State’s theory on why Murdaugh allegedly killed doesn’t make sense, SC defense attorney says

Jeff Blake/Jeff Blake Photo

Lawyers prosecuting Alex Murdaugh for murder won a big victory Monday when the judge ruled allegations of financial crimes could be admitted into evidence, but a veteran South Carolina defense attorney wonders whether it’s actually a win.

That’s because he questions the prosecution’s overall strategy — alleging Murdaugh killed his wife Maggie and son Paul to distract attention from an investigation into allegations he stole millions of dollars from clients and his own law firm.

Jack Swerling, who The State asked to offer analysis as the murder trial proceeds, said, “That doesn’t appeal to my common sense.”

He said it is more believable that a man would kill his wife, but he could not fathom a father “blowing his son’s head off.”

Law enforcement officers have testified that Paul was shot first with a shotgun at close range, Maggie with an AR-style rifle as she was running away.

Swerling said he believes the jury is not likely to make the leap with the prosecution unless there is further testimony to actually tie Alex’s financial troubles with the murder, such as Maggie learning of the problems or threatening to reveal them.

Swerling said he doesn’t know what additional testimony the prosecution may have.

Various national media have reported Maggie had seen a divorce attorney and they were living apart, him at the 1,700-acre hunting estate and her at the family beach house on Edisto Island, but that information has not been admitted into evidence.

“What did he have to gain by killing his wife and son?” Swerling said.

Since the murders, Murdaugh has been charged with 99 counts of various financial crimes as well as insurance fraud for asking a friend to shoot and kill him for a $10 million payout for his older son Buster.

Various witnesses testified outside the presence of the jury over several days last week and Monday morning.

Tony Satterfield, son of the Murdaughs’ long-time housekeeper, said Alex Murdaugh had stolen $4 million in insurance payments intended for him and his brother after his mother died in a fall at the Murdaugh home.

They have since been awarded $7 million.

Jeanne Seckinger, chief financial officer of the law firm formerly known as PMPED, testified Murdaugh had taken more than $700,000, which she confronted him about on the morning that his wife and son were killed.

Mark Tinsley, lawyer for the family of Mallory Beach, testified about the wrongful death lawsuit against Murdaugh and others after Mallory died in a boating accident in which Paul was drunk and driving. Tinsley said a hearing to compel Murdaugh to open his books to prove he was broke as his lawyers claimed was scheduled for days after the murders.

Long-time friend Chris Wilson testified Murdaugh had duped him into turning over settlement money in a case they were handling together. Wilson said Murdaugh admitted financial crimes due to an addiction to opiates.

Judge Clifton Newman ruled all the testimony was proper because, while the prosecution doesn’t have to prove motive, it does have to prove malice and that evidence could speak to that.