COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – On Tuesday, the jury in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial heard the first extensive testimony about his alleged past financial crimes.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL: DAY 11 RECAP
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Colleagues from Murdaugh’s former law firm PMPED (now Parker’s Law Group) gave emotional testimony about their personal and professional relationships with Murdaugh.
PMPED CFO Jeanne Seckinger described how she uncovered Murdaugh’s decades-long scheme of stealing millions of dollars from the firm and his clients. She confronted Murdaugh about missing funds on June 7, 2021, just hours before the murders. Prosecutors say that conversation pushed Murdaugh over the edge, but the defense claims it was far less dramatic than the prosecution would like jurors to believe.
Following Seckinger, PMPED attorney and longtime friend of Murdaugh, Ronnie Crosby, took the stand. He grew emotional testifying about his relationship with Paul, who called him “Uncle Ronnie.” The two were so close that Crosby gave the eulogy at Paul’s funeral. He went to Moselle the night of the murders and described the grisly scene. He also said Murdaugh told him in no uncertain terms that he was not at the kennels with Paul and Maggie that night, a claim that has been debunked by video Paul took that night at 8:44 p.m. Crosby identified the voices of Paul, Maggie, and Alex Murdaugh with 100% confidence.
The final witness was a gunshot residue expert who testified that a significant amount of presumptive residue was found on the controversial blue raincoat seized from Murdaugh’s parent’s home.
Defense is expected to pick up cross-examination of the GSR expert Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.
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5:35 p.m. – Court is adjourning for the day and is expected to resume Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.
4:36 p.m. – Forensic scientist Megan Fletcher is called to the stand. She is an expert in trace evidence and gunshot residue analysis.
She says gunshot residue typically discharges in a large area around where the gun was shot. It can be hard to determine whether the residue is caused by someone actually being the shooter or just being in the vicinity of the shooter. Gunshot residue can only put someone in the vicinity of a firearm.
On inanimate objects such as clothing, the residue will stay until it is brushed off or washed off. Fletcher says hands are the best place to test because, if the GSR kit is done within six hours, it gives the most accurate results. However, GSR is also easily removed from the hands through things like washing, touching, etc.
Murdaugh’s clothes that were tested for GSR are presented. Fletcher said that her colleague, Jamie Hall, was examining the evidence on June 8 when she smelled something unusual, so she called Fletcher in. They both smelled laundry detergent. Fletcher described the clothes as clean.
They found “particles characteristic of primer residue” on the shirt and shorts, but Fletcher said that she could not determine whether the items were in the vicinity of a discharged firearm, or they came into contact with something that had residue on it. She cannot say which one is more likely. She also says no information can be given on the timeframe in which the particles were deposited.
Fletcher also examined the GSR kit conducted on Murdaugh’s hands. She said that one particle characteristic of gunshot primer residue was found. Again, she cannot say whether it was from firing a firearm, being within the vicinity of a discharged firearm, or touching something with gunshot residue on it.
No particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue were detected on Murdaugh’s shoes.
The state introduces a seatbelt tested in the case. One particle characteristic of gunshot primer residue was found on the seatbelt.
They move on to discussing the blue rain jacket.
Fletcher said they first tested it October 5, 2021. They tested the inside, outside, and pockets. There were 13 particle lifts, and particles characteristic of gunpowder residue were found on the outside of the jacket. 38 were found on the inside of the jacket. There were additional particles that had “candidate features” making them potential GSR particles.
Fletcher is asked, in her expert opinion, what is that number of particles consistent with? Fletcher says if someone was wearing the coat inside out, it could’ve been in the vicinity of a shooting. If it was a transfer, the item that touched the inside of the coat would’ve had to have a large amount of GSR on it. Prosecution asks if carrying a recently fired gun would’ve caused that kind of residue transfer. Fletcher says yes.
4:24 p.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room for a break.
3:52 p.m. – Griffin begins cross-examination of Crosby. He confirms he gave the eulogy at Paul’s funeral.
Griffin presents the camo Benelli seized from the family property. He asks Crosby if it is Paul’s gun. Crosby says it looks like it, but he can’t tell for sure.
Griffin asks about the night of the murders. He asks if Crosby was able to get past the crime scene tape. Crosby says he isn’t sure if there was crime scene tape up. Griffin points out that he was able to get close enough to the crime scene to see what he thought were 223 shell casings.
Griffin asks if there was still blood and biological matter at the scene when Crosby arrived. Crosby says yes.
Griffin asks if Crosby tried to collect any evidence. Crosby says it was such a grotesque scene it overwhelmed both him and Mark Ball, and that they did not try to collect any evidence.
Griffin asks if it looked like the crime scene was being preserved when he arrived. Crosby says he doesn’t feel qualified to answer that because he assumed that the first responders were following procedures.
Griffin asks about the collection of Murdaugh’s clothes. Crosby says Murdaugh was escorted by two agents, one agent held a bag open, and Murdaugh dropped his clothes in.
In the days after the murders, Crosby says he and others were trying to figure out what happened. They were trying to figure out if Paul had gotten into a fight with someone, and develop any sort of theory for why someone would murder him and his mother.
Crosby went to Jimmy Butler’s, a business in Varnville where Paul had dropped his truck off for repairs the Friday before the murders. He said he specifically went to see if the guns were in Paul’s truck. He looked in the window and saw a pistol and some shotgun shells, but didn’t see any long guns. He also looked at surveillance tape to see if Paul got guns out of his truck. He did not see Paul taking any guns from his truck.
Griffin asks about Murdaugh’s demeanor after the murders. Crosby says he wasn’t at work much, he was having trouble sleeping and was taking medication for that, and was rapidly losing weight. Crosby said that they didn’t think he was eating.
Around July 4, 2021, Murdaugh came to Crosby’s house by boat. Crosby said he was carrying a gun. Griffin asks if Crosby had ever seen Murdaugh carrying a gun for protection. Crosby said no.
2:50 p.m. – Court is back in session. Attorney Ronnie Crosby, his former colleague at PMPED and longtime friend, takes the stand.
Crosby is asked about payment structures at PMPED. He echoes what Seckinger said, explaining they had a base salary, then got bonuses based on the revenue they brought in throughout the year.
Waters asks if it is common for PMPED lawyers to work with lawyers from other law firms. Crosby says it is very common. Crosby says those funds go to the law firm and if the fees were instead directed to the individual lawyer, it would be stealing.
Crosby describes Murdaugh as a very good lawyer, very good at reading and understanding people, and very good at making people believe he cared about them. Crosby said that Murdaugh was also good at strategizing against insurance companies and often surprised other lawyers with the results he got.
Crosby said back in around 2008, he had conversations with Murdaugh about his finances. Murdaugh and a non-lawyer business partner, Barrett Boulware, had purchased properties and were hoping to sell them, but then the market crashed. Murdaugh’s partners couldn’t afford the loans, so Murdaugh had to shoulder a lot of the financial responsibility. However, Murdaugh had several “rather large settlements” around the time, Crosby said, which he believed yielded more than enough to cover the funds. The cases were the Plyler, Pinckney, and Badger cases.
Waters asks if Crosby is familiar with the boat case. Crosby says yes. He notes that Mallory Beach worked for his wife.
Waters asks if Crosby knows Gloria Satterfield. Crosby says yes, that he knew her for many years. Satterfield helped his family out when his children were born. She later worked for the Murdaughs. Waters asks what happened to her. Crosby explains that she was tripped by the dogs at the Murdaugh’s home and hit her head, which led to her death.
Murdaugh apparently told Crosby that he was going to help Satterfield’s sons sue him to get a wrongful death claim out of his insurance company. Crosby said that he took it to be a friendly suit and that Murdaugh wanted to help the family out.
Crosby is asked if he was involved in the Farris vs. Mack truck case, which was the case Murdaugh worked on with Chris Wilson that sparked PMPED’s investigation into his finances. Crosby said that he was initially involved, but did not help him try it. Crosby said that PMPED was supposed to receive about $792,000 from the case.
In May of 2021, Crosby found out from Seckinger that Murdaugh mentioned he was trying to hide some of his assets. Crosby said his response was “oh f— no we are not.” He said it was unethical and illegal and the firm would not have any part in it. He said he knew the funds would ultimately have to be accounted for.
At that point, he did not believe Murdaugh was stealing.
Waters asks if Crosby knew Maggie and Paul. Crosby says yes. He gets emotional discussing his relationship with Paul. He had known both of the boys since they were born and they called him Uncle Ronnie. He said Paul was good with kids and took his son, who was younger, under his wing. Crosby gave the eulogy at Paul’s funeral.
Waters asks if Crosby remembers June 7, 2021. Crosby says yes. He can’t recall if he saw Murdaugh at the office earlier that day. He was taking off early because he promised his son they would go offshore fishing the next day. They had invited Paul to go with them, but Paul had to work.
That night, Crosby’s wife got a call from Randy Murdaugh’s wife asking for Mark Ball’s wife’s phone number. Ball’s wife is an RN.
Crosby later found out that Maggie and Paul had been shot. He said he immediately went over to Moselle. He arrived around 11:00 p.m. and went directly to the kennels because he saw the first responder lights.
Crosby says Mark Ball was already there. He talked to him and Murdaugh. Maggie and Paul’s bodies were still there. He says he left around 3:30 a.m.
He returned the next day. Waters asks if Murdaugh told him about what he was doing the night of the murders. Crosby says yes.
Murdaugh told him (and whoever else was there providing support) that he left work around 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., he and Paul rode around the property, he, Maggie, and Paul had dinner together, then Maggie and Paul went to the dog kennels and he took a nap on the couch around 8:00 p.m.
Around 9:00 p.m., he went to his mother’s house.
When he got back to the house, he realized Maggie and Paul were not there, so he drove down to the kennels. That’s when he found Maggie and Paul’s bodies.
Waters asks if Murdaugh mentioned being down at the kennels before going to Alameda. Waters says it came up, and Murdaugh specifically said he did not.
Waters plays the video of the family at the dog kennels, which was taken around 8:44 p.m.
Crosby identifies Paul, Maggie, and Alex’s voices in the video with 100% certainty.
Waters asks if the family is close-knit. Crosby says yes. Waters asks if the murders shocked the law firm. Crosby says yes. Everyone was shocked and confused and they took a lot of security measures because they didn’t know what the threat was.
Waters asks if they discussed the Farris fees in the wake of the murders and whether they should bring it up. Crosby says that they had no reason to not believe Murdaugh when he said the fees were in trust, and the fees were not something to talk about during such a tragic week.
Waters asks if Paul had a favorite gun. Crosby says he would often see Paul with a Benelli super eagle. Waters asks if Paul ever hunted hogs. Crosby says yes. He would sometimes use a 300 blackout, and sometimes they would kill the hogs with knives.
Crosby says he saw the casings at the murder scene the night of the murders and thought they were 223’s. The next day when he found out they were 300-blackout casings, he asked Murdaugh were Paul and Buster’s 300-blackouts were.
In September of 2021, Crosby said his partners called and insisted he come to Danny Henderson’s house. He was given a folder of the fake Forge checks. He reviewed the checks and said, “this is bad.” He then said they had to fire Murdaugh because it was clear the money had been stolen.
Waters asks if Murdaugh’s actions had been discovered earlier, would he have been fired? Crosby says yes.
1:23 p.m. – Court is breaking for lunch and is expected to resume at 2:40 p.m.
12:45 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination of Seckinger. Griffin asks Newman to again instruct the jury that the evidence of other crimes should not be used to judge Murdaugh’s character or propensity to commit the crime for which he is charged (murder). The testimony is being allowed for the limited purpose of assisting the state in proving motive.
Griffin notes that in some way, the law firm is a victim of the conduct. Seckinger says yes. Griffin asks if she is aware Murdaugh has pending criminal charges for every financial charge they discussed. She says yes.
Griffin asks if Seckinger understands that they are not there to try the financial charges. She says yes.
Griffin points out that the financial crimes had been happening since 2011, 10 years before the murders of Maggie and Paul. Seckinger says yes, Murdaugh had them fooled for years.
Griffin says he understands how she could feel angry and betrayed. He says he is not trying to diminish her feelings of anger about the financial crimes, but trying to determine how they related to the murders of Maggie and Paul.
He asks if when she confronted him on June 7, anyone thought Murdaugh was stealing from the firm. Seckinger says she had suspicions, but they weren’t pursuing the funds as stolen at that point.
Griffin asks about June 7, 2021. They go through the process of her confronting Murdaugh. Griffin notes that she said she was scared when she found out about the murders. He asks why. Seckinger says there had been a lot of rumors, and a lot of unrest in the office, and they didn’t know who had gone after him and his family. Griffin asks if her mind immediately went to “oh he killed his wife and son because I asked him about the fees.” Seckinger says no.
Griffin asks if the investigation into the fees stopped because of the murders. Seckinger says it did for about three weeks to a month. He doubles down, asking again if the murders caused a delay in the investigation. Seckinger says it did in some ways because everyone around the office was in shock, but the true delay came from her personal obligations and finding time to look into Murdaugh’s finances during what she called an “irregular summer, personally and professionally.”
Griffin points out that Maggie and Paul were not involved in any way with the fees that were being investigated. Seckinger agrees.
Seckinger is asked if she was aware Murdaugh had no life insurance policies on Maggie and Paul. She says she had no knowledge of any of that.
11:37 a.m. – The jury returns after a brief break. Waters recaps the timeline of PMPED discovering Murdaugh’s financial crimes.
They go through specific cases in which Murdaugh stole over $2 million from clients using the fake Forge account. The checks range from 2015 to 2021.
In some cases, Murdaugh claimed money that was not even supposed to go to the law firm. Seckinger calls it “phantom money.”
In other cases, Murdaugh billed the clients for things like private flights and limousine services. Seckinger noted that in one case, they noticed that he billed a client for those things after the case had been closed, so they couldn’t have been associated with the case.
Seckinger says each of the partners put up money to repay the clients from whom Murdaugh stole, including the “phantom money” and the excess expenses. They are still in the process of repaying some of the clients.
Some clients received no money from their settlements until PMPED reimbursed them.
Before 2015, Murdaugh used an account at Palmetto State Bank (PSB) to steal over $2 million from other clients.
Seckinger said that PMPED did have an account at PSB, but many of the checks deposited were diverted from that account and used to pay for things on Murdaugh’s behalf. Seckinger says former PSB CEO Russell Laffitte helped divert the funds.
Laffitte was found guilty in federal court of six charges connected to his and Murdaugh’s financial crimes. Laffitte is also Seckinger’s brother-in-law.
Prosecution presents a series of emails between Murdaugh and Laffitte apparently discussing moving money around.
Laffitte served as a conservator for several of Murdaugh’s clients. PMPED had to repay conservator fees as well.
Murdaugh used the money to pay on personal loans, pay on loans taken out of other client accounts, make payments on a boat, and pay family members.
Waters asks how long Seckinger has known Murdaugh. She says since high school. He asks if she ever really knew Murdaugh. She says she doesn’t think anybody really knows him.
9:54 a.m. – Jeanne Seckinger is called to the stand. Seckinger is the CFO of Parker Law Group, formerly PMPED. She is the one who confronted Murdaugh about missing funds the day of the murders.
Seckinger previously testified without the jury present.
She has known Murdaugh since high school.
Waters asks about the payment structure of PMPED. Seckinger says that partners at PMPED got a base salary of about $125,000 yearly. They then got bonuses at the end of the year based on the percentage of profit brought in by each partner, minus overhead fees. There is also a 7.5% gross fee taken from each person, put together, then divided among everyone. She says this is to help balance out people that may have had a very good year vs the people that may have had a very bad year.
At the end of the year, they try to zero out the books to avoid being double-taxed on balances in the accounts. That means some of the partners have to loan money to the firm at the beginning of every year to cover operating costs until the firm is back in the positive. The partners are paid back throughout the year. Seckinger says Murdaugh never did that.
Waters brings up an instance in which Randy Murdaugh loaned money to the law firm and the reimbursement check for $121,000 made out to R. Murdaugh was mistakenly given to Alex. Alex brought the check to someone at the firm and said it was voided and asked them to write another one. The person did, and Alex ended up cashing both checks. The law firm noticed and confronted Alex and he said he didn’t realize the check was for his brother, claiming he thought he had loaned money that year. Alex paid the money back and the firm let it go.
Seckinger said that the firm was like a family, there was a brotherhood and sense of trust, so they accepted Murdaugh’s explanation.
There is also a client trust account. This is where money recovered in cases goes before being disbursed as fees, outstanding costs such as medical bills or liens, and client settlement money. Money won by partners is supposed to go directly to that account. Seckinger says if money were diverted directly to the partner, it would be stealing.
Seckinger says Murdaugh was not very involved in the management of the firm. He kept different hours than most of the other partners. “Always loud, always busy, always in a rush,” she says. He “had the gift of gab,” and was always on his phone.
As a lawyer, Seckinger says Murdaugh was successful not because of his work ethic, but his ability to make people like him and “manipulate people into settlements.” Seckinger says he did it “through the art of bullshit, basically.”
She says although he frequently got lucrative results, she thinks he manipulated his clients just like he manipulated the firm.
Seckinger says she used to think Murdaugh was just chaotic and had a bad memory, but looking back, she thinks he had to have a very strong memory to keep his lies in order.
Waters asks if Seckinger is familiar with the boat case. Seckinger says yes. Waters asks if Seckinger noticed any changes in Murdaugh’s behavior around the office. Seckinger says no, not until November or December of 2020. She didn’t notice it then but noticed it in hindsight. She says that is when he started getting sloppy with diverting money.
Waters asks about Forge Consulting. Seckinger explains Force Consulting is a company that helps clients set up structured settlements. If clients do not want to receive their settlement funds in one lump sum, Forge Consulting sets up an account to disburse the money to the client over a number of years. Seckinger says it is a legitimate company that PMPED has worked with hundreds of times.
Partners can also elect to put fees that they earn in structured settlements. Seckinger says that if a partner wants to do that, they are supposed to consult with the firm so that the firm can account for that with the end-of-year bonuses, overhead fees, etc.
In May of 2021, Seckinger noticed that Murdaugh had sent fees from a Harshberger settlement to “Forge.” She confronted him and told him that if he wanted to set up a structured settlement, he needed to discuss it with the firm. She also said that the way he set it up was wrong and he would not be saving any money on taxes, so he needed to set it up correctly.
Murdaugh told her he wasn’t worried about saving money on taxes, he wanted to get money in Maggie’s name due to the boat accident. Seckinger said that concerned her because Murdaugh was trying to hide assets. She said that the firm did not want to be part of any wrongdoing.
She knew she had until December to balance the books, so she didn’t press the topic at that point.
In late May of 2021, one of Murdaugh’s paralegals, Annette Griswold, contacted Seckinger about fees they were expecting to receive in a case Murdaugh worked with his longtime friend Chris Wilson, which was handled through Wilson’s firm. PMPED received a check for expenses related to the case, but not the attorney fee check. Chris Wilson’s office said that the money had been paid out, so Griswold and Seckinger became concerned that the fees had been paid directly to Murdaugh.
Seckinger consulted with another partner, Lee Cope, about her concerns and about how to protect Griswold. She sent Griswold an email asking for a detailed accounting of the funds, which Griswold forwarded to Wilson’s office on May 27, 2021. Wilson’s paralegal was out of the office and did not reply until June 2, 2021, saying she would forward the email to Wilson.
Murdaugh confronted Seckinger on June 3 and said the money was in Wilson’s trust.
On June 7, 2021 — the morning of the murders — Seckinger confronted Murdaugh. She said she found him outside his office and he gave her a dirty look and asked “what do you want?” She told him she had reason to believe he received the funds directly and he needed to prove that he did not. He assured her the fees were in Wilson’s account while he figured out what to do with the money and whether he should put it in Maggie’s name.
In the middle of the conversation, Murdaugh received a phone call about his sick father saying he was terminal. The tone changed and Seckinger says she became a concerned friend. She thought Murdaugh was leaving to go see his father. Later, Murdaugh called her and asked for some information about his 401K and his financials, which he needed for a hearing scheduled for June 10 regarding the boat case.
At around 10:30 p.m., Seckinger says she started getting texts from friends listening to scanners that Maggie and Paul had been shot. She started texting some of the attorneys. Around 2:00 a.m., Mark Ball responded and said it was true. She said everyone was shocked and scared. Everyone dropped their work duties and rallied around Murdaugh.
Waters asks if anyone was worried about the missing fees after the murders. Seckinger says no, they were worried about Murdaugh’s mental state. She says he wasn’t working much, they knew he was taking pills, and they weren’t going to harass him about money when his wife and child had just been killed.
To avoid asking Murdaugh, Cope reached out to Wilson himself. Wilson said that he had the fees and they were available whenever they were needed. Everyone was relieved. However, there were still some flags in Murdaugh’s finances that made them suspicious.
In September, Seckinger decided to start looking through Murdaugh’s fees to make sure there were no other issues. Around that same time, Griswold found a check in Murdaugh’s office from Wilson. The check was for the missing fees and it was made out to Murdaugh doing business as Forge, a shell account Murdaugh had disguised to look like the legitimate Forge Consulting.
Seckinger decided to print out all of the money sent to Forge and review it with other partners. They discovered many checks made out to Forge, signed by Murdaugh. Many of the checks were from cases in which they knew money wasn’t sent to Forge Consulting. The checks were also Bank of America checks. They called the head of Forge Consulting, Michael Dunn, who said that he hadn’t structured settlements for any of the cases and that Forge Consulting didn’t have an account at Bank of America.
Seckinger knew the funds were stolen and described feeling sick.
They asked forensic auditors to come in and do a full accounting of the missing funds. PMPED contacted clients who Murdaugh had stolen from and reimbursed them.
Seckinger says Murdaugh stole over $2 million through the fake forge account and they found checks dating back to 2015.
On September 2, they called a meeting with all the partners, minus Alex and Randy Murdaugh. They eventually called Randy in, and Randy “hung his head” and said Murdaugh stole it. Randy and Danny Henderson confronted Murdaugh. He admitted to stealing the money and it was decided he would resign.
9:52 a.m. – The jury is brought in.
9:40 a.m. – Court is in session. Defense attorney Jim Griffin presents a rough copy of the transcript regarding the tarp/rain jacket testimony. According to page 90 of the transcript, Mushell Smith said she had never seen the blue rain jacket before.
State prosecutor Creighton Waters points to earlier testimony at which point Smith was shown a picture of the raincoat and said it looked like the item Murdaugh was carrying.
Newman sides with the state, saying that the witness could not clearly identify the item as either a tarp or a raincoat. However, he notes that Griffin did an effective job raising questions about the testimony of the witness, which the jury will have to take into consideration.
Newman says around 400 items are in evidence as of Tuesday.
Another note before testimony starts: one juror who was worried about the length of the trial said that he will be able to stay. An alternate juror told the court Tuesday morning that he is at the emergency room, so court is proceeding without him.
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