COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The family of a teen killed in a boat crash, which prosecutors say began the financial downfall of double murderer Alex Murdaugh, has reached a $15 million deal to settle a lawsuit against a convenience store chain that sold Murdaugh's son alcohol while underage.
Sunday's deal came after a judge refused to allow the Parker's Kitchen chain to be separated from Murdaugh in a wrongful death trial next month in Hampton County, South Carolina, where Murdaugh was once a powerful and well-known attorney.
Murdaugh is serving a life sentence without parole the 2021 killing of his wife and the son involved in the drunken boat crash.
Under South Carolina law, even if the jury found Parker’s Kitchen was only 1% responsible, since Murdaugh is now nearly broke, the chain with its deeper pockets would likely have to pay almost the entire settlement.
The family’s attorney, Mark Tinsley, told media outlets the $15 million settlement that will be paid by the convenience store chain’s insurance was a large enough amount that Mallory Beach’s family felt would show the stores have to take alcohol laws seriously.
The Parker's Kitchen clerk did not stop Paul Murdaugh, then 19, from using his older brother's ID to buy beer, according to an investigation into the crash. Paul Murdaugh was facing a charge of boating under the influence causing death when he was killed at the family's home.
The settlement doesn't require Parker's Kitchen to admit responsibility in the case. A lawyer for the stores said owner Greg Parker felt like he had no choice but to settle because Alex Murdaugh and the chain would be tried together in the wrongful death suit.
On Friday, a judge refused to separate Parker's Kitchen from Murdaugh and declined to move the case out of Hampton County.
“The unfairness of that caused Parker’s insurance carriers to resolve these suits to avoid paying the likely award intended to punish Alex Murdaugh," attorney P.K. Shere said in a statement, which also said he was disappointed the Beach family's attorney revealed details of the settlement before it could be approved by a judge.
Beach, 19, was killed and three other teens in the boat were hurt in February 2019 after Paul Murdaugh steered the boat into a bridge piling, authorities said.
Her family has already settled lawsuits with another family who held an oyster roast the group was attending, a bar that served Paul Murdaugh liquor just before the crash, and Murdaugh's older brother Buster.
Parker's Kitchen also agreed to settlements with the three teens who survived the crash, lawyers said.
Nurses at the hospital where the injured teens were taken said Alex Murdaugh and his father arrived not long after the crash and tried to talk to them alone in the emergency room. One teen said it appeared the family was trying to convince them to say someone other than Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat.
The crash also left Alex Murdaugh fearful of a wrongful death lawsuit. Prosecutors at his double murder trial earlier this year said he worried financial disclosures in the suit would show he'd been stealing millions from clients and his law firm for a decade.
Tinsley testified at the trial he wanted Murdaugh to pay $10 million, and Murdaugh's lawyer said he was broke and might be able to scrape together $1 million.
Tinsley said that didn't make sense with Murdaugh's reputation and outward signs of wealth so he asked for records of all of Murdaugh’s finances, a request being put before a judge at a June 10, 2021, hearing that was postponed after Murdaugh’s son and wife were killed.
Murdaugh killed his son Paul with two shotgun blasts and his 52-year-old wife Maggie with four or five rifle shots outside their home, authorities said.
Alex Murdaugh told investigators who arrived while the bodies were still on the ground that he wondered if the anger toward his son over the boat crash led to the killings. But prosecutors said they were instead a sinister, methodical plan to buy time to straighten out his finances and derail the wrongful death suit over the boat crash.
Murdaugh, 55, testified he didn't kill his family. He is under protective custody at a South Carolina prison serving his life sentence. His lawyers have indicated he plans to settle his part of the Beach family's wrongful death lawsuit.
State agents have been investigating whether Murdaugh obstructed the criminal investigation into the boat crash. No charges have been announced.
This story has been updated to correct that the Murdaugh family allegedly tried to convince the injured teens that someone other than Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat, not Buster Murdaugh.