BLOG: Day 13: Trial resumes after bomb threat at courthouse
WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - Court is back in session at the Colleton County Courthouse where disbarred Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh is standing trial on two charges of murder.
Murdaugh defense attorney Jim Griffin confirmed shortly before 1 p.m. that the reason for the evacuation was a bomb threat. The evacuation began shortly before 12:30 p.m.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spokesperson Renée Wunderlich said courthouse personnel received the bomb threat.
“The building has been evacuated and SLED along with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the threat,” Wunderlich said.
The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office urged people in the area to use an alternative route around the courthouse. Deputies planned to update traffic conditions as necessary.
Murdaugh has been on trial for the June 7, 2021, killings of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie; and their 22-year-old son, Paul.
Before the threat, jurors heard from Annette Griswold. Griswold was one of two paralegals who worked for Murdaugh at his former law firm.
Griswold testified that she had been instructed to designate checks to “Forge” and was corrected when she wrote “Forge Consulting” on the checks.
Murdaugh assured her Forge was a subsidiary of Forge Consulting, Griswold said.
Griswold told jurors Murdaugh said he would hand deliver those checks to Michael Gunn at Forge Consulting.
Griswold said the 2019 boat crash caused a change in Murdaugh’s demeanor.
“He was just not his normal self or what his normal self used to be. It was just very tense,” Griswold said. “You could tell the boat crash was weighing heavy on him and it was consuming his life almost. "
A break in Griswold’s testimony as Prosecutor Creighton Waters tried to introduce a text message sent from Murdaugh while in rehab was met with objection from the defense.
Griffin seized the moment to try and convince Judge Clifton Newman to toss out all testimony on Murdaugh’s financial crimes.
The message was allowed to stay and read to the jury saying:
“I’ve been worried about y’all and I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell y’all myself. I know the two of you have been hurt badly by me. I know it sounds hollow and I’m truly sorry, the better I get the more guilt I have. I have an awful lot to try to make right when I get out of here. The worst part is knowing I did the most damage to those I love the most. I’m not real sure how I let myself get where I did. I’m committed to getting better and hope to mend as many relationships as I can. You both are special people and important to me. Please know how sorry I am to have made you part of my misdeeds.”
During cross examination, Griswold described Murdaugh as a family man and said his family would go on trips with him.
After the murders of Paul and Maggie, Griswold said she was worried about Alex, his son Buster Murdaugh and brother Randy Murdaugh and went into “momma bear” mode.
Jurors heard evidence Tuesday about what crime scene technicians discovered when they tested a rain jacket found three months after the killings.
A state agent testified gunshot residue was found inside the jacket, likely after someone shot a gun wearing it inside out or wrapped it around a recently fired weapon. Defense attorneys had asked the judge in the case to prevent further testimony about the raincoat after the caretaker for Murdaugh’s ailing mother testified that she saw him bring a “blue something, looked like a tarp” into his mother’s home nine days after the killings. They say nothing links Murdaugh to the jacket.
READ RECAP: Inside of raincoat had ‘significant amount’ of gunshot residue, expert says
Jurors heard from Ronnie Crosby, a law partner with Murdaugh for more than two decades.
Crosby testified for the prosecution that Murdaugh told him and other law partners he was never at the kennels the night of the shootings and later became the third witness to identify Murdaugh’s voice along with his wife and his son on a video from the kennels about five minutes before investigators say they were killed.
testimony started with Jeanne Seckinger, who is the office manager and chief financial officer for the law firm Murdaugh’s family founded more than a century ago.
Murdaugh took money from legal settlements that was supposed to go to clients by routing it to a fake company that he created and that had a similar name to the company the law firm had intended to send it to, Seckinger said. The real company would have then dispensed the money to the firm’s clients.
Seckinger said she confronted Murdaugh about almost $800,000 in missing law firm fees on the day of the killings. But during the conversation, Murdaugh found out doctors had told his father he would die within days. Seckinger said all the grief ended the investigation into the missing fees until things settled down.
After an extensive investigation, the firm determined that Murdaugh took more than $5 million from clients, and it is in the process of paying them everything they were owed, Seckinger said.
For nearly two hours, Seckinger went over dozens of checks Murdaugh sent to his fake company.
The trial was initially expected to last three weeks, but Judge Clifton Newman’s decision Monday to allow prosecutors to discuss the financial crimes could double the length of the trial.
Copyright 2023 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.