual, but did not raise any red flags.
“He was one of the biggest dogs in that firm, one of the biggest producers they had, he seemed to own a lot of things, do a lot of things, spend money,” he said. “I trusted him because I knew him and had dealt with him personally and professionally for a long time.”
Shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, Alex sent Wilson back a portion of the money, saying he had messed up the fee structure.
Wilson only received $600,000, he said.
He testified that he fronted Alex $192,000 of the payout and then wrote an email to Murdaugh’s firm, PMPED, saying all of the missing cash was in Wilson’s trust account.
Wilson also drafted a handwritten promissory note for the $192,000. He still has not been repaid.
However, questions lingered as Murdaugh was pressed about those same missing fees by PMPED CFO Jeannie Seckinger on the day of the murders, June 7, 2021, at his law firm.
Wilson also testified that on the night of the murders, Murdaugh called and texted him after 9 P.M. Prosecutors argue this was to build an alibi.
On cross-examination of Wilson, the defense established that Murdaugh was calm, and did not sound “panicky” over the phone.
The defense also sought to paint Murdaugh as a loving family man, who was emotionally destroyed after the murders of his wife and son.
Wilson said after he heard about the murders, he immediately headed to Moselle and stayed for days.
He further testified that the questions surrounding the fees went away.
On September 3, 2021, fully realizing the extent of Murdaugh’s corruption which had spanned a decade and cost the firm millions of dollars, PMPED cut ties with him.
Wilson confronted Murdaugh the following day, and that is when he said he finally got an idea of the scope of Alex Murdaugh’s problems.
“Didn’t know it, never saw it, never suspected it,” Wilson said. “Drugs or money.”
He said he felt “shocked, betrayed, mad, numb.”
That is the same day that Murdaugh was shot along the side of the road by his friend Curtis “Eddie” Smith in an alleged suicide-for-hire plot.
Murdaugh and Smith face charges in that incident as well.
Later, the defense sought to block the testimony of Tony Satterfield, the late Murdaugh housekeeper’s son, another alleged victim of Alex’s stealing.
“This is a murder trial, not a financial fraud trial,” Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s defense attorneys, said.
Judge Clifton Newman objected.
Satterfield was the Murdaugh housekeeper for 20 years.
She suffered a trip and fall at Murdaugh’s home at Moselle in early 2018 and died on February 26 of that year.
Satterfield testified that Murdaugh acted as his lawyer who promised to file a claim against his homeowners’ insurance company for $505,000.
According to Satterfield, Murdaugh promised to get the surviving sons, one of whom is disabled, $100,000 each, and cover their mother’s outstanding medical bills, which Tony said: “sounded good.”
However, the policies were actually for $5.5 million, and when they paid out for $4.3 million, Murdaugh kept all of the money, and Tony and his disabled brother did not receive any money.
Upon hearing a settlement in the case had been reached, not from Murdaugh, but from media reports and friends, Satterfield contacted Murdaugh in June 2021 to question him about the payout.
Murdaugh has since admitted to stealing the $4.3 million in a confession of judgment.
Satterfield testified last week during an in-camera hearing, and on Thursday the jury heard his story.
“Have you come to find out that the defendant took all of your money?” Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters asked.
“Yes,” Satterfield said.
“And that’s what led to that confession of judgment?” Waters asked.
“Yes,” Satterfield replied.
“Did he, though, ever pay you one cent?” Waters asked.
“No,” Satterfield said.
Wilson, Satterfield, and other financial witnesses are key for prosecutors.
They play into the state’s argument for motive, seeking to establish that Murdaugh was living a double life of thievery, and with the threat of it being exposed, he would go to any length to divert attention away from these crimes, including murdering his wife and son.
To round out Thursday’s testimony, Jan Malinowski, the CEO of Palmetto State Bank, testified that Murdaugh was under crippling debt after the murders, at one point owing the bank over $4.2 million dollars.
He also testified on August 9, 2021, Murdaugh’s account was underwater $347,000.
The bank covered the tab, Malinowski said.
Malinowski said the CEO at the time, convicted banker Russel Laffitte, replenished the account with $400,000 from the bank itself, with no paperwork.
During an in-camera hearing last week, Waters called this arrangement “perhaps the most generous overdraft policy ever seen.”
Mark Tinsley, the attorney for the estate of Mallory Beach, also took the stand.
Beach was killed in a boat crash in 2019 in which Paul was allegedly driving. The Beach family enlisted Tinsley as counsel.
Alex was named as a defendant in that civil suit.
Tinsley had filed a motion to compel, seeking Alex’s bank account information in that wrongful death lawsuit.
A hearing which could have required Alex to open his books was scheduled for June 10, 2021, three days after the killings.
That hearing was canceled.
Tinsley and other witnesses have testified that Alex sought to shield his finances and hide money to limit his exposure in the boat crash lawsuit.
Prosecutors allege the pressure of the pending disclosure of those accounts, and near-certain financial scrutiny and prosecution was a key factor in Murdaugh committing the murders.
Tinsley said as the lawsuit began to take shape, Murdaugh even confronted him about it face to face.
Murdaugh pressured Tinsley to settle, but he would not.
There was a dispute before Tinsley testified, where the defense sought to strike his testimony altogether, citing an apparent $1,000 donation Tinsley made to a GoFundMe set up for Shelley Smith, the caretaker at Alex’s mother’s home, who previously testified in the trial.
The account is described as “a reward for her honesty.”
Newman denied the request, and called the payment, “Good fodder for cross-examination.”
The defense is expected to cross Tinsley on Friday.
Day 14 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 9, 2023
Alex’s former best friend Chris Wilson takes the stand. He had emotional testimony last week during an in-camera hearing where he described how Alex stole from him.
Today the jury hears his story.
📸: POOL pic.twitter.com/bW55YpkfIZ
Update from day 13 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 9, 2023
A bomb threat disrupted proceedings for several hours, and jurors heard testimony from Alex’s former paralegal who described his erratic work habits, his stealing and cover-up.
MORE: https://t.co/MSl9hcngxJ pic.twitter.com/huZHkzePwE
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