Murdaugh trial recap: Debate over financial evidence continues

Debate Over Financial Evidence
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 1:07 AM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (FOX Carolina) -While Judge Clifton Newman is deciding whether the jury should hear details about Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, witnesses testified about them while the jury was out of the room Thursday.

Newman began the day addressing whether information about Murdaugh’s other crimes would be allowed in the case, saying the test is whether the other crimes are logically related to the crime in question. Adding that they could address the situation as the trial goes on.

FIRST WITNESS

The first person to take the stand Wednesday was Heidi Galore from SNAP, inc. Galore said she manages a team that responds to law enforcement and legal processes submitted to the company, such as subpoenas or search warrants.

Prosecutor John Conrad talks to his witness Heidi Galore, an employee of Snap Inc. during the...
Prosecutor John Conrad talks to his witness Heidi Galore, an employee of Snap Inc. during the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)(Andrew J. Whitaker | AP)

Galore’s short testimony began by talking about the Snapchat video from Paul that was played in court Wednesday that showed Murdaugh standing next to a tree. Galore testified that the video was saved as a Snapchat memory at 7:39 p.m. on June 7, 2021, and sent out at 7:56 p.m. Galore ended her testimony soon after.

SECOND WITNESS

Judge Newman excused the jury for the second witness, Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer of the Parker Law Group and former CFO of Murdaugh’s former law firm PMPED.

Seckinger testified that lawyers at PMPED were required to send all their fees to the law firm; and could not be paid directly. “That would be stealing,” she said.

According to Seckinger, she talked to Murdaugh in May 2021 about fees from a particular case where money was sent to Forge Consulting. Murdaugh reportedly told her he was “trying to put some money in Maggie’s name” to shield it from the 2019 boat crash lawsuit.

Seckinger testified that she didn’t think Alex was trying to steal money but hide it. She added, “That would be wrong, and we did not want any part of that.”

Seckinger explained that settlements were usually sent into a client trust account, and fees went into a fees account. She confirmed that it was odd that the money went to Forge.

On June 7, 2021, a check for $792,000 in fees allegedly went directly to Murdaugh, and Seckinger said she visited him and told him that she needed to see that he didn’t get the money. Murdaugh said the money was there, and he could get it anytime. However, he then reportedly got a call about his father and steered the conversation away from money.

Seckinger testified that after the shooting, nobody wanted to harass Murdaugh about money because he was upset.

Seckinger says she printed a ledger for payments to Forge in September. She stated that checks from the client trust account were made out to Forge with a Bank of America endorsement and Alex’s signature.

According to Seckinger, they later gave the list to Michael Gunn at Forge, and he confirmed that the clients on the list weren’t represented at Forge and that they didn’t use Bank of America. Soon after this, A partners’ meeting was held, and they determined that Murdaugh would resign from the firm.

Following a short break and cross-examination, Seckinger stepped down from the stand, and the jury returned.

THIRD WITNESS

Next, the state called Investigator Dylan Hightower with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

Hightower stated that he was trained to identify digital footprints from cell phones and extract data from phones.

Hightower said he used the Find My iPhone app on another Murdaugh family member’s phone to find Maggie’s cellphone on the night of the murders. He later confirmed that nobody measured the distance between Maggie’s phone and Moselle Road when they found it.

According to Hightower, nothing out of the ordinary was found around her phone.

Hightower then ended his testimony, and the court took a 10-minute break.

FOURTH WITNESS

The next witness to take the stand is Katie McCallister, who works for SLED as a senior special agent in the Lowcountry.

McCallister said she was with Hightower when he found Maggie’s phone and later helped SLED search Murdaugh’s home.

According to McCallister, she helped collect the guns and ammunition taken from the house and transport them to agent Worley.

McCallister recalled that they took a swab for Buster’s DNA while at the house. The state then submitted the swab in court as evidence.

McCallister testified that she was the one who examined the shower and bathrooms while searching the house. She stated that she didn’t notice any blood or evidence that someone had showered recently.

Following this, McCallister’s testimony ended, and the jury was excused until 11:30 a.m. Friday.

FIFTH WITNESS

After a short break Micheal Gunn, a Principal at Forge Consulting, took the stand.

Gunn testified that he worked with Murdaugh on a few cases. He recalled a specific case for a client named Dion Martin, where they got the paperwork ready, but Murdaugh never responded to Forge’s calls, so they closed the case.

According to Gunn, Lee Cope from PMPED called him in the fall of 2021 about the Dion Martin case, and Gunn told him that Forge never did anything official for it.

Gunn said Cope later told him that Murdaugh was using an account with Bank of American named Forge that was not associated with Forge Consulting. Gunn confirmed that Forge Consulting didn’t have any accounts with Bank of America.

Next, the state showed Gunn a series of checks made out to Forge, and Gunn stated that none of them were legitimately connected to Forge Consulting.

SIXTH WITNESS

The final witness to take the stand was James “Chris” Wilson, a lawyer from the Lowcountry and a longtime friend of Murdaugh’s.

Wilson said Murdaugh and him had a personal relationship and a professional relationship. He added that he and Murdaugh worked on multiple cases throughout the years.

Most of Wilson’s testimony focused on a case known as the “MAC Trucs/Ferris” case that Murdaugh helped him with.

According to Wilson, their clients were awarded a total of $5.5 million from the case. Murdaugh’s fees were $792,000, and Wilson’s were around $791,000.

Following the case, Murdaugh said he wanted two structured annuities for the payments from the case with the checks made directly to him. Wilson said he didn’t suspect anything was wrong at first because of his relationship with Murdaugh.

Wilson said his paralegal got an email about fees from Murdaugh’s paralegal in May 2021. Wilson’s paralegal replied, saying that Murdaugh had already been paid like the other lawyers

Wilson was then shown the emails in court.

According to Wilson, he talked to Murdaugh about the fees again a few weeks after the murders. Wilson recalled that Murdaugh told him that he had messed something up and needed the money to be sent to his firm PMPED.

Chris Wilson, a trial attorney, tears up while questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters during...
Chris Wilson, a trial attorney, tears up while questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters during Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Walterboro, S.C. The 54-year-old attorney is standing trial on two counts of murder in the shootings of his wife and son at their Colleton County home and hunting lodge on June 7, 2021. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP)(Andrew J. Whitaker | AP)

Wilson said Murdaugh was supposed to send him the $792,000 back. However, Murdaugh only send $600,000. Wilson added that he had to pay $192,000 out of his own money to cover the costs and send it to PMPED. Wison stated that Murdaugh told him he would pay him back.

Wilson said he confronted Murdaugh at his parent’s house on September 3 and let him know that Cope told him what going on. Wilson testified that during this conversaiton, Murdaugh admitted that he was addicted to opioids and that he had been stealing.

Wilson said later that day, Lee Cope called him and told him that Murdaugh had been shot in the head.

Following Wilson’s testimony, Judge Newman discussed whether the jury should hear more about Murdaugh’s financial crimes. He ruled that The court should hear from a banking witness Friday morning before the jury arrives at 11:30 a.m.

The judge also decided that the court can hear from more law firm and bank witnesses in the future.

Judge Newman then adjourned until 9:30 a.m.