On Monday, a South Carolina judge ruled that evidence of attorney Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes can be presented to the jury during his ongoing double murder trial.
The jury was not present as various witnesses testified about Alex’s financial crimes, which they claimed involved him stealing money from his family law firm and clients he represented in court. Judge Newman concluded that Alex’s financial crimes can show evidence of a motive in Maggie and Paul’s 2021 murders, which is not essential but may be crucial in the prosecution proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The state argues that the logical nexus between the murders and other crimes is that the looming exposure of financial crimes provided motive for the murders and is evidence of malice, an essential element of the crime of murder,” the judge said.
He went on to cite Jeanne Seckinger’s testimony. Seckinger, the chief financial officer of Alex’s former law firm, said last week that she had confronted Alex about missing money the same day his wife and son were fatally shot on the family’s property in Colleton County.
The CFO of a law firm #AlexMurdaugh was involved with detailed how she confronted the disgraced lawyer over missing money prior to the murders of his wife and son. #MurdaughTrial pic.twitter.com/w4mnexRDw0
— Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) February 2, 2023
Seckinger said that in May 2021, she and Alex discussed structured settlements regarding the boat crash involving Paul. Alex reportedly sent those funds to Forge Consulting and was putting money in his wife’s name. Alex allegedly said he was sending the money to Forge as a favor to a friend, Michael Gunn, who was a top employee there.
In February 2019, Paul reportedly crashed his boat into Archer’s Creek Bridge in Beaufort County. Passenger Mallory Beach, 19, was ejected from the boat and killed; five other people aboard were injured. Paul was charged with felony boating under the influence in connection with Beach’s death, but he was murdered before he could face trial.
Seckinger said there was concern that Alex was hiding money in the boat crash case and the law firm wanted no involvement.
Seckinger went on to allege that Alex had diverted $2 million to a “Forge account” at Bank of America between 2015 and 2021. She testified that in many cases, Alex did not disclose any payouts or settlements to his clients so he could move the funds to the fraudulent account.
Seckinger said that in May 2021, she was alerted to a check obtained for client expenses by Chris Wilson, Alex’s longtime friend, though a fee check was not supplied. On May 27, 2021, she and a law firm partner reportedly emailed requesting documents regarding the disbursement. Alex was allegedly adamant that Wilson was paid and that the money would be available by the first week of June.
Seckinger testified that — on the day of the murders — she questioned Alex again when nothing was disbursed, eliciting a “dirty look” from Alex. The conversation was reportedly cut short because Alex got a phone call about his father’s ailing health.
In September 2021, the law firm discovered additional misappropriations of funds allegedly on Alex’s part. Seckinger said Alex’s signature was on a fee check and other checks. She also said he had checks on his desk.
Seckinger said they later learned that other payments had been made via Palmetto State Bank. Money was also held there for beneficiaries but it ended up being used by Alex for personal business, she testified.
According to Sekinger, two partners at the law firm eventually confronted Alex about the allegations — to which he confessed and resigned.
Prosecutors claimed Alex was motivated to kill his wife and son because he wanted to distract from his financial crimes. During yesterday’s cross-examination of Paul’s friends Rogan Gibson and Will Loving, the defense asked if Alex would have any motive to commit the murders.
On Thursday, Judge Clifton Newman determined that this line of questioning “opened the door” for the state to rebut by presenting evidence of Alex’s alleged financial crimes.
“In the questioning in the cross-examination by Griffin, the witness was asked if he could think of any reason possible Mr. Murdaugh would commit the crimes he was accused of committing,” Newman explained. “That turned cross-examination of the witness from dealing with specific issues in the case to having to testify as a character witness for Mr. Murdaugh.”
Alex is believed to have acted alone in the 2021 slayings, allegedly shooting Maggie with a rifle and killing Paul with a shotgun on their Colleton County family property. He was reportedly filmed driving away from the lodge an hour before he called 911 to report their deaths. He allegedly carried out the double slaying after visiting his mother.
Last week, Colleton County detective Laura Rutland testified that there were no footprints located in the blood near Paul Murdaugh’s body even though Alex claimed he turned him over twice and checked his pulse.
Rutland also testified that she saw no blood on Alex — including on his shoes and hands. During cross-examination, Rutland would not say if, to her, Alex appeared to be the person who had just killed his son on their family’s property.
SLED agent Melinda Worley said she swabbed 10 different areas in Alex’s car and all of them returned presumptive positive results. She said she also photographed a 16-gauge shotgun shell located on the rear floorboard of his vehicle.
Prosecutors said cell phone data and forensic evidence tie Alex to the slayings. Meanwhile, Alex’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, said the cell phone records were incomplete and asserted that Alex would be covered in blood if he killed his wife and son at close range. Harpootlian said no blood was found on Alex’s clothing.
In September 2021, months after Paul and Maggie’s slayings, Alex suffered superficial head wounds when he allegedly had former client Curtis Smith, 61, shoot him in the head so his surviving son, Buster, would receive a $10 million insurance payout.
A day before the shooting, Alex was forced out of his family law firm amid allegations he misappropriated funds.
Two days after the apparent botched suicide, Alex announced he was entering rehabilitation for drugs. Shortly thereafter, he was charged with insurance fraud in connection with the September 2021 suicide-for-hire plot and released on bail.
However, in October 2021, Alex was rearrested upon leaving a rehabilitation center in Florida for allegedly stealing $4.3 million from the estate of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who suffered a fatal fall on his property in February 2018.
In that case, he was accused of stealing insurance payouts that were intended for Satterfield’s family. Authorities plan to exhume her body amid an ongoing investigation regarding her death.
In addition to the murder charges, Alex faces more than 100 criminal counts related to fraud.
In June 2022, Alex and Smith were indicted for allegedly purchasing and distributing oxycodone in multiple counties. In December 2022, Alex was indicted for tax evasion for allegedly failing to claim the $6 million he allegedly earned through illegal acts between 2011 and 2019.
Alex was charged with Maggie and Paul’s murders days after he was formally disbarred by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
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[Featured image: Alex Murdaugh/Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool]