Prosecutors in murder trial of ex-lawyer Murdaugh can introduce evidence of alleged financial crimes, judge rules
South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh prepares for jury selection to resume during his murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Jan. 23. Photo by Joshua Boucher/The State via the Associated Press.
Prosecutors in the double murder trial of once-prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh may introduce evidence of his alleged financial crimes to rebut defense evidence of good character, a judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Clifton Newman of Kingstree, South Carolina, said he was allowing the evidence because defense lawyers “opened the door” to character testimony when they asked a witness whether he could think of a reason why Murdaugh would have killed his wife, Maggie, and his son Paul, BuzzFeed News reports.
“The defense in the case has primarily been that the defendant has such a great character that he could not possibly have committed these offenses,” Newman said. “That’s been a general thread from the opening statement throughout.”
Alex Murdaugh. Photo from the Hampton County Detention Center via the Associated Press.
Murdaugh has been accused of stealing settlement money from the family of his late housekeeper, of insurance fraud for attempting to stage his shooting death, and of stealing millions of dollars from law clients and his law firm.
The murders happened June 7, 2021, the deadline that his firm had given him to account for missing money, according to BuzzFeed News. Prosecutors claim that Murdaugh committed the murders to shift the focus from himself as his financial crimes came to light.
Newman is having hearings outside the presence of the jury to consider what kind of evidence prosecutors may use. Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer of Murdaugh’s former firm, testified in one of the hearings Thursday.
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh on the morning of the murders about $792,000 in missing funds, CNN reports.
Murdaugh was also facing a lawsuit by the family of a 19-year-old woman killed when Murdaugh’s boat, driven by Paul, struck a bridge piling. Murdaugh’s financial records could have been exposed in that case.
On Wednesday, two witnesses identified Murdaugh’s voice on video taken by Paul at 8:40 p.m. on June 7, 2021, CNN reports in a separate story. Prosecutors say the video was taken only minutes before the murders were thought to have taken place.
Paul read a text on his phone at 8:48:59 p.m., according to testimony Tuesday recounted by People. Paul received a text 36 seconds later that he did not read. Maggie received a text 28 seconds later that she did not read.
Murdaugh called police at 10:07 p.m. to say he found the bodies of his wife and son, according to People. He has maintained that he was visiting his mother when the murders happened.
On Wednesday, prosecutors introduced videos showing that Murdaugh was wearing a blue button-down shirt and pants about an hour before the murders, People reports. When he called police, he was wearing a white T-shirt and shorts.
Murdaugh was disbarred in July 2022. The trial is taking place in Walterboro, South Carolina.
ABAJournal.com: “Law firm staffers were first to suspect once-prominent lawyer Murdaugh was stealing client money, partner testifies”
ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer is charged with insurance fraud for allegedly hiring ex-client to kill him”
ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer accused of staging his own shooting now faces allegations of stealing settlement payout”
ABAJournal.com: “Once-prominent lawyer Alex Murdaugh is indicted for murders of his wife and son”