WALTERBORO, S.C. — Alex Murdaugh’s paralegal testified Wednesday at his double murder trial about the betrayal she felt when she discovered he lied and manipulated to steal millions of dollars from clients.
Annette Griswoldtold jurors about Murdaugh’s efforts to steal millions from his family law firm and multiple clients. Murdaugh, 54, has been accused of killing his family in an attempt to distract from his financial crimes and buy time and sympathy.
Griswold described her fear of retaliation and told jurors of Murdaugh’s “Tasmanian Devil” personality which changed after the killings. She said he seemed to have his “ass on his shoulders” and would shout at staff in anger.
But Murdaugh was a dedicated family man, Griswold said, who was unable to stay at the family home where the killings took place and struggled to stay focused.
During Griswold’s testimony, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters entered into evidence a text from Murdaugh to Griswold that was sent after the murders and Murdaugh’s initial arrests — texts that were sent while the disgraced lawyer was in drug rehab.
The text read, in part: “The worst part is, I did the most damage to the ones I love the most.”
Following Murdaugh’s termination from his family’s law firm in September 2021, Murdaugh issued a statement admitting a long-time opioid addiction. Later, amid his financial crime indictments, he was also charged with a multi-county drug trafficking scheme.
Following Griswold’s testimony, Michael Gunn, a principal founder of Forge Consulting, testified that Murdaugh’s alleged “fake Forge” activities were not legitimate, nor were they associated with his Forge operations – adding more names in the financial-crime-motive coffin put forward by the state.
Wednesday’s testimony was disrupted after state agents said a bomb threat was called into the courthouse. The trial restarted around 3 p.m. after police searched the courthouse with testimony on Murdaugh’s vehicle data.
South Carolina Law Enforcement forensics expert Brian Hudak and FBI expert Dwight Falkofske testified on Murdaugh’s vehicle data.
Hudak testified that he helped retrieve the entertainment system and OnStar module from Murdaugh’s 2021 Chevy Suburban, the vehicle that Murdaugh was driving on the night of the murders. Falkofske, an electronics engineer and automotive forensic specialist, testified about the FBI’s analysis of this data.
The analysis showed when the vehicle was in and out of gear but no explanation was given on the data’s significance.
Before the bomb threat Wednesday, gunshot forensics expert Megan Fletcher returned to the stand for cross-examination about gunshot primer residue found on Murdaugh’s hands, clothing, seatbelt, and a blue raincoat found at his parent’s home.
The court will reconvene Thursday morning with the cross-examination of Falkofske by Murdaugh’s defense team..
Who is Alex Murdaugh?
Murdaugh, part of a legal dynasty in Hampton County, is charged with fatally shooting his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and son, Paul Murdaugh, at their home on June 7, 2021. After a verdict is reached on those charges, Murdaugh, who is jailed in the state capital on a $7 million bond, must then stand trial on roughly 100 financial and drug-related charges.
What happened at the courthouse?
A Colleton County Sheriff’s Office deputy was seen sprinting across the grounds of the courthouse, panic in his voice as he yelled for people to clear the area. Court attendees exited the building through the front, sweeping stairs — ones not normally used by the public.
Murdaugh was taken from the courthouse and driven from the property in a large black van, according to reports from journalists outside of the courthouse. There was a heavy police presence in the area, and law enforcement formed a perimeter around the courthouse square.
Murdaugh’s family members, including his surviving son, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., and several student groups on field trips, were at the courthouse at the time.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division confirmed that a bomb threat was received by personnel at the Colleton County Courthouse, part of the 14th Judicial Circuit where Murdaugh’s ancestors once held legal power for 85-plus years as solicitors.
Just a few hours after jurors began hearing testimony, Judge Clifton Newman ordered that the courtroom be evacuated. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office confirmed that the threat was “phoned in.”
“The building has been evacuated and SLED along with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the threat,” law enforcement said in a statement.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg