Paralegal angry by Alex Murdaugh theft, knew he loved family
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.
But Annette Griswold also told jurors Murdaugh was a dedicated family man so distraught after his wife and son were killed he could no longer stay at the home where the killings took place and texted a lengthy apology for his misdeeds to his paralegals while in rehab.
The disgraced lawyer, 54, is standing trial in the shootings of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, on June 7, 2021, near kennels at their South Carolina home. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. Murdaugh's family dominated the legal system in tiny Hampton County for generations, both as prosecutors and private attorneys.
The judge ended morning testimony early, asking everyone to evacuate the courtroom for two hours. State agents said a bomb threat was called into the courthouse. The trial was hoped to resume by 2:30 p.m.
Earlier Wednesday, the defense got a chance to cross examine a state agent who examined a blue rain jacket and other items for gunshot residue.
State Law Enforcement Division forensic scientist Megan Fletcher said Tuesday she found 38 microscopic particles — which she called a significant amount — left behind when a gun is fired on the inside of the jacket which was taken from his mother's home through a search warrant three months after the killings.
The caretaker for Murdaugh's ailing mother said he brought a "blue something, looked like a tarp" into his mother's home nine days after the killings.
The defense tried to keep Fletcher from testifying, saying prosecutors didn't connect the jacket to Murdaugh through the caretaker's confusing testimony.
In cross examination Wednesday, defense attorney Jim Griffin got Fletcher to say gunshot reside doesn't break down and can stay on an object for years unless washed off.
"You can't tell us how it got there or when it got there," Griffin said.
The defense attorney had his own theory on the gunshot residue inside the raincoat, involving Murdaugh's father and his shotgun he called "Bo Whoop."
If he "had taken off this poncho, flipped it over and threw it on the backseat of his truck where he kept his shotgun Bo Whoop and it lay on top of this dirty old shotgun, it could have deposited 38 particles," Griffin said.
The next witness was Griswold, the paralegal, who testified about missing fees in a case she handled with Murdaugh and how she initially worried her frenetic and sometime careless boss might have lost or misplaced the check.
Three months after the killings, Griswold said she was grabbing a file when a check "floated like a feather to the ground." She said she immediately knew it was proof Murdaugh was lying and probably stealing money.
"I was hurt. I was angry. I was beside myself. I was enraged too. He's been lying this whole time," Griswold said. "That feeling in the back of my mind was correct. He did take those funds."
Griswold took her concerns to the office manager and Murdaugh was fired in September 2021 before the week was up for stealing from clients and the family law firm.
Griswold said Murdaugh didn't work regular hours all the time and was high energy, but also forgetful and harried at times. She compared him to the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character.
"When he walked in, no matter what you were doing, you started spinning because he was just coming through shouting everyone's name and wanting to get work done," Griswold said.
Murdaugh took his wife and sons to conferences at the beach. He would drop everything to talk to them on the phone and made sure their baseball games and other activities were blocked off on the calendar, Griswold said.
After the killings, Murdaugh couldn't stay at the family home in Colleton County and struggled to stay focused, Griswold said.
The paralegal ended questioning from prosecutors by reading part of a text message Murdaugh sent to her and a second paralegal later in September when he was in drug rehab.
"'The worst part is knowing I did the most damage to those I love the most,'" Griswold said, reading part of the message.
During cross examination, Griswold read the entire message where Murdaugh texted he had a lot to make right.
"'I'm not sure why 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,'" Murdaugh wrote.