BLOG: Day 14: Close friend, associate of Murdaugh takes stand

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 3:00 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 5:52 PM EST
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - One of Alex Murdaugh’s closest friends took the stand Thursday morning in the Murdaugh murder trial.

Murdaugh is charged with the 2021 murders of his wife and youngest son at the family’s Colleton County property.

Attorney Chris Wilson, who gave emotional testimony when asked about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes was on the stand for jurors to hear. When he testified last week, the jury was not present.

He testified only before Judge Clifton Newman, who was deciding whether to allow the prosecution to introduce details of nearly 100 charges related to financial crimes Murdaugh also faces.

Wilson testified that Murdaugh stole $192,000 from him after he was confronted by his law firm about missing fees from a case the two had tried together.

Wilson said he had written the attorney’s fees checks out to Murdaugh personally instead of the law firm because he was told the firm was aware and had authorized the fees to be written to Murdaugh personally.

Murdaugh said the fees were going into separate annuity accounts as protection in response to him being named in a lawsuit that came out of the 2019 Beaufort County boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, Wilson said.

Wilson told prosecutor Creighton Waters that he trusted Murdaugh and said the two were best friends and had been roommates while in law school together.

Wilson testified he spoke with Murdaugh almost every day.

“One of your best friends?” Waters said.

“Yes sir, very much,” Wilson said. “Not just my best friend, Mr. Waters. Our families were close. Our kids. Our wives were close.”

Wilson said he first learned of the missing fees on June 2, 2021 when he was added to an email between his paralegal and Murdaugh’s paralegal.

Wilson and Murdaugh had won two cases against Mack Trucks for around $5.5 million with Murdaugh set to receive $792,000 in fees from the case.

That’s when Murdaugh asked Wilson to make the checks out to him personally and the law firm knew about it and the money had been added to the book, Wilson testified.

Wilson said Murdaugh contacted him in the middle of July about the fees and told him he was having problems getting the annuities set up and would need to send the money back to Wilson to put in his trust account and pay to Murdaugh’s law firm.

Murdaugh only sent $600,000 and left Wilson to front the other $192,000 with his own money that he was never repaid, Wilson said.

Wilson said he went to Moselle on the night of the murders and arrived around 1 a.m. and was directed to the home and not the kennels

“I walked in, hugged his neck and cried,” Wilson said.

Wilson testified he was concerned about Murdaugh’s mental state after the murders and was worried he might try to harm himself.

Murdaugh signed a promissory note to pay back the money owed to Wilson in August 2021. Wilson said he wanted to make sure he could get the money if something had happened to Murdaugh.

Wilson said he received a call from one of the partners at Murdaugh’s law firm on Sept. 3, 2021, and was told about Murdaugh stealing from the firm and clients and that he was going to be forced to resign.

Wilson said he met with Murdaugh on Sept. 4 on the front porch of Murdaugh’s parents’ house at Almeda.

Wilson said he confronted Murdaugh about the theft and he admitted to stealing the money and also to a 20-year opioid addiction.

Wilson said he wanted to know if he had been involved in any of Murdaugh’s other schemes.

Wilson said, during the confession, Murdaugh told him: “I’m sorry. I’ve s--- you up. I’ve s--- a lot of people up.”

Wilson said he left feeling angry and had no meaningful interactions with Murdaugh since.

“Did you ever get that $192,000 back?” Waters said.

“No sir,” Wilson said.

READ RECAP: Prosecutors use SUV data to add to timeline in Murdaugh trial

The most dramatic development Wednesday was a bomb threat shortly before lunch that cleared the Colleton County Courthouse. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division confirmed that courthouse personnel received the threat. SLED was investigating.

The state continued to call witnesses who were so close to Murdaugh’s alleged financial misdeeds they almost didn’t want to believe it was true.

One of them was Murdaugh’s paralegal, Annette Griswold. Griswold testified she often worked on the more complicated cases and that for months, she sensed something was wrong but hoped that wasn’t the case.

“He’s been lying this whole time. He had these funds, he lied to me. That feeling in the back of my mind was correct unfortunately, she said.”

Griswold testified that Murdaugh instructed her to fill out the checks to Forge, a fake account, convincing her that it was a part of Forge Consulting LLC, a legitimate company the law firm Murdaugh worked for used.

Griswold testified she often worked on the more complicated cases. She testified that for months, she sensed something was wrong but hoped that wasn’t the case.

Until, by chance, she found a check she was told never existed.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

“A check kind of floated like a feather to the ground and when I bent it over to pick it up, I saw the check and what it said, had on it, and I instantly became very upset. Because it happened to be one of the checks from the Ferris case that ‘didn’t exist,’” Griswold said.

The check she referred to was made out for an amount of money that was supposed to have been shared with Wilson.

Michael Gunn of Forge Consulting told the court he had no idea Murdaugh had that account and that his company used a completely different bank. The company is also considering legal action against Murdaugh, he said.

The defense, meanwhile, continued to play up Murdaugh’s reputation as a caring family man as it cross-examined witnesses. Murdaugh himself has denied having any involvement in the killings.