COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Witness testimony in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial is set to resume Thursday after being delayed by hours Wednesday due to a bomb threat.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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Court officials said that the call came from an unknown number and claimed there was a bomb in Judge Clifton Newman’s chambers. The building was cleared for over two hours as law enforcement swept the scene.
Before the bomb threat, the jury heard from a gunshot residue expert who analyzed a blue raincoat seized from Murdaugh’s parents’ home. She identified what she described as “a substantial amount” of presumptive residue on the inside of the jacket, but could not definitively say when or how it got there.
Then, the jury heard from Murdaugh’s former paralegal Annette Griswold. She was involved in PMPED’s initial investigation that sparked the unraveling of Murdaugh’s financial crimes. Griswold described how she found evidence that checks Murdaugh claimed he never received were actually diverted to a personal shell account.
Murdaugh disguised the shell account to look like it was a subsidiary of Forge Consulting, a legitimate entity with whom PMPED does business. Michael Gunn, a principal at Forge Consulting, said that he never worked with Murdaugh on any of the cases in which funds were diverted.
The jury also heard from a SLED agent and FBI specialist who investigated technology taken from Murdaugh’s car. The FBI specialist was able to extract some data that helps paint a picture of the car’s activity the night of the murders.
Cross-examination of the FBI specialist is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
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12:52 p.m. – Court is in recess for an hour and 15 minutes.
11:47 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination.
Jim Griffin clarifies that Wilson did not know there was any issue with missing fees on June 7, 2021. Wilson says that is correct. He says he didn’t have any reason not to trust Murdaugh’s explanation. Griffin asks if Murdaugh seemed panicked or frantic about the fees during their conversation about the fees before June 7. Wilson says no.
Griffin asks about Wilson’s concern for Murdaugh after the murders. Wilson says Murdaugh’s law partners, family, friends, etc were all worried he might kill himself because he was distraught over Maggie and Paul’s deaths.
Griffin asks if anyone thought Murdaugh may have had any involvement in the murders of Maggie and Paul. Wilson says no, Murdaugh was grieving.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh had any sort of life insurance policy on Maggie. Wilson says no.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh was a loving husband and father, and Wilson says yes. He asks if Murdaugh ever behaved erratically around his wife and kids. Wilson says no.
Griffin asks if Wilson ever saw any indication of opioid use or abuse. Wilson says no.
They discuss things the families liked to do together. Wilson agrees that Murdaugh’s priority was his family.
Griffin asks about visiting the Murdaugh’s over Memorial Day weekend in 2021. He says Maggie and Alex were getting along. They had a big cookout for Murdaugh’s birthday.
A video from the weekend of everyone singing Murdaugh “Happy Birthday” is reviewed in court.
Griffin asks about the calls on June 7. Wilson agrees they were normal. Griffin asks if it was normal for Murdaugh to end a call when he got to Moselle because the service out there was spotty. Wilson says yes.
Griffin presents more detailed phone records that differ somewhat from the records presented earlier, but generally only by a few seconds.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh was erratic, breathing heavily, stressed, etc on the phone. Wilson says no.
Griffin asks if it was unusual for Murdaugh to go visit his parents. Wilson says no, he went almost every day. He says he thought Murdaugh went during the day for the most part, but it wasn’t strange for him to go at night.
Griffin asks about Murdaugh’s demeanor the night after the murders. Wilson says Murdaugh was destroyed. He said Murdaugh was crying a lot, but trying to be gracious to everyone that was there.
Griffin asks about the “gracious” comment. Wilson says that Murdaugh always tries to be polite and talk to people.
Wilson says in the days after, several of Murdaugh’s law partners were there to support him. At some point, his partners and some of his friends (who happen to be lawyers) decided that Murdaugh was not in the right state of mind to interact with law enforcement without someone else present, but he also didn’t need a bunch of different lawyers advising him. Wilson said he made clear that he was there in the “friend” capacity, but he agreed with the recommendation.
11:40 a.m. – Court resumes. Waters asks Wilson to describe the moment he found out Murdaugh was stealing money.
Wilson said Lee Cope called him on September 3, 2021 and told him. Wilson said he was shocked. He reached out to Murdaugh after and said they needed to meet in person.
Wilson said he felt shocked, betrayed, mad, and numb. He got in the car the next morning and headed towards Beaufort to find Murdaugh. He called Murdaugh multiple times along the way. Murdaugh called him back and they agreed to meet at Murdaugh’s parents’ house in Alameda.
They met sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.
Wilson asked what was going on and whether Murdaugh had involved him in something else he needed to know about. Murdaugh broke down crying and told Wilson he had a decades-long opioid addiction and that he had been stealing money. Murdaugh told Wilson “I’m sorry, I’ve shit you up, I’ve shit a lot of people up.”
Waters asks if Wilson ever got his $192,000 back. He says no.
Wilson says he and Murdaugh have hardly spoken since September.
They go back to the texts the night of June 7, 2021. Waters hones in on the timeline. Murdaugh texted Wilson at 9:52 p.m. asking him to call. Wilson called at 9:52 p.m., but there was no answer (which Wilson previously said was normal), and Wilson called back at 9:53 p.m. Murdaugh answered and they talked for three or four minutes, then Murdaugh said he was arriving home and asked if they could talk tomorrow.
11:06 a.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room for a brief recess. Prosecutors plan to discuss the confrontation Wilson had with Murdaugh on September 4, 2021. The conversation involves Murdaugh admitting he has a drug issue. Later that day, Murdaugh was found shot on the side of the road. Prosecution wants to make sure all of those topics are admissible.
Judge Newman says that the testimony on Murdaugh’s roadside shooting will not be allowed since Wilson was not there firsthand.
Court is in recess for 10 minutes.
9:41 a.m. – Chris Wilson is called to the stand. He is Murdaugh’s longtime friend and fellow lawyer. He has his own firm, Wilson Law Group.
Wilson previously gave emotional testimony without the jury present about his relationship with Murdaugh. He has known Murdaugh since high school. They played sports together, went to law school together, and lived together. He says their families were friends as well. He said they talked almost every day, often several times a day.
Wilson says he considered Murdaugh one of his best friends, if not his best friend.
After Wilson started his own practice, he and Murdaugh began working together. Wilson says his firm was small and had fewer resources, so he would often work with Murdaugh on cases. Over the years, he says they worked together on probably 30 cases.
Wilson and Murdaugh worked together on the Farris case, which is the case that sparked PMPED’s investigation into Murdaugh’s finances. They settled in case in early 2021. They received a settlement of $5.5 million at the end of February. That money is required to sit in the lawyer’s account for at least 10 days before disbursement. Wilson said that since the sum was so large, he waited a bit longer to disburse the funds.
Murdaugh’s share — which was supposed to go to PMPED — was set to be $792,000.
State prosecutor Creighton Waters presents a text conversation between Wilson and Murdaugh from March 10, 2021. Wilson reads it.
Murdaugh said, “I need to get check today, if it’s just too much for you I will deal with it.”
Wilson called Murdaugh shortly after and told him he was getting the checks ready. Murdaugh told Wilson he was going to put the checks into an annuity because “he was concerned about his exposure in the boat case” and wanted to put some money away. He told Wilson the checks needed to be made out directly to him, not to the firm, and that he had already cleared it with PMPED. Murdaugh also said he was doing three separate annuities so he would need three separate checks.
Wilson said he didn’t have any reason not to trust Murdaugh; he had known him for over 30 years, they were friends, and Murdaugh was a partner in the firm with the authority to make financial decisions. He said Murdaugh’s request didn’t set off any red flags.
Waters presents a series of checks made on March 10, 2021, to Richard Alexander Murdaugh. The checks appeared to be signed by Murdaugh and deposited at Bank of America.
Wilson reiterates that he and Murdaugh talked several times a day, their wives talked often, and their families were close. He says he was close with Maggie, Paul, and Buster. He says it hasn’t been the same since everything happened, but he hopes that will change one day.
Waters asks what Wilson’s general perception of Murdaugh’s wealth was. He says Murdaugh had a big firm, a big reputation, and made a lot of money. He calls him “one of the biggest dogs in that firm.” He said he never seemed to have problems when it came to money.
They move on to Annette Griswold asking Wilson’s office about missing fee checks in May of 2021. Murdaugh told her that he had not received the fee checks from the Farris case (the checks Wilson wrote on March 10). Wilson’s office told Griswold that the checks had already been sent. Griswold and PMPED CFO Jeanne Seckinger asked Wilson’s office for a detailed accounting of the fees.
Wilson says the matter was brought to his attention around June 2, 2021.
He reached out to Murdaugh and let him know PMPED was saying they believed Murdaugh was owed more money. Wilson said he told Murdaugh that if Murdaugh was owed more, he had no problem paying him more. He also pointed out that this was the case where the checks were written directly to Murdaugh and asked if everything was okay. Murdaugh said yes, he just had to make sure his firm knew where everything was. Wilson said he believed him.
Wilson said they didn’t talk about it again until after the murders.
Wilson says that he was with Murdaugh, Maggie, and Buster the Saturday before the murders.
They discuss the night of the murders. Murdaugh called him around 9:11 p.m. He says he and his wife were sitting on the back porch watching The Bachelor. When Murdaugh called, Wilson says he was messing with a pool pump so his hands weren’t free. He told Murdaugh he would call him back. He said Murdaugh sounded normal.
Wilson called him back at 9:20 p.m. Murdaugh said he was arriving at his mom’s house and asked to call Wilson back. Wilson said sure.
At 9:52 p.m., Murdaugh texted him saying “call me if you’re up.” Wilson called. Murdaugh didn’t answer initially, which Wilson said was normal. He called right back and Murdaugh picked up. He asked about Murdaugh’s mother, some questions about a case, etc. Murdaugh eventually said he was about to be home, so could they talk tomorrow? Wilson said yes and went to bed.
Wilson said he was asleep and heard his phone buzzing, but didn’t pay attention. He said his wife came in hysterical and woke him up. She was on the phone with either Randy or his wife. Wilson said he got dressed and headed to Moselle. It takes about an hour and 40 minutes from Columbia.
Wilson said he tried to call his daughter multiple times because she is extremely close to Paul and Buster.
He got to Moselle around 1:00 a.m. He saw lights at the kennels so he went there first, but someone waved him towards the house so he went there. He said when he got there, he hugged Murdaugh and cried.
Waters asks if Wilson had any discussion with Murdaugh about what happened that night. He said he didn’t ask Murdaugh, he didn’t Murdaugh to describe what he found and relive it, he just wanted to be there for his friend.
In the aftermath, Wilson said he and a lot of others were worried Murdaugh was going to kill himself, so he tried to check in and stop by more often.
Waters says it certainly wasn’t the time to ask about the fees, right? Wilson says he didn’t know there was an issue with the fees at that point because he trusted Murdaugh’s explanation.
Around the middle of July, Murdaugh called Wilson about the fees. He told Wilson he wasn’t able to put the money in the annuities as he thought, it had to go to his firm, so he told Wilson he would send the money back and asked him to write the checks to PMPED. Murdaugh only sent $600,000 of the $792,000 in two separate wire transfers. One was from Palmetto State Bank and one was from Bank of America.
Wilson asked Murdaugh about the $192,000. Murdaugh said that he put it away and couldn’t access it, but he could get it to him soon. Wilson put $192,000 of his own money into the trust account to cover the fees owed to PMPED. He emailed Murdaugh to let him know the money was in the account, and Murdaugh forwarded the email to the firm.
They spoke in early August about the $192,000 and Murdaugh assured him that he would get it to him soon. He said the money was tied up in what Wilson understood to be some sort of annuity, but there would likely be money coming his way after his father’s death.
In mid-August, Wilson went to Murdaugh’s office and asked him to sign a promissory letter. He said he was worried Murdaugh was going to kill himself and he knew he had to have something in writing if he wanted to make a claim against the estate. Wilson said he put it more delicately, saying something to the effect of “I hate to ask this, but if you get hit by a car or something, I need assurances.” Murdaugh said no problem and wrote out the note.
9:35 a.m. – The trial resumes with cross-examination of FBI automotive forensic specialist Dwight Falkofski.
Falkofski processed the infotainment center and OnStar module that Hudak collected from Murdaughs’ car.
Defense confirms that other Bluetooth devices had connected to Murdaugh’s car system, but the only one that connected in June appeared to be his phone.
Although they were able to get some location data out of the car, Falkofski says there was no location data available for the entire day of June 7, 2021.
9:00 a.m. – Alex Murdaugh arrived at the Colleton County Courthouse shortly after 9:00 a.m. Thursday as his trial for murder enters day 14.
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