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Alex Murdaugh Coverage

The Murdaugh family saga has dominated the news after another shooting, a resignation and criminal accusations — with Alex Murdaugh at the center of it all. Here are the latest updates on Alex Murdaugh.

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The Alex Murdaugh murder trial resumed Friday morning with testimony from the lawyer who was suing the former Lowcountry attorney over a fatal 2019 boat crash before Murdaugh’s wife and son were murdered.

Attorney Mark Tinsley testified that he feared he would not be able to continue with a lawsuit brought on behalf of Mallory Beach, the young woman who died in a boat crash involving Murdaugh’s son, Paul. He said he initially believed the shootings might have happened in retaliation for Beach’s death, and thought it would generate too much sympathy for Murdaugh among a potential jury.

You have to motivate the jury to help somebody in a civil case,” Tinsley said. “If Alex is the victim of vigilante justice, it doesn’t matter what he did, nobody is going to hold him accountable.”

Tinsley, a 52-year-old lawyer from Allendale, was the 43rd prosecution witness so far of the 15-day trial in which Murdaugh is accused of the June 7, 2021, murders of his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22.

A hearing was scheduled for three days after the shooting that Tinsley believed could have given him access to Murdaugh’s financial information. Prosecutors contend that such a move could have revealed alleged financial crimes and thefts committed by Murdaugh, motivating him to commit the murders in hopes of delaying such a revelation.

Defense attorney Phil Barber briefly cross-examined Tinsley Friday, pointing out Tinsley previously testified he expected there would be “no explosion on June 10” at the hearing.

You’re trying to turn it into something it’s not,” Tinsley responded.

Prosecutors push alleged financial crimes as motive

Tinsley is one of about a half-dozen prosecution witnesses who’ve testified about various alleged frauds Murdaugh was involved in.

Judge Clifton Newman agreed to allow the state to present evidence of financial crimes after prosecutors contended Murdaugh’s motive was to kill his wife and son to divert attention from efforts to expose his alleged financial crimes.

In his testimony, which started Thursday, Tinsley explained how he had sought justice for the Beach family, saying that no amount of money could replace their daughter, but that those responsible for her death must be held accountable. Initial defendants included Murdaugh, as owner of the boat, and various others.

As he spoke, Tinsley leaned toward the jury, most of whom sat up, alert, paying close attention — a good sign for prosecutors as they have called a number of witnesses, many of whom have been questioned on dry, technical matters dealing with forensic evidence.

In his initial efforts to collect information for the ongoing lawsuit, Tinsley told the jury he first believed that Murdaugh was wealthy and would have ample insurance to assure a high payout to the Beach family, either as a result of a settlement or a trial verdict.

But as time went on, Tinsley said he learned that Murdaugh only had about $500,000 in insurance. When Tinsley tried to find details about Murdaugh’s assets, Murdaugh’s representatives stonewalled him, Tinsley testified.

Tinsley also testified that Murdaugh complained to him personally about seeking such high damages while at a trial lawyers’ convention. Tinsley told him he was going to make him pay, he testified.

Under state questioning by lead prosecutor Creighton Waters, Tinsley told the jury at first he believed Murdaugh was resistant to efforts to make him reveal his assets because he had untold riches from his law practice. He knew Murdaugh had a successful law practice, a beach house, a house in Hampton and a 1,770-acre estate in Colleton County, known as Moselle.

Tinsley testified he told Murdaugh’s lawyers that he was going to try to seize and sell Murdaugh’s assets — the 1,770-acre estate and the Edisto Beach house — which were worth more than $4 million. In all, Tinsley testified he wanted to collect $10 million from Murdaugh.

If that put Murdaugh in a bind, so be it, Tinsley testified, adding he was willing to put his payments on an installment plan.

“He was always going to have to pay a lot of money,” Tinsley testified.

Tinsley said as time went on he found information to show Murdaugh was more culpable in Beach’s death. He now knows that Murdaugh was aware of his son’s drinking and should not have let him use the boat, Tinsley testified.

After court Thursday, Waters told Newman he intends to wrap up the prosecution’s case around next Wednesday.

Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian told the judge the defense will need approximately five days to put on its case. Since witness testimony is often taking longer than expected, that means the trial could easily go another two weeks, or longer.

Defense questions GoFundMe donation

Murdaugh’s defense team unsuccessfully tried Thursday to get Tinsley’s testimony thrown out after they said he made a payment to another witness on the donation website GoFundMe.

Before his testimony defense attorney Barber flagged Tinsley for making a $1,000 payment on a GoFundMe page raising money for Mushelle “Shelly” Smith, the caregiver for Murdaugh’s mother, who previously testified to Murdaugh’s behavior on the night of his wife and son’s murders.

GoFundMe.png
From the GoFundMe page for Shelley Smith. Screen grab

“He’s made a financial payment to the witness, in a case where he has a direct financial interest,” Barber said to Newman, who declined to exclude Tinsley’s testimony but said what Tinsley told the jury about the GoFundMe page would make “good fodder for cross-examination.”

The children of Smith, who cared for Murdaugh’s mother and offered emotional testimony in the trial, set up the GoFundMe account “for her bravery.”

In their initial post, they said Smith had to take a leave of absence from her job in the cafeteria at a Hampton County high school because of the attention of the media. The page has been edited to say, “We just want to show how proud we are of her. For BRAVERY…these are her children doing this for her!! She had no idea about this!!!”

The GoFundMe page organizers did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, also did not respond to a request for comment. Attorney General Alan Wilson has been sitting in the Colleton County courtroom during the trial.

On Thursday, Barber told Newman that Tinsley made the very first donation to the page under his own name, then later modified his donation to display as “Anonymous.”

As of Friday morning, the GoFundMe account for Smith, started by Rachelle Buckner and Daiquan Smith, had garnered more than $25,000 out of a stated goal of $20,000. Donations had been made under the names “Dick & Jim” — an apparent joking reference to Murdaugh attorneys Harpootlian and Jim Griffin — as well as “Alex Murdaugh’s Conscience” and “15-20 minutes,” the amount of time Smith testified Murdaugh spent at his mother’s house the night of the murders.

In her testimony, Smith poked holes in Murdaugh’s statement to law enforcement that he had been with his mother for 30 to 40 minutes when the murders of his Maggie and Paul took place on June 7, 2021.

Smith said he was there 15 to 20 minutes, which subsequent testimony on an analysis of Murdaugh’s SUV seemed to support.

Shortly after the murders, Murdaugh arrived at his mother’s house and told Smith that if anyone asked he was there 30 to 40 minutes. He also said he had heard she was getting married and offered to help her pay for it.

She said she felt nervous about the conversation and called her brother, a law enforcement officer, to tell him about it.

Smith, who worked for the family for about three years, testified she considered the Murdaugh’s a “good family.”

Sometime later, Murdaugh again came to the family home carrying what she described as a blue tarp.

On the initial GoFundMe page, Smith’s children said the testimony brought her heartache and stress.

“My mother is the most caring, giving, and selfless person ever. She would give the shirt off her back if she could,” Buckner wrote. “We want to show her that she is not alone and we stand behind her 100%!”

One person who donated said, “Miss Shelly …. I have thought about you since the day you were on the stand! I have never wanted to hug someone so bad! You are an AMAZING lady and the strength you showed was beyond moving! You should be proud of yourself for doing THE RIGHT thing! The world needs more people like you! I pray for peace in your heart!!! xoxo.”

Reporter Ted Clifford contributed to this report.

This story was originally published February 9, 2023, 5:20 PM.

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Lyn Riddle covers Greenville for The State. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado and an MFA from Converse College. She has worked for The Greenville News as an editor and reporter and for The Union Democrat as the editor. She is the author of four books of true crime.

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Bristow Marchant covers local government, schools and community in Lexington County for The State. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 2007. He has more than 10 years of experience covering South Carolina at the Clinton Chronicle, Sumter Item and Rock Hill Herald. He joined The State in 2016. Bristow won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.
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