The attorney suing Alex Murdaugh over the death of a young woman in a boating accident testified that he thought he would have to drop the case after Murdaugh’s wife and son were murdered.
Mark Tinsley, a lawyer who represented the family of Mallory Beach, took the stand Monday morning without the jury present. Judge Clifton Newman later decided that the jury can be told about the financial crimes Murdaugh has been accused of, a big win for prosecutors.
Beach was killed in a 2019 boating accident. Murdaugh’s youngest son, Paul, was reportedly driving the boat after a night of drinking. The family recently settled part of a wrongful death lawsuit with Buster Murdaugh, Murdaugh’s surviving son.
Tinsley sued Murdaugh personally over the boat wreck and was seeking knowledge of his financial situation after Murdaugh claimed he would be unable to pay the kind of money the Beach family was seeking.
“When you practice law and go to a (court) roster meeting, if there are 50 cases on the roster in Hampton County, 50 or 60% are Alex’s,” Tinsley testified Monday. “I know he’s making money. He can’t possibly be broke.”
Pushing for a court to allow him access to Murdaugh’s finances was a plan to force a settlement in the case, Tinsley said.
“He doesn’t want me to have access to his accounts, to see how much money he is making and actually has, so let’s enter into an agreement and settle the case,” Tinsley said. “If you’re a good plaintiff’s lawyer, everything you do in a case is to put pressure on the other side.”
A hearing that could have forced Murdaugh to open his books was scheduled for June 10, 2021, three days after the murders.
After Paul and Maggie were shot at the Murdaugh family’s rural Colleton County estate on June 7, 2021, Tinsley said he considered the possibility they were killed as revenge for the death of 19-year-old Beach.
“If it seemed like this was retaliation, a jury wouldn’t return a verdict against Alex,” Tinsley said. “I would have dropped the case.”
Last week, Newman said he was inclined to allow arguments about Murdaugh’s alleged financial motives, after defense attorneys “opened the door” with its own questions to witnesses asking why Murdaugh would commit the crimes. Prosecutors contend it was the financial pressure from Tinsley’s lawsuit, and the possibility his alleged financial crimes could be found out, that motivated Murdaugh to commit the murders as a distraction.
The defense has fought to keep those arguments out of court, since Murdaugh has not been convicted of any of the financial crimes he has been accused of.
Defense attorney Phil Barber pushed Tinsley Monday on whether he was anywhere close to gaining access to Murdaugh’s financial information as part of the lawsuit.
Barber took the position that Murdaugh would not have been compelled to open his books as a result of that week’s hearing, even as Tinsley dramatically pulled out an order from the judge in the case from Oct. 7, 2021 that he claimed would have allowed him access to the documents.
In Barbers cross-examination, at times tense, Barber contradicted Tinsley’s position that he was on the verge of discovering any financial misdeeds.
“It would have been apparent to me what Alex was doing,” Tinsley replied. “There were a number of threads being pulled that were coming together.”
The move to target Murdaugh personally angered Murdaugh and others in the legal community, which boiled over into what Tinsley described Monday as an act of intimidation. During a conference on Hilton Head Island in 2019, Tinsley said Murdaugh tried to “bully” him out of seeking compensation for Beach’s family.
“Alex sees me (at the conference), and he comes across the room, gets up close in my face and says, ’Hey Bo, what’s this I’ve been hearing about what you’ve been saying, I thought we were friends?’” Tinsley testified.
“I said, ‘Alex, we are friends. But if you don’t think I can’t burn your house down and that I’m not doing everything, if you think I’m not going to do everything, you’re wrong, you need to settle this case,’” Tinsley said.
Allowing the jury to hear about Murdaugh’s alleged financial misdeeds could be damaging to the defense, even if the details are unrelated to the charge he faces of murdering his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in June 2021.
On Friday, the court heard testimony — with the jury out of the room — that Murdaugh was some $4.2 million in debt to Palmetto State Bank and hundreds of thousands of dollars overdrawn on his account by summer 2021. The chief financial officer of Murdaugh’s former law firm testified that she confronted Murdaugh about missing money owed to the firm on the same day his wife and son were killed.
Some witnesses offered deeply personal testimony of betrayal.
Murdaugh’s former friend and law school roommate, Chris Wilson, testified that he gave Murdaugh almost $200,000 of his own money to cover for hefty fees from a settlement that Murdaugh convinced Wilson to send to him instead of his law firm. Michael Satterfield, the son of the Murdaughs’ late housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, testified that Murdaugh stole millions of dollars in insurance money that was owed to Satterfield’s family after she died in a fall at the Murdaughs’ house.
The State reporter Ted Clifford and Hilton Head Island Packet reporter Blake Douglas contributed to this report.