COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Week three of the Alex Murdaugh murder trial began with more testimony behind closed doors and Judge Clifton Newman ruling that testimony for Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes can be introduced as motive evidence in the case.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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Newman said the evidence could be heard only to further explain the state’s theory of motive, and that the jury should not use it as evidence of bad character or as an indication that Murdaugh is somehow more likely to commit murder based on having committed financial crimes.
The state is hoping to draw a line between Murdaugh’s impending financial doom and the murders of his wife and son. Attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the family of Mallory Beach and several other boat crash victims, gave damning testimony about what he expected would come out at a motions hearing on Murdaugh’s financials scheduled for June 10, 2021.
The jury also heard from Mushell Smith, who was the overnight caregiver for Murdaugh’s mother. She said Murdaugh came to the house around 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. the night of the murders and stayed for around 20 minutes, though he claimed to have stayed for longer.
She also said days after the murders, she saw him carrying a blue tarp into the home. State prosecutors claimed that the tarp could’ve been a blue raincoat, which SLED agents later seized from the property along with the tarp. The state plans to introduce evidence that gunshot residue was found on the raincoat, while Murdaugh’s defense team is arguing the raincoat should not be admitted into evidence at all since it has never been tied to Murdaugh.
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian asked Judge Clifton Newman to review the transcript for Smith’s testimony because the prosecution and defense could not agree on what she said.
Other witnesses in court Monday included a SLED gunshot residue technician, a Bank of America representative, Murdaugh’s former law partner Ronnie Crosby, and Paul’s friend Will McElveen.
Court is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
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5:16 p.m. – Court is adjourned until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Judge Newman is hearing the basis for objections from the defense regarding the information on the rain jacket. Defense says that Smith was never shown the rain jacket and said Murdaugh was not carrying it when he walked in the house. Defense says evidence regarding the rain jacket is extremely prejudicial, especially because no one ever tied the jacket to Murdaugh.
Prosecution says that Smith said a picture of the balled-up jacket resembled what she saw Murdaugh carrying.
Defense suggests reviewing the transcript to see what Smith actually said.
5:05 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination of Hall. They establish that Murdaugh’s shirt and shorts were packaged separately when she received them.
They discuss the process for collecting GSR evidence.
4:27 p.m. – Jamie Hall is called to the stand.
Hall is an evidence custodian at the West Columbia Police Department. She previously worked for SLED as a forensic technician, where she focused on GSR (gunshot residue) collection.
She assisted with processing items collected from the crime scene, including the clothes Murdaugh was wearing the night of the murders.
In her notes, Hall listed that the shirt smelled of laundry detergent. She also examined his shoes and shorts.
Months later, Hall examined the blue raincoat. They collected particles from the coat in a controlled environment for GSR testing.
4:17 p.m. – The state calls Natasha Moodie to the stand. She is a Bank of America representative.
Moodie reviewed Murdaugh’s records for the case. Moodie is the first witness testifying about financial crimes that is being allowed before the jury.
Newman advises the jury that the testimony being presented should not be used to judge Murdaugh’s character or as an indication that he is somehow more likely of committing a murder, but that it is being presented as part of the state’s theory of motive.
Three bank statements are admitted into evidence.
4:11 p.m. – Prosecution and defense argue about evidence that is expected to be introduced by the state which will show the raincoat seized from Murdaugh’s mother’s home had gunshot residue on it. Defense argued that the raincoat has never been tied to Murdaugh and that Smith said it was not the tarp he was carrying that night.
Newman says the evidence will be admitted.
3:36 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. They ask about the family’s relationship. McElveen says it was good.
Paul had a puppy named Goose that McElveen took when Paul died.
Griffin asks what Murdaugh’s demeanor was when McElveens saw him at Moselle the day after the murders. McElveen said he was crying and hugging Paul’s friends. He said the same was true after the funeral.
3:20 p.m. – William McElveen is called to the stand. He was good friends with Paul. He described Paul as the life of the party and a loyal friend.
McElveen says he also got to know the Murdaugh family well. He said Paul’s parents took everyone in and treated them as their own.
They talk about the Moselle property and family dogs. Prosecutors ask if it was normal for firearms to be stored at the dog kennels. McElveen says no.
McElveen said that he and Paul shared locations with each other via Find my Friends on their iPhones.
McElveen estimates the last time he saw Paul was June 5. They went to the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms.
He found out about the murders on June 8 when his roommate filled him in. He went out to Moselle that day.
3:07 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. They confirm the search was conducted in September of 2021.
Griffin asks if the tarp was tested for blood. Moore says she is unaware of any testing done on the blue tarp.
Griffin asks what size the raincoat is. Moore says she doesn’t recall. Moore opens the box containing the raincoat to see what size it is.
The coat does not have a tag. Griffin asks Moore to stand in front of the jury and show them how large it is.
Griffin asks if any SLED agent showed Mushell Smith a photo of the jacket. Moore says not that she knows of.
2:56 p.m. – SLED agent Kristin Moore takes the stand. She executed a search warrant at Murdaugh’s parent’s home for a blue tarp-like item.
They found a blue tarp in the closet of a second-floor bedroom.
They also found a blue raincoat in the coat closet on the second floor, which was seized as evidence.
Moore also assisted with testing the raincoat. They tested it for blood and it came back negative.
2:39 p.m. – Prosecutors continue questioning Smith. They ask if Murdaugh told her to tell investigators he was at the house for longer than he actually was. She says he said something to the effect of “if somebody asks you, I was here for 30-40 minutes.”
They ask again about the blue item Murdaugh was carrying.
Defense shows a photo of a blue rain jacket. They ask if Smith has ever seen it before. She says no. They ask if Murdaugh was carrying it the morning he came into the home. She says no.
2:37 p.m. – Defense moves to exclude evidence about a blue rain jacket, saying that Smith expressly identified the item Murdaugh was carrying as a tarp and no one has been able to connect Murdaugh with a blue rain jacket. No decision is made.
2:35 p.m. – Court resumed. One juror who had previously expressed concern about being able to stay if the trial goes long again brought that up to Judge Newman. The juror is “pondering,” according to Newman.
1:14 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch until 2:30 p.m. Judge Newman said he plans to speak with a juror during lunch.
1:04 p.m. – Prosecution again asks Smith why she called her brother after the conversation with Murdaugh about how long he was there. She said the conversation made her uncomfortable and that she was nervous.
12:46 a.m. – Defense begins questioning Smith about the blue item. They ask if anyone at SLED has ever shown her a picture of a blue rain jacket. She says no.
They then present a blue tarp. They ask if that is the kind of tarp he was carrying. She says yes. They ask if it looked like he was carrying a shovel handle or gun in it. She says no.
Defense asks how many times Smith had been upstairs in the house. She says twice in three years.
They move on to the timeline of the murders. They ask if her estimation of the 20 minutes Murdaugh spent on the property the night of the murders includes the around five minutes it took her to let him in. She says yes.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh had blood on his shoes, clothes, hair, or anywhere. Smith says no.
He asks if it is normal for Murdaugh to act “fidgety.” She says yes.
Griffin references a June SLED interview in which Smith told SLED Murdaugh was there for around 35 minutes. She says yes.
He asks why she never told anybody at SLED anything about the blue tarp until September. The first mention of it was apparently to a law enforcement officer unconnected to the crime after she had a car accident on September 4.
12:00 p.m. – The state calls Mushell Smith to the stand. Smith is an in-home caregiver. She began working for the Murdaugh family in October 2019 taking care of Murdaugh’s sick mother, who she calls “Miss Libby.”
Smith got to the home around 8:00 p.m. and left around 8:00 a.m. each day.
Smith says that Miss Libby’s Alzheimer’s got progressively worse between October 2019 and June 2021. She says that Miss Libby was not aware of what was happening around her.
Prosecution asks about whether she took care of Murdaugh’s father, Randolph, as well. She says sometimes she helped out, but her primary responsibility was Miss Libby.
They ask about June 7, 2021. Smith says she arrived at the home around 7:45 p.m. Another caregiver was waiting until she arrived to leave. Randolph was at the hospital. She says Miss Libby was in bed when she arrived and she did not disturb her.
Smith says that she sat in a recliner in Miss Libby’s room and watched a game show on repeat.
Smith says that Murdaugh did come over sometime around 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., late in the evening. She says it was unusual — but not unheard of — to see Murdaugh there at that time of night.
When Murdaugh arrived, Smith says he called the house phone and told her he was outside and asked to be let inside. He was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and cloth shoes like Sperry’s without socks.
Smith says Murdaugh was acting “fidgety” that night. He sat on the bed, talked to his mother, and held her hand, but she was asleep off and on. She said Murdaugh said he came to check up on his mother because his father was in the hospital.
The prosecution asks if Smith thinks Murdaugh’s mother even knew he was there. Smith says no.
He stayed around 20 minutes, she estimates.
Smith was told the next morning about the murders. She said she heard first from another caregiver, then she got a call from Randy Murdaugh.
Randy told her that John Marvin, Buster and his girlfriend, and Murdaugh would come over to his mother’s house to stay the night.
Smith said that after the murders and the death of Randolph, she was asked to help out more around the house.
After Randolph’s funeral, people came back to Alameda for lunch. Smith said that at some point during that lunch, Murdaugh reminded her that he was at the house with her the night of the murders for around 30 to 40 minutes. Smith recalls him being there for a shorter amount of time. The conversation upset her, so she called her brother to tell him about it.
Smith is visibly emotional and is asked why she is crying. She says that the Murdaughs are good people and she is sorry that all this happened.
The day after the conversation, Smith says Murdaugh mentioned her upcoming wedding. He said to let him know what he could do because weddings are expensive. She said he offered to help because that’s the type of person he is — a good person.
Days after the funeral, Smith said that Murdaugh came to the house around 6:30 a.m., which was incredibly unusual. He knocked on the bedroom window to let her know he was there. She said he had “a blue something in his hand.” She says it looked like a tarp. He was cradling it, but she couldn’t tell if there was anything in it. She says he walked in and went upstairs.
He came back downstairs and said he was leaving, but then she saw him again later. He returned in a white truck and got in a black truck. She also says an ATV vehicle appeared to be moved at some point while Murdaugh was there.
She says that morning, she saw the blue item unfolded in one of the bedrooms. When she came back the next day, the item was gone.
Prosecutors present photos of the home, one of them with a blue object in one of the rooms. Smith says it appears to be the same object Murdaugh was holding when he came over that morning.
The morning Murdaugh came over, Smith said it looked like he had a little bruise on his forehead.
Smith says there was a video monitoring system in Miss Libby’s bedroom.
11:57 a.m. – The jury returns to the courtroom.
11:35 a.m. – Judge Newman is ruling on the 404 evidence presented over the past few days. All of the witnesses who have testified without the jury present will have to re-testify before the jury. Newman rules that the evidence is admissible because it is relevant and may show a motive, a common plan, a pattern, etc. He said that the theory that the looming exposure of financial crimes provided a motive for the murders draws a logical line between financial crimes and the murders.
Newman said he thinks the jury should be able to consider whether Murdaugh’s dire financial situation led him to commit the crimes. He said the evidence is not prejudiced because it does not suggest to the jury that Murdaugh frequently commits murders, and he believes the jury will be able to separate the other crimes and reach a verdict based only on the crimes for which he is charged in this case.
11:13 a.m. – Defense asks if Danny Henderson and Randy Murdaugh were also there. Crosby says yes. Griffin points out that the meeting was scheduled so that the family members could be interviewed by SLED agents.
Crosby recalls that Murdaugh’s ailing father stopped by as well, just hours before his death.
Griffin asks if anyone there made clear to Murdaugh that they were there as his friends, not his lawyers, and that anything said in front of them to his lawyer would void attorney-client privilege. Crosby says that basically everyone there was a lawyer, including Murdaugh, and he didn’t see any need to clarify that.
11:06 a.m. – Ronnie Crosby takes the stand. He is a lawyer at Parker Law Group (formerly PMPED) and former partner of Murdaugh.
Waters asks Crosby who was at the June 10 meeting at John Marvin Murdaugh’s house. Crosby recalls Mark Ball, Lee Cope, John Marvin Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh, Jim Griffin, and possibly Cory Fleming being there. He says others could’ve been there as well.
Crosby says they were all there as friends and they had been with Murdaugh every day since the murders.
During the meeting, Crosby says Murduagh went over the timeline the night of the murders. Waters asks if the statements were being made quietly to Griffin or to everyone in the room. Crosby says the two did have private conversations, but that specific conversation was not private.
11:03 a.m. – The state plans to call Ronnie Crosby to the stand. The topic will be the conversation had in the presence of third parties between Murdaugh and one of his attorneys, Jim Griffin, just days after the murders. Waters believes the conversation is no longer covered by attorney-client privilege because it was had in the presence of third parties.
Griffin says they have attorney-client privilege conversations every day in the courtroom, but there are 200 other people in the courtroom.
10:58 a.m. – In follow up, prosecution highlights that the hearing on June 10 would’ve led to the discovery of everything Murdaugh had done.
10:24 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. Tinsley says that because John Tiller knew that he only had about a year to live, they expected to try the case around the summer of 2021. Defense pushes back, asking how that would’ve been possible with all the pending motions.
Tinsley said that when COVID happens and things shut down, he got his case together and was ready to try it.
Defense presents an order from the court saying that the motion to compel Murdaugh’s funds will be granted if the court deems it necessary, implying that the motion may not have ever been granted. Tinsley disagrees, saying if the judge was going to outright deny the motion, he would’ve done that.
Tinsley says that Murdaugh and his lawyers both knew what was coming, especially because one of his lawyers (Danny Henderson) was a shareholder in PMPED, so he would’ve reviewed the financials and seen what Murdaugh was doing.
He says that he didn’t really need the financial statements because he knew Murdaugh had money; he wanted them because Murdaugh so adamantly did not want him to have them. He said he didn’t need a full financial audit “to see something a five-year-old could see.”
Defense continues on their theory that the judge had not ruled in favor of the motion to compel, so maybe Murdaugh’s finances would never have been audited. Tinsley says he thinks they would have, but Murdaugh’s finances would’ve come out either way.
Defense says they can both agree on one thing – even if the hearing had gone forward on June 10, it wouldn’t have been judgment day. There would’ve been more to it. Tinsley says there wouldn’t have been some explosion June 10, but the fuse would’ve been lit and Murdaugh would’ve known that.
9:40 a.m. – Court is in session. Attorney Mark Tinsley is called to the stand. Tinsley represents the family of Mallory Beach and other victims of the boat crash.
Tinsley says he has known Murduagh and all of the other partners at PMPED for years.
He describes an experience Rene Beach, Mallory Beach’s mother, had days after the crash. He says she wanted to go down to the crash site, but it was taped off. Minutes later, members of the Murdaugh family were allegedly waved through the tape and allowed down to the site.
Tinsley also says he reviewed Murdaugh’s insurance policies shortly after the boat crash and determined that none of the policies were applicable.
State prosecutor Creighton Waters asks if he was asking for a significant amount of money. Tinsley says he doesn’t want to seem crass, but the Beach family stood on a causeway as their daughter’s body was pulled from the water, so he isn’t sure any amount of money would be sufficient. But, he did ask for a substantial sum, he says.
Tinsley says in August of 2019, he saw Murdaugh at a lawyer’s conference either at a fundraiser for either Dick Harpootlian or Lindsey Graham. He says Murduagh got in his face and said something to the effect of “I thought we were friends, what’s this about the boat case.” Tinsley says he told Murdaugh they were friends, but he was going to do everything he could for this case and that Murdaugh needed to settle.
The case was brought before a mock jury and Tinsley said that the results were very favorable to the Beach family. He says he shared that information with Murdaugh.
In October 2020, Tinsley said that Murdaugh claimed he was broke and couldn’t pay the large personal sum Tinsley was seeking from Murdaugh. Murdaugh said he could maybe put together $1 million. Tinsley didn’t believe it because he knew how many successful cases Murdaugh had. Murdaugh’s personal attorney, Danny Henderson, said Tinsley crossed a line by coming after Murdaugh personally.
Tinsley said when Murdaugh said he was broke, he offered Murduagh a payment plan and offered to take some of the Murdaugh family properties.
Tinsley said that he began looking into Murdaugh’s accounts because the only way that he believed Murdaugh could be broke, was if money had been hidden. He wanted to try and find that money. He also said that looking into the accounts was also a way to put pressure on Murdaugh to settle.
In 2021, Tinsley found out he had stage 4 cancer. He went to Florida for treatment in January and returned around April. His partner was also diagnosed with cancer, so he says there was a sense of urgency to settle the case.
Around that time, Tinsley said that one of the defendants — Parker’s Kitchen — wanted to move the trial to Beaufort. Tinsley wanted to keep it in Hampton, but said that if he found that Murdaugh had “fixed” the jury in any way, he was going to bring a lawsuit against Paul and Maggie in Beaufort. He said that information was communicated to the defense.
Meanwhile, a State Grand Jury reached out to Tinsley as part of an investigation into how law enforcement initially handled the investigation into the boat crash.
Waters asks what Murdaugh’s skills were as a lawyer. Tinsley says Murdaugh was particularly good at reading people, knowing what made people tick, making people feel like they were the only person in the room, and surprising the defense.
On June 10, 2021, a hearing was scheduled to look into Murdaugh’s funds. That was ultimately pushed back because of the murders. He said that for about the first week, everyone was in shock about the murders. But he soon realized that he didn’t believe the murders were the result of some sort of vigilante justice. If he did believe that, he would’ve ended the case against Murdaugh because the jury would have been unlikely to award a settlement.
Tinsley said that he was contacted by the Satterfields about their settlement. Tinsley referred the family to Eric Bland.
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