WALTERBORO, S.C. (WSAV) — The double murder trial of disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh continued into day nine on Thursday. Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife and youngest son at their Colleton County family property in June of 2021.
Yesterday, the trial’s focus was establishing a digital timeline of the events leading up to the murders. A video was played from Paul Murdaugh’s phone where seemingly Alex, Maggie and Paul’s voices could be heard in the recording. The video was taken just minutes before the murders took place, which contradicts Alex’s previous statements to investigators saying he last saw his wife and son at supper.
A new Snapchat video was played in court by the prosecution sent by Paul Murdaugh. The video was taken at 7:38 p.m., a little over an hour before the murders happened. Alex is seen wearing a different shirt and pants than when he was interviewed by investigators.
Later in the day, Dylan Hightower — the investigator who found Maggie’s cell phone — testified about the phone, found about a half mile away in a wooded area off the side of the road. Hightower also worked with Alex’s phone and discovered call logs were missing.
“On the date in question on June 7 I only saw two FaceTime calls on the phone extraction, and I saw a series of around 73 phone calls on the Verizon call detail record,” Hightower, of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, said.
The jury was then dismissed and the focus was on a hearing to determine if more than 90 other criminal charges and Alex’s alleged financial schemes can be told to the jury.
Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer of PMPED — the law firm Alex worked for — testified that she confronted Alex about $792,000 missing fees. But before she could get a final answer, she says Alex got a phone call.
“That phone call was about his father. That was who was in the hospital that he was going to be terminal and that there was nothing else they’d be able to do first. Father said that changed the mood of the conversation. And we quit talking about business,” Seckinger explained.
The defense says it’s a murder trial, not a financial crimes case, and the witnesses shouldn’t be allowed.
Attorney Joe McCulloch believes the judge’s decision will be key to the whole case.
“There are witnesses all over this courthouse waiting to testify about what’s already known worldwide. He stole money! But the question is is that information prejudicial or probative and so far, the only probative value is motive, which is not an element of this crime,” McCullough said.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh’s good friend and fellow lawyer Chris Wilson took the stand. He was in tears multiple times, saying he was afraid Alex might try to kill himself.
Wilson said he was owed $192,000 from one of the cases they were on. He was so afraid of what Alex might do, he had him sign a promissory note.
The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday with more arguments over whether Murduagh’s alleged financial crimes will be heard by the jury.
The jury is expected to come in at 11:30 a.m.
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WSAV is streaming all throughout the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. Follow investigative reporters @WSAVAndrewD and @BrettWSAV for live tweets and keep up with the trial via our live blogs on wsav.com. Tune in to News 3 at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. for full coverage.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL LIVE BLOG:
9:35 a.m.– Court is back in session.
9:39 a.m– Judge Newman begins by explaining why he allowed the prosecution to ask Wednesday’s final witness about Alex’s financial crimes.
Newman says Murdaugh’s defense team opened that door by turning Rogan Gibson into a “character witness.”
Newman says objecting on the grounds of being “totally inappropriate” is not sufficient because “totally inappropriate” has no legal basis.
Newman says the main argument Murdaugh’s defense has made is that Murdaugh has such a good character, therefore, testimony about his reputation will be admitted as well.
He also says the defense brought up the boat crash case Wednesday, which opens the door for evidence from that case to be brought in as well.
10:12 a.m. – The trial resumes after a short break.
The State calls Snapchat representative Heidi Galore to the stand.
10:21 a.m. – Galore’s responsibilities include responding to search warrants, subpoenas and other law enforcement inquiries. Galore confirms that a video Paul recorded of Alex Murdaugh was published on Snapchat on June 7, 2021 at 7:38 p.m. Galore also said Paul’s friends could have seen his location on Snapchat if he allowed it in the app’s settings.
10:26 a.m. – Newman says he wants to hold separate hearings where the lawyers can discuss without the jury if any of the financial crime evidence will be admitted. The judge dismisses the jury until further instruction.
10:29 a.m. – The prosecution calls Jeanne Seckinger, chief financial officer of the Parker Law Group, previously PMPED.
PMPED was the law firm where Alex Murdaugh was a lawyer and partner. That law firm was founded by Randolph Murdaugh at the turn of the 19th century.
PMPED eventually transitioned into Parker Law Group LLP.
Seckinger testifies about missing funds from PMPED.
10:55 a.m. – Seckinger testified that she asked Alex on June 7. 2021 about the $792,000 missing in fees because she believed Alex had taken the money. Seckinger said Alex assured her that he had the money and that he could get it.
Seckinger testifies that Alex sent her an email claiming that the money was in Chris Wilson’s trust and could be accessed whenever needed. Wilson is one of Alex’s closest friends and a fellow attorney out of Bamberg County, South Carolina.
Seckinger said Alex took a phone in the middle of the conservation about his father in which he found out that his father was terminally ill. Seckinger said the conversation then shifted to Alex’s father and family.
“That changed the mood of that conversation. We quit talking about business,” Seckinger said.
Seckinger says the inquiry into the funds was halted in June due to the murders.
11:07 a.m. – On Sept. 3, 2021, Seckinger said PMPED lawyers met together and discussed their findings that showed Alex most likely stole. Seckinger said the group decided to force Alex to resign after he admitted to stealing the funds around Labor Day weekend in September 2021.
11:20 a.m. – Seckinger testifies that Alex deposited money into a fake forge account several times where he pocketed recovery funds. In one instance, the recovery funds were more than $183,000 with $30,000 in attorney fees. The remaining $152,866 went into an account that Alex had access to. The client didn’t receive any of their money until the firm had to pay them, according to Seckinger.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters asks: “Been going on for years? “Yes,” Seckinger responds.
12:17 p.m. – Court resumes after a short break. Defense attorney Jim Griffin begins cross-examining Seckinger.
Griffin asks Seckinger if sometimes attorneys deposit money into trust accounts to delay paying taxes on the money. Seckinger says yes attorneys do this sometimes.
12:34 p.m. – Seckinger told Griffin that she didn’t personally meet with all of the clients she says Alex stole from but did say the clients were surprised to hear their funds were stolen.
Jim Griffin asks Seckinger for context on Alex’s inquiry for his 401(k) on the afternoon of June 7, 2021. Griffin asks if it was specifically to put together information for the deadly boating crash case or if he was just curious. Seckinger said Alex was asking for financial information to put together for the boating crash case.
12:56 p.m. – Judge Newman asks the prosecution which other witnesses it plans to call to the stand to testify in regard to financial crimes. The defense complains that introducing these witnesses would expand the trial through the end of February and potentially through the first week of March.
1:12 p.m. – Judge Newman issues a recess and set to return at 2:15 p.m. to hear witnesses.
2:23 p.m. – The prosecution calls 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office Investigator Dylan Hightower to the witness stand. Hightower downloaded Alex’s cell phone data several days later for analysis.
Hightower is asked about Maggie’s phone being missing. He said that he suggested locating it using Find my iPhone. They did, and Hightower located the phone. He estimates it was about 15-20 feet off the side of Moselle Road outside the property.
Hightower extracted data from Alex, Randy, and Buster Murdaugh’s phones as well.
3:06 p.m. – Harpootlian asks Hightower about Maggie’s phone. He’s shown a photo that appears to show twigs and straw and things on the phone. Harpootlian asks if the phone was carefully placed there, wouldn’t all the debris be below it? He also asks if anyone searched the area for footprints. Hightower says no.
3:30 p.m. – The court breaks for 10 minutes.
3:48 p.m. – The state calls SLED Sr. Special Agent Katie McAllister to the stand. A special agent at the time, she was called to the scene at Moselle on June 7, 2021.
McAllister said she and Hightower worked with Maggie’s phone. She helped confirm the phone’s passcode and placed it in airplane mode.
McAllister said she helped search the home on Moselle, accompanied by John Marvin Murdaugh, Alex’s brother and Lee Cope from PMPED.
McAllister said she found no clothes, shoes or other garments covered in blood during her search.
4:00 p.m. – Judge Newman dismisses the jury for the day. They are expected back in court Friday at 11:30 a.m.
4:15 p.m. – The state calls Michael Gunn, of Forge Consulting, to the stand for an in-camera hearing.
Dunn says he knew Murdaugh on a professional level, which ultimately turned into a “business-type” friendship. He says he was consulted on structured settlements for five of Murdaugh’s clients.
4:32 p.m. – The state calls Attorney Chris Wilson to the stand. He says he was a close friend of Murdaugh. They worked professionally together on some cases, Wilson said.
Now, he says “I don’t know how I feel about him.”
Wilson is very emotional on the stand as he talks about Murdaugh. He said he was afraid he may do something to harm himself.
He notes he got a promissory note made to get $192,000 back that Murdaugh owed him.
When informed that Murdaugh had been shot in September of 2021, Wilson said “I thought he had tried to kill himself.”
5:37 p.m. – Jim Griffin on whether financial crime witnesses should be allowed to testify: “They have a whole lot more about financial misconduct than they do about murders, and that’s what this is all about.”
5:40 p.m. – Judge Newman says the court can hear from Attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the family of Mallory Beach.
The court will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. without the jury for a financial evidence hearing.