Out of jail and back in rehab after botching his own murder in a depraved insurance-fraud scheme, Alex Murdaugh is under new fire for his role in the aftermath of another crime: the fatal 2019 boat crash involving his late son Paul.
The disgraced attorney late Monday was named in a new lawsuit, this time for allegedly attempting to “shift the blame” of the 2019 fiasco from Paul, who was charged in the incident prior to his own murder this spring, to another teenager onboard at the time.
According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Connor Cook—one of the six individuals on the Murdaugh family boat during the Feb. 2019 incident—the 53-year-old South Carolina lawyer took deliberate steps to try Paul from the legal repercussions of that night.
That included Murdaugh—whose family has almost continuously held prosecutorial power in the South Carolina Lowcountry for a century—attempting to pin the incident on Cook, the suit says.
“Murdaugh.., negligently or intentionally attempted to shift the blame for the boat accident, causing the intentional and/or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit states.
“The actions of the [Murdaugh] in attempting to steer the criminal investigation away from Paul Murdaugh and towards Plaintiff Cook and the methods used, proximately caused Plaintiff Cook severe emotional distress, especially given the Murdaugh family’s significant connections with prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges,” it adds.
Of course, about a year after the boat crash took place, Paul and his mom and Alex Murdaugh’s wife, 53-year-old Margaret, were found fatally shot “execution-style” outside their 1,700-acre Islandton home. The brazen double-murder shined a national spotlight on Alex Murdaugh, who has been almost constantly embroiled in his own controversies since, ranging from alleged embezzlement at his old law firm to the wild assisted-suicide insurance scheme.
But even as Alex Murdaugh has been charged in the latter episode—allegedly trying to fake his own murder to provide insurance money for his surviving son Buster—Joe McCulloch, the attorney representing Conner, said he was determined the boat crash be probed fully.
“This case, and what I’ve been hearing in the news about the Murdaughs, is the wildest thing I’ve dealt with in my career,” McCulloch told The Daily Beast. “This lawsuit is to ensure my client gets justice.”
The lawsuit, which is seeking actual and punitive damages, also accuses Richard Alexander “Buster” Murdaugh Jr. for negligent entrustment and negligence, after he allegedly provided his younger brother his driver’s license the night of the crash. Also named in the suit is Parker’s, a Georgia-based chain, and one of its employees, who allegedly sold Paul alcohol the night.
A Murdaugh family attorney, Jim Griffin, told The Daily Beast that his team could not comment “until we have an opportunity to review the lawsuit with Alex Murdaugh,” who is currently in rehab for drug addiction.
“Right now our focus is supporting his recovery,” Griffin added. Parker’s did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Before Paul Murdaugh’s death, prosecutors alleged that on Feb. 24, 2019, he drunkenly crashed his dad’s 17-foot boat holding five other passengers into a bridge after an oyster roast, launching at least three people into the water. Among those who went overboard was 19-year-old Mallory Beach, whose dead body was found a week later by two fishermen about five miles from where the boat crashed.
The suit states that, after the crash, Murdaugh told Cook, who was 19 at the time, to “keep his mouth shut” and tell authorities he did not know who was driving the boat at the time of the crash—even though he knew it was Paul. In accordance with Murdaugh’s request, Cook “gave vague explanations of the accident” to law enforcement before going into surgery for the injuries he sustained in the crash.
Afterward, the lawsuit states, Murdaugh “encouraged and instructed” Cook and his family to retain Cory Fleming, whom he claimed was the “best” attorney for the teenager. As The Daily Beast previously reported, Fleming is said to be Murdaugh’s college roommate and best friend—and has been accused of helping the attorney quietly handle the estate of his late housekeeper, whose own death is under new investigation.
The suit states Cook met with Fleming and revealed it was Paul who was piloting the boat, but that he was never informed there “was a potential conflict of interest.” Further, the suit alleges, Cook was told to decline to be interviewed by police and direct all law enforcement inquires to Fleming.
Fleming did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“Such advice was to the advantage of Paul and Defendant Murdaugh and against the interests of Fleming’s new client, Plaintiff Cook, increasing the potential that Plaintiff Cook would continue to be a suspect and potentially face criminal charges as operator of the boat,” the lawsuit alleges. “Fleming’s instructions served to convert the unwitting Plaintiff Cook into an agent of protection for Paul Murdaugh, exposing Plaintiff Cook to the potential of being charged as boat operator and therefore responsible for the accident.”
The lawsuit states that Cook and his family began to realize that Murdaugh and others were “orchestrating a campaign to have Connor Cook held criminally and civilly responsible for the boat accident.” In addition to encouraging Cook to not speak to authorities, Murdaugh and others also allegedly launched a “whisper campaign” in the Hampton County community.
The influence of the Murdaugh family was so strong, according to the lawsuit, that Connor even mentioned it in his Jan. 2020 deposition in connection with the boat crash. In his deposition, the suit states, Cook said that he was afraid of the Murdaughs because of “them being who they are.”
“Just anything they get in they get out of. I’ve always been told that,” he said.
The lawsuit comes after a July petition filed on behalf of Cook, who sustained a broken jaw in the crash, that alleges officers from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office tried to move the focus of the Beach investigation away from Paul Murdaugh and toward Cook. Neither agency immediately responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
In an effort to shift blame, the petition read, at least five officers tried to deliberately “cloud the investigatory issues and disseminate false information in the community with the intention of misleading law enforcement and prosecution charging parties, and the public, into wrongly and falsely believing Connor Cook should be arrested and charged as the boat operator.”
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, audio and videos from the aftermath of the crash showed it did not take long after that disaster for at least some of those with knowledge of it to begin pointing fingers—and worrying that justice might not be served.
“That motherfucker needs to rot in fucking prison,” one of the boat passengers is heard telling an officer inside a squad car, apparently about Murdaugh, as police swarm the scene outside, according to dashcam footage first obtained by FitsNews. “He ain’t gonna get in no fucking trouble.”
But several law-enforcement officers have been accused of trying to diminish the young man’s role in the crash—including one with the SCDNR who filed a report suggesting the nautical operator was unknown.
In one of the videos, a SCDNR officer is heard asking Anthony Cook, Beach’s boyfriend and Connor’s cousin, who he saw driving the boat while he was aboard that night. When “I grabbed my girlfriend and got down to the bottom of the boat, Paul was driving,” Anthony responds, prompting the officer to ask again if “Paul was driving.”
“Yes, sir,” Anthony responded, later noting that his cousin was sitting next to Murdaugh in the center console—but that Paul had his hands on the wheel.
But as FitsNews noted, the SCDNR officer wrote that Anthony Cook “did not know” who was driving the boat and that officers on the scene “thought it was Connor Cook or Paul Murdaugh.”
The new lawsuit states that despite Anthony Cook pointing the finger directly at Paul Murdaugh, authorities did not ask him for a blood sample on the night of the incident—nor did they ask him to perform a field sobriety test. Further, the suit notes, Alex Murdaugh was the owner of the boat used that night, but did not face any legal repercussions for the deadly incident.
“The investigation, stymied by possible obstruction and silence, would drag on for approximately two months. During that period, Connor Cook and his family lived in fear and anticipation that Connor would be wrongly charged as the boat operator,” the lawsuit states.
During that time, a medical examiner would determine Beach died from drowning and blunt force trauma. Her family, which could not be reached for comment, eventually filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murdaughs.
“The Defendant’s intentional or negligent conduct in misdirecting law enforcement and orchestrating a scheme to silence Plaintiff Cook, all the while knowing that Paul Murdaugh was the driver of the boat, and knowing that if successful, Plaintiff Cook would be arrested for the death of Mallory Beach, was conduct so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit states.