COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Witness testimony in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial was interrupted Wednesday after a bomb threat was called into the Colleton County courthouse.
Murdaugh is accused of killing his wife Margaret and youngest son Paul at their family property in June of 2021.
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Court officials said that the call came from an unknown number and claimed there was a bomb in Judge Clifton Newman’s chambers. The building was cleared for over two hours as law enforcement swept the scene.
Before the bomb threat, the jury heard from a gunshot residue expert who analyzed a blue raincoat seized from Murdaugh’s parents’ home. She identified what she described as “a substantial amount” of presumptive residue on the inside of the jacket, but could not definitively say when or how it got there.
Then, the jury heard from Murdaugh’s former paralegal Annette Griswold. She was involved in PMPED’s initial investigation that sparked the unraveling of Murdaugh’s financial crimes. Griswold described how she found evidence that checks Murdaugh claimed he never received were actually diverted to a personal shell account.
Murdaugh disguised the shell account to look like it was a subsidiary of Forge Consulting, a legitimate entity with whom PMPED does business. Michael Gunn, a principal at Forge Consulting, said that he never worked with Murdaugh on any of the cases in which funds were diverted.
The jury also heard from a SLED agent and FBI specialist who investigated technology taken from Murdaugh’s car. The FBI specialist was able to extract some data that helps paint a picture of the car’s activity the night of the murders.
Cross-examination of the FBI specialist is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
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6:00 p.m. – According to court officials, the bomb threat from earlier today came from after the court received a call from an unknown number. A male voice said there was a bomb in the judge’s chambers then hung up.
Court officials said the caller didn’t mention Murdaugh specifically, but security procedures have been enhanced amid this high-profile trial.
They also noted that the judge’s chamber is one of the most secure places in the courthouse.
4:36 p.m. – Court is in recess for the day and is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m.
4:10 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. They ask if walking near the car with the key fob would activate the system. Falkofski says it is possible, but they did not test it.
Defense asks about the call log extracted from the phone.
3:15 p.m. – FBI automotive forensic specialist Dwight Falkofski is called to the stand.
He collects data from electronic devices, specifically automobiles, that cannot be collected with traditional tools.
Falkofski processed the infotainment center and OnStar module that Hudak collected from Murdaughs’ car.
The devices were encrypted, so they had to develop a tool to get encryption keys, then decrypt the devices. It took approximately a year.
The data included some Bluetooth activity like call logs and some location activity. The data also gives very granular data on “states.” For example, Falkofski says when you open the door the screen turns on, so there would be a data point representing that, another representing opening and closing a door, etc. He can tell when the vehicle is not in park, but he can’t tell what gear it is in or when the vehicle is moving.
They move on to discuss the call logs. There are two specific calls: June 7, 2021 at 10:06:14 p.m. dialing 9111, and another at 10:06:18 p.m. dialing 911. Falkofski says that he cannot determine what time the system downloaded the information from the phone.
A log depicting events recorded by the car’s systems is presented.
The log noted several “system startups” that refer only to the infotainment center. It could be someone opening a door, it could be someone starting the car, etc. Falkofski said the system sometimes initiates a boot for no apparent reason.
Other lines in the log noted a “vehicle parked” message. The message indicates whether the car is shifted in or out of park.
At 9:04 p.m. the log records a sequence of messages indicating the system is starting up.
A group of messages recorded at 9:06 p.m. indicate the engine is started and the car is taken out of park.
At 9:22 p.m. the vehicle was put back into park.
At 9:43 p.m. the car is taken out of park, put back into park, then taken out of park again at 9:44 p.m.
At 10:00 p.m., the car goes back into park. It goes in and out of park a few times over the next minute.
At 10:04 p.m., a log records a group of messages indicating the system is powering down.
At 10:04 p.m., the car goes out of park. It goes back into park just over one minute later.
At 10:11 the car goes out of park and goes back into park just under one minute later.
The car goes out of park at 10:13 p.m., but no log message for going back into park was present. Falkofski says in testing, he found that the system will spontaneously stop recording sometimes.
3:06 p.m. – Court resumes. Judge Newman does not address the bomb threat. They immediately go back to SLED agent Brian Hudak.
Hudak tells prosecutors he was tasked with collecting the infotainment center and OnStar module from Murdaugh’s car.
Those items are entered into evidence. The defense does not cross-examine.
2:27 p.m. – Murdaugh’s defense team was seen entering the courthouse. The prosecution was already inside. Judge Newman will decide who is allowed in the courthouse for the remainder of Wednesday’s proceedings. It is unclear whether the media will be allowed back in the courtroom.
12:25 p.m. – Court is evacuated due to a bomb threat at the Colleton County Courthouse.
Before recessing, Judge Newman says they will use this time as a lunch break and return at 2:30 p.m.
At 12:55 p.m., SLED issued the following statement:
“A bomb threat was received by Colleton County courthouse personnel. The building has been evacuated and SLED along with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the threat. No additional information is available from SLED at this time.“
News 2’s Riley Benson was inside the courthouse when the threat was received. He said that the bailiffs started getting communications on their walkie-talkies, then Judge Newman sent the jury to the jury room. Shortly after, he told everyone else in the courthouse they had to evacuate. People were ushered out using all doors, including a door that is not commonly used.
Initially, people were allowed to remain on the courthouse lawn, but they were soon pushed back to across the street.
A News 2 photographer said that law enforcement was sweeping gear on the lawn of the courthouse earlier in the day.
12:22 p.m. – The state calls SLED agent Brian Hudak to the stand. He is a special agent in computer crimes.
12:18 p.m. – Defense begins cross-examination. Griffin asks Gunn about his history and relationship with Murdaugh. Gunn says they used to be closer, but he was in Columbia and Murdaugh was in Hampton, so the distance may have contributed to their becoming less close.
Griffin asks if Murdaugh was a family man. Gunn says yes, he would always bring his family to legal conventions. Griffin asks how Murdaugh’s demeanor was after the funeral. Gunn says “he was a broken man.”
After his testimony, Gunn sent the following statement to the media:
“Forge Consulting has been in business for over 20 years building our reputation on professionalism, experience and integrity. We’ve built our business on the truth and that’s exactly why we’re here today: to tell the truth.
“I don’t know what happened that horrible night in Islandton when Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were murdered.But I do know that Alex Murdaugh used our good name to defraud his clients, his law firm and countless others. I know that Bank of America could have stopped it all there with a single phone call to verify the truth. Unfortunately, that call was never made. I wonder how much tragedy could have been avoided if it was.”
The statement also said that Forge Consulting was preparing to take legal action.
11:54 a.m. – State prosecutor Johnnie James calls Michael Gunn of Forge Consulting to the stand.
Gunn says he had a professional and personal relationship with Murdaugh.
He never received any of the checks Murdaugh claimed were for Forge Consulting.
James asks if Murdaugh ever asked about structured settlements. Gunn says in a general sense, yes, but he doesn’t think they ever ended up setting anything up.
James asks if Gunn is aware of the boat crash case. Gunn says yes. James asks if he had conversations with Murdaugh about structuring fees after the case. Gunn says yes, but just general conversations about what is and isn’t possible, nothing concrete.
In September of 2021, Gunn received a phone call from PMPED lawyer Lee Cope. Cope gave him a list of cases and asked if he had files on any of them. Gunn says he only had a file on one of the cases, and they hadn’t pursued the settlement.
Cope asked if Forge Consulting banks at Bank of America. Gunn said they hadn’t in four to five years.
James asks about June 7, 2021. Gunn says he learned about the murders then waited a few days and reached out to Murdaugh to say he was thinking of him. He says he didn’t know Paul that well, but he knew Maggie.
Gunn says he attended the funeral for Paul and Maggie. Afterwards at the wake, Murdaugh told Gunn how much Maggie loved him and his wife.
Gunn is asked if any subsidiaries are under Forge Consulting. Gunn says yes. He is asked if any are named “Forge.” Gunn says no. He says he never told Murdaugh he could use the name Forge and had no knowledge that Murdaugh was using it.
11:36 a.m. – Defense begins cross-examination of Griswold. Griffin asks if Murdaugh put family first at work and encouraged her to do the same. She says yes.
Griswold says that Murdaugh scheduled his work commitments around his family commitments.
Griffin asks if she liked working for Murdaugh. Griswold says she loved and respected him, but he could be difficult because he was chaotic. Griffin asks if Murdaugh ever told anyone no when they asked for something. Griswold says “he didn’t know the word no.”
Griffin asks if, as a result of Maggie and Paul’s murders, Murdaugh became the focus of a media spotlight. Griswold says yes. She explains that they had to lock the door in the office because the media would just walk in.
Griswold said Murdaugh changed dramatically after the murders. He was no longer as loud and boisterous. He had a hard time working.
Griffin asks if Griswold is aware Murdaugh didn’t spend a single night at Moselle after the murders. She says yes.
Griffin asks if Griswold at some point turned her concerns about the Farris fees over to Seckinger. Griswold says yes, and she trusted Seckinger to handle it, so she stopped pursuing it.
Defense asks about the text Murdaugh sent from rehab September 26, 2021. After objecting to its admission, Griffin asks Griswold to read the text in its entirety. She does.
11:30 a.m. – The jury is brought back in. The September 26, 2021 text from Murdaugh to Griswold and Christy (his other secretary) is admitted into evidence. It is not read aloud in its entirety. One line is read saying “the worst part is knowing I did the most damage to those I love the most.”
Waters plays the video taken by Paul at 8:44 p.m. the night of the murders. He asks Griswold to identify the voices heard in the video. She identifies Paul, Maggie, and Alex. In court, Murdaugh is visibly emotional as the video is played.
10:58 a.m. – The jury is sent to the jury room as prosecution and defense discuss a text sent by Murdaugh to Griswold on September 26, 2021, when he was in rehab. Defense argues it is not relevant to the financial crimes testimony and is just being presented to cast a bad light on Murdaugh’s character.
Judge Clifton Newman agrees that drug use is a different issue, but the text doesn’t specifically mention drug use.
Defense argues the text suggests he is in rehab. Judge Newman offers to redact those portions of the text.
10:04 a.m. – Annette Griswold, Murdaugh’s former paralegal, takes the stand.
State prosecutor Creighton Waters asks if Griswold noticed any change in Murdaugh’s demeanor after the boat accident.
She says yes, he was rarely there and seemed distracted. In 2021, it got even worse, according to Griswold.
She said he was not his normal self, he was tense. “You could tell the boat crass was weighing heavy on him… It was almost consuming his life.”
Waters asks if Murdaugh was protective about people going into his office. Griswold says yes.
Waters asks if Griswold was directed to send disbursements to Forge. She says yes, and she asked why not Forge Consulting, which she knew to be the name of the company they worked with. She says Murdaugh explained that Forge was under Forge Consulting. She often had to ask accounts payable to re-write the checks.
Griswold also says Murdaugh often insisted on hand-delivering the checks himself. Griswold said she started making notes of it because she was worried the checks would get lost.
They discuss cases she worked on with Murdaugh in which the funds were diverted. In some cases, funds that had not yet been disbursed were sent to Forge. Griswold said she asked about them and Murdaugh explained that since the funds could not yet be disbursed and were just sitting in the bank, they were sending it to Forge to draw interest. He said it would be a win-win because it would draw interest on client and attorney fees.
In one instance, Waters presents a disbursement sheet that sent all client funds to Forge. She identifies Murdaugh’s signature in the attorney signature spot, but in the client signature spot, she says she recognizes Murdaugh’s writing as well.
Regarding the Farris checks, Griswold is the one who emailed Chris Wilson’s office about the missing checks. When Wilson’s office told her the checks had already been sent, Griswold said she assumed they were given to Murdaugh directly and he lost them, because he was scattered about things.
She confronted Murdaugh and he told her he didn’t get the checks. He said Wilson was holding the money in trust and that it had not yet been disbursed.
Over the next few days, she said she tried to get more out of Murdaugh, but he was not forthcoming. She said she was hoping the checks were just lost, but in the back of her mind, there was a huge red flag.
She then brought the information to Jeanne Seckinger. They both had a bad feeling but were hoping to prove themselves wrong.
Waters asks if Griswold remembers June 7, 2021, the day of the murders. She worked that day. She saw Murdaugh and saw Seckinger on the way to confront him.
That night, her phone was on silent. She awoke to many texts and missed calls. She had a voicemail from Randy Murdaugh telling her to call him. When she called, she assumed Randolph Murdaugh had died. When Randy told her it was Maggie and Paul, she was overwhelmed.
Griswold said she was concerned for the safety of the family because they didn’t know if it was someone coming after the entire family.
Waters asks what the reaction of the firm was. Griswold says there were two. She says on one level, everyone was scared. They didn’t know if it was retaliation over a case, someone targeting the Murdaugh family, etc. She says they were in “mama bear mode” protecting Murdaugh and Randy. They didn’t let them leave if there was a suspicious car or media outside. On another level, they were grieving.
Waters asks if anyone was concerned about the Farris fees at that time. “What Farris fees?” Griswold said. They didn’t even cross her mind.
She says she didn’t think about them again until September 2, 2021. That day, she was looking for a file in Murdaugh’s office and found a check from the Farris case made out to Alex Murdaugh. The check was written in March, endorsed by Murdaugh, and mobile deposited. At that point, Griswold said she knew he was lying. She says she was hurt, angry, and beside herself.
Griswold told Seckinger, who had just begun reviewing Murdaugh’s financials. He was fired the next day.
Waters asks if there was community backlash about the boat case. Griswold says yes, with Hampton being such a small town, most people have a connection to both sides. Mallory Beach is her first cousin. She said she felt torn between her family and her work, but she tried to keep them separate.
Murdaugh texted Griswold on September 26, 2021 when he was in rehab.
10:00 a.m. – Prosecution follows up with Fletcher. She is asked if finding 38 particles on the inside of a garment is unusual. She says yes.
Prosecution asks if 38 particles being found inside the jacket is consistent with a recently-fired firearm being carried inside the jacket. Fletcher says it is consistent with the inside of the garment coming into contact with a recently fired firearm.
9:35 a.m. – Court is in session. Attorney Jim Griffin picks up cross-examination of Megan Fletcher, a gunshot residue analysis expert.
Griffin asks about how gunshot primer residue is transferred. Fletcher says on inanimate objects, it can last until it is wiped off by something else. Griffin points out that many firearms have been presented into evidence and asks if its possible particles are in the seat Fletcher is sitting in. She says its possible.
Griffin asks about Murdaugh’s clothes Fletcher analyzed the day after the murders. He asks if she was aware they were wet. She says she wasn’t aware until they opened the box and found out. He goes through the particles found on his clothes and hands,
Griffin asks if there is any way to know when the residue got on the blue jacket. Fletcher says no. He asks if she can tell how it got there. She says no.
Griffin points out the jacket could’ve belonged to Murdaugh’s father. He presents a scenario in which Murdaugh’s father takes off the jacket and throws it in the back of his truck, on top of an old shotgun. Fletcher says its possible 38 particles could’ve transferred from the shotgun if it hadn’t been cleaned.
He asks if one particle on a hand or three particles on a shirt are insignificant. Fletcher says she can’t say they’re insignificant, but the 38 is significant because the number is so large.
Griffin asks if Fletcher also received a blue tarp and decided with a SLED agent not to process the tarp. Fletcher says yes, based on what was relayed to them by Smith. She says it was based on the raincoat being balled up in a closet vs the tarp, which was laid out on a chair.
Griffin asks if Fletcher documented that a firearm was in contact with the rain jacket. Fletcher says it was a possibility based on her analysis.
Griffin asks about notes Fletcher took about the rain jacket. She listed it as a size large.
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