Judge: SC convenience store owner will remain in Mallory Beach fatal boat crash lawsuit

A South Carolina judge ruled Friday that convenience story operator Greg Parker will stand trial as a defendant with convicted killer Alex Murdaugh in the long-delayed wrongful death trial of Mallory Beach.

The trial is set to begin Aug. 14 in Hampton County.

Judge Daniel Hall notified lawyers in the case Friday that he rejected Parker’s bid for summary judgment, in which Parker sought to be dismissed as a defendant. It was Parker’s latest failed effort to be tried separately from Murdaugh or to be dismissed outright from the case.

Hall’s decision apparently clears the final hurdle for the 4-year-old lawsuit to begin.

The lawsuit was first filed on March 29, 2019, a little more than a month after Beach’s death in a predawn boat crash the morning of Feb. 24, 2019, in Archer’s Creek near Beaufort. The boat was allegedly driven by an intoxicated Paul Murdaugh, Murdaugh’s younger son. Beach was thrown from the boat and drowned.

The suit was filed by her mother, Renee Beach, in Hampton County, where both the Beach and Murdaugh families lived.

Parker is a defendant in the lawsuit because a clerk at one of his convenience stores allegedly sold an underage Paul, then 19, some of the alcohol that Paul and his friends drank the night of the boat crash. None of the six people on the boat were of age to buy alcohol. Paul used his older brother Buster’s driver’s license to buy the alcohol.

The stakes are high for Parker and his chain of convenience stores.

Under South Carolina law, any single defendant in a lawsuit with several defendants is responsible for paying all damages if other defendants cannot pay. Murdaugh, in prison, is not believed to have any assets, now or in the future, so Parker could find himself liable for any jury verdict awarding damages, according to court records.

In legal responses to the lawsuit, Parker contends that the S.C. Law Enforcement Division investigated the actions of his clerk that night — SLED is charged with overseeing alcohol violations — and declined to prosecute the clerk, Tajeeha Cohen. Parker also contends that Paul was known to be reckless when he drank, and therefore his friends in the boat should have known better than to travel with him.

Murdaugh is a defendant in the lawsuit because he allegedly encouraged Paul to drink alcohol and he owned the boat in the crash.

Attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the Beach family, said in a text Friday he was not surprised that Parker will remain a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Parker’s motion (to dismiss) bordered on being frivolous and seems to have been intended to spread a false narrative, so we fully expected the judge to deny it. We are looking forward to concluding this matter in August and beginning to give the Beach family some closure,” Tinsley said.

P.K. Shere, the lead defense attorney for Parker and his company, Parker’s Kitchen, said in a statement, “While we believe summary judgment should have been granted, we remain confident a jury will use their common sense and find that Tajeeha Cohen and Parker’s are not responsible for the death of Mallory Beach.”

Dawes Cooke Jr., an attorney for Murdaugh, who is now serving two consecutive life sentences in the S.C. Department of Corrections, said he would expect Murdaugh to attend the trial, but said “no final decision has been made on that.”

Murdaugh was convicted in a jury trial in early March of murder in the 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at the family estate in rural Colleton County, near the town of Hampton.

At Murdaugh’s murder trial, prosecutors asserted to the jury that Tinsley’s lawsuit, in which he sought millions of dollars in damages from Murdaugh, helped expose Murdaugh’s numerous financial crimes and millions of dollars of debts.

Murdaugh, a once-prosperous but now disbarred lawyer, still has to be tried for stealing more than $8 million from his former law partners, clients, family and friends.