A defense attorney in a lawsuit connected to the death of Mallory Beach has sent subpoenas demanding that his opposing counsel turn over conversations he’s had with journalists, including those at the The State, Island Packet, and Beaufort Gazette.
Beach was killed in 2019 when Paul Murduagh, the son of disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh, crashed his family’s boat into a bridge after a night of drinking. It was the first public incident in a chain of events that has seen Alex Murdaugh charged with murdering his wife and Paul.
The Beach family initially sued convenience store owner Gregory Parker, alleging Paul, then 20, purchased alcohol from the store with his brother’s ID before the crash. In the midst of that litigation, the Beaches sued Parker again after images of Mallory Beach’s body were leaked to investigative journalist and former CNN reporter Vicky Ward.
In May, Mark Moore, Parker’s attorney, subpoenaed attorney Mark Tinsley, who represents the Beach family. The subpoenas show that Moore is seeking evidence that would prove Tinsley actually leaked the photos. Tinsley has denied providing the images to Ward.
The subpoenas sought emails and texts between Tinsley and news outlets. Moore also subpoenaed Tinsley’s law firm and his co-counsel.
Most recently, Moore has subpoenaed Verizon for records of all calls and texts between Tinsley and six other phone numbers, beginning on Feb. 23, 2019, the night of the boat crash.
Moore, a former U.S. attorney, emphasized that neither reporters nor news outlets were targets of the subpoenas.
“[We] issued these subpoenas because I believe that these phone records contain information that go to the merits of our defense and to the issue of whether Mr. Tinsley should be disqualified in this matter,” said Moore. “Any suggestion that these subpoenas were issued to any journalist is at best incorrect.”
While South Carolina has a shield law for journalists that generally protects them from turning over documents,the law may offer few protections in this kind of case.
“I don’t know of any way that a news organization or reporter could quash a subpoena not directed at the news organization or reporter,” said Jay Bender, a longtime media lawyer in South Carolina whose clients have included The State.
“It’s an absolute witch-hunt,” said Tinsley, who denied leaking the photos taken from a mediation presentation assembled by his team. He characterized the move as a “transparent attempt to scare and intimidate the Beaches” in advance of a court-ordered mediation.
Tinsley has already moved to quash the first subpoena, which asked him to turn over all documents relating to the dissemination of images of Beach’s body and all communications he has had with news outlets including The State, Island Packet, Beaufort Gazette, FitsNews, the Murdaugh Murders Podcast, Dateline, and 20/20.
Moore has also issued a subpoena to Verizon requesting the phone logs of Wesley Donehue, a political consultant and self-described “knife fighter” who was previously employed by Parker after Beach’s death. While his firm provides crisis management services, Donehue has said that he is unable to discuss the specifics of what he did for Parker due to a non-disclosure agreement.
“Unfortunately my client and others who are mere witnesses are being drug into a fight where the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defense cannot get along,” Sandy Senn, Donehue’s lawyer and a state senator, told The State.
The first subpoena that Tinsley received also demanded that he produce all conversations with both Donehue and Senn.
In court filings, Moore has alleged that Tinsley became a witness to the case when he contacted Ward, the former CNN reporter, and Sara Capelli, a private investigator once employed by Parker to conduct surveillance on Paul Murdaugh.
Paul and his mother, Maggie, were shot and killed on the Murdaugh family’s 1,700-acre estate on the night of June 7, 2021. His father, Alex Murdaugh, once a prominent Hampton County lawyer, is charged with murder in their deaths.
Conspiracy charge adds to litigation around Beach’s death
The subpoenas are part of a civil conspiracy lawsuit born out of the ongoing wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Beach family against Parker and his company.
At the center of the conspiracy suit is the allegation that defendants provided Ward with images of Beach’s body. The photos are alleged to have been taken from a confidential mediation presentation that Tinsley prepared and shared with one of Parker’s defense teams, according to court filings.
The images were then featured in a short trailer for a Murdaugh documentary Ward claimed was posted online accidentally.
The complaint, filed in Hampton County, alleges that Parker, his personal attorney, the general counsel of the his company, and the private investigators conspired to “inflict severe emotion distress upon the Plaintiffs and diminish their resolve” in advance of a court ordered mediation. Ward is also named the suit.
However, some of the defendants have cast the lawsuit as an attempt to circumvent normal judicial process.
In a statement, Moore characterized the conspiracy case as “meritless” and founded on “baseless allegations.”
The Private Investigations Services Group, the investigators named as defendants in the lawsuit, have accused Tinsley of initiating the suit in order to obtain records that they previously argued were privileged. In court filings, the investigators claim that the conspiracy suit was filed after the investigators invoked a news gathering privilege when subpoenaed in the wrongful death case.
Tinsley has denied this claim.