A South Carolina judge will decide whether a jury should hear testimony about the alleged theft of money from Alex Murdaugh's former law firm, that resulted in a heated confrontation the same day his wife and son were killed.
The state on Thursday presented testimony from Jeannie Seckinger, the chief financial officer at the Parker Law Group, Murdaugh's former law firm. Seckinger testified that Murdaugh was forced to resign from the law firm his great-grandfather started because of evidence he stole millions of dollars from his law partners over a number of years.
The state contends Murdaugh killed his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, the night of June 7, 2021, because he was under pressure that his financial dealings - which ultimately cost him his job and led to several criminal charges against him - would soon be found out. Judge Clifton Newman is considering what testimony related to that theory should be allowed in Murdaugh's ongoing murder trial.
Seckinger said she developed suspicions that Murdaugh may be trying to hide money after he was named in a civil suit brought against Paul over a 2019 fatal boat wreck Paul had been involved in that killed a young woman. Murdaugh had discussed structuring a settlement so that he either defer payments or place the money in his wife's name, Seckinger said, a move she and the law partners had opposed.
"That would be wrong and we would not want any part of that," Seckinger said Thursday.
In spring 2021, Seckinger's concerns grew when she learned Murdaugh had not properly deposited money from another settlement, leading her to believe he was either withholding a check made out to the law firm or had the check inappropriately made out to himself.
Those suspicions led to a confrontation in the office on June 7, 2021, hours before Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were shot to death at the family's rural Colleton County estate.
"On June 7, I made another run at finding out from Alex if we had any information (about the check)," Seckinger said. "He was cleaning out a filing cabinet outside his office, and he saw me and said, 'What you need now?' And he gave me a dirty look, not one I'd ever received from Alex."
Inside Murdaugh's office, Seckinger said she told Murdaugh she "had reason to believe he had received those fees himself, and I needed proof that he did not." Murdaugh assured her he would get her the missing money, and the meeting ended abruptly when Murdaugh received a phone call that his father, Randolph Murdaugh, had been moved into hospice care.
Later that night, Murdaugh's wife and son were found murdered at the family's Colleton County rural estate. After that, Seckinger's inquiries about the missing money were put on hold.
"Alex was distraught, upset, not in the office," Seckinger testified. "We didn't want to harass him when we didn't think it was really missing and had a year to clear it up, so we didn't harass him over it."
Seckinger told the court away from the jury that the murders not only cut short the law firm's inquiries into the missing money, but also postponed actions in a civil lawsuit over the boat crash, which could have required Murdaugh to disclose financial information.
By September, Murdaugh was forced to resign from the law firm after further evidence of misappropriation of funds was brought to the law partners' attention, Seckinger said.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin argued Thursday in cross-examination that the firm had used structured attorney fees in the past, delaying payment of the fee through some financial product.
Seckinger previously testified to her confrontation with Murdaugh at the November 2022 federal trial of former CEO of Palmetto State Bank Russell Laffitte, who was convicted on bank fraud and conspiracy charges related to his handling of Murdaugh's accounts, often making money transfers from client's accounts at Murdaugh's request. In the small world of Hampton County, Seckinger is also Laffitte's sister-in-law.
As early as 2011, Murdaugh had diverted funds to an account with Forge Consulting, a financial firm Murdaugh allegedly used in settling lawsuits related to Paul's boat crash, Seckinger testified.
"(The money) went to a fake Forge account, where Alex stole money from the client," Seckinger testified.
"Every last bit of it?" lead prosecutor Creighton Waters emphasized. "That client didn't get one dime until y'all had to make it right?"
"Every last bit," Seckinger confirmed.
Murdaugh's defense had fought to exclude evidence related to his financial crimes, for which he has been charged but not yet convicted in court. But prosecutor Creighton Waters successfully argued that the defense opened the door by raising questions of Murdaugh's possible motivations with other state witnesses.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.