Alex Murdaugh defense 'opened door' to jury hearing about alleged financial crimes, South Carolina judge says
Published in News & Features
WALTERBORO, S.C. — Alex Murdaugh’s defense team has inadvertently opened the door for prosecutors to argue Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes motivated him to kill his wife and son.
Judge Clifton Newman on Thursday ruled that the state would be allowed to present evidence that Murdaugh stole millions of dollars from his law partners and clients, and that the threat of exposure motivated the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021.
The prosecution team led by Creighton Waters rests their case on the theory Murdaugh killed his wife and son as part of a scheme to distract from his financial dealings, for which he was coming under pressure.
Waters argued Murdaugh’s defense team opened the door to discussion of Murdaugh’s alleged motive when they asked two witnesses if they knew of any reason the disbarred Lowcountry attorney would want to harm his wife and son. Paul’s friends Rogan Gibson and Will Loving testified Wednesday that they heard Murdaugh’s voice on a video Paul shot at the Moselle dog kennels minutes before Paul and Maggie were shot to death.
Murdaugh is accused of stealing millions of dollars from his former law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, as well as accounts set up to hold settlement money for plaintiffs the firm had represented, including money held in trust for many injured children.
Murdaugh’s defense argued against having allegations of financial crimes, for which Murdaugh faces separate state charges, from being used against their client in this case because he has not been convicted on those charges.
But when defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Gibson and Loving to speculate on the motivation for the murder, he opened the door for the state to respond, the judge said.
“In the questioning in the cross-examination by Griffin, the witness was asked if he could think of any reason possible Mr. Murdaugh would commit the crimes he was accused of committing,” Newman said from the bench Thursday morning. “That turned cross-examination of the witness from dealing with specific issues in the case to having to testify as a character witness for Mr. Murdaugh.”
Newman also said the defense has broadly painted Murdaugh as a “loving father, provider, financial securer, things of that nature,” which, “of course, that opened the door to allow the state to respond by asking questions that the state did” of witnesses Wednesday.
Griffin argued against the judge’s ruling, stating “our questions specifically related to the relationship between the defendant and the people he’s accused of murdering. That’s a factual issue related to the relationship between the parties.”
©2023 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.