Boat crash attorney says ‘fuse was lit’ to expose Alex Murdaugh’s financial crimes at time of murders

The “fuse had been lit” to expose Alex Murdaugh’s slew of alleged financial crimes at the time of his wife and son’s murders – but his problems would likely “be over” if the family was the “victim of an unspeakable tragedy”, according to dramatic courtroom testimony at his trial.

Attorney Mark Tinsley took the witness stand at Colleton County Courthouse in South Carolina on Monday morning to testify about the lawsuit he brought against Mr Murdaugh on behalf of the family of Mallory Beach.

Beach, 19, died in a February 2019 crash in the Murdaugh family boat.

Paul was allegedly drunk driving the boat at the time it crashed, throwing Beach overboard. Her body washed ashore a week later. Paul was charged with multiple felonies over the boat wreck and was facing 25 years in prison at the time of his murder.

The Beach family filed a lawsuit against Mr Murdaugh and some other parties over her death – a lawsuit that was placing the now-disbarred attorney’s finances under increased scrutiny.

A hearing for the suit had been scheduled to take place on 10 June 2021 – three days after Maggie and Paul were shot dead at the Murdaugh family’s estate in Islandton.

Mr Tinsley told the court that Mr Murdaugh claimed he had no money to pay the Beach family and could potentially “cobble together” about $1m as a settlement. Mr Tinsley said he knew that couldn’t be true because he was aware of Mr Murdaugh’s successes as a high-powered attorney as well as the Murdaugh family’s “generational wealth”.

“Alex said he was broke, that he doesn’t have any money. He may be able to cobble together some money but he’s broke,” he said.

“And I didn’t believe it.”

He testified that he was not going to take Mr Murdaugh’s word for his finances saying “I knew the only way he could be broke is if money had been hidden”.

The amount Mr Murdaugh was offering was also nowhere near enough for what the Beach family had endured, he said.

“They want accountability. They want a pound of flesh. Whatever that’s going to be, it’s only going to be from a jury or from a substantial settlement,” he said.

In October 2020, Mr Tinsley filed a motion to compel – which would have required Mr Murdaugh to disclose his true finances.

The hearing on 10 June was the next step in the lawsuit.

Mr Tinsley testified that – should Mr Murdaugh not agree to settle the case – he expected to take the lawsuit to trial in the late summer of 2021.

But, the proceedings were derailed because of the murders of Mr Murdaugh’s wife and son.

According to Mr Tinsley, the double homicide raised doubts on the ability to continue with the lawsuit against Mr Murdaugh.

Alex Murdaugh looks at paperwork during his double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse (AP)
Alex Murdaugh looks at paperwork during his double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse (AP)

If the disgraced attorney was the “victim of an unspeakable tragedy” then no jury would side against him in the case, Mr Tinsley said.

“Pretty quickly, I recognised that the case against Alex, if he were in fact the victim of some vigilante, would be over,” he said.

During a tense cross-examination, the defence sought to pick holes in the importance of certain moments in the lawsuit – leading to a testy back and forth between Mr Murdaugh’s attorney Phillip Barber and the attorney on the stand.

“Is it fair to say it wouldn’t be an explosion on June 10?” Mr Barber asked.

“There wouldn’t have been an explosion June 10. But the fuse was lit the moment that information became available in this case,” Mr Tinsley fired back.

He added that Mr Murdaugh “knew it was going to unravel” and that “the fuse was lit when he started stealing money”.

Under redirect, the witness testified that if the hearing had taken place on 10 June it would have set in motion the process that wouldn’t have stopped until Mr Murdaugh either settled the case or disclosed his finances.

Mr Tinsley also hinted at the power the Murdaughs had over the community in South Carolina.

On the day after the boat crash – when Beach’s body was still lost in the water – he told the court that Beach’s mother was refused access to the area around the water.

Members of the Murdaugh family pulled up in their car and were allowed through right away, he said.

“The Beach family stood on the causeway for eight days while their daughter’s body was in the water,” he said, adding that there was no amount of money that makes up for what they went through.

When he took the case, he sued Mr Murdaugh personally and demanded he pay a substantial amount to the Beach family for what happened.

This caused an instant issue with the high-powered attorney, who Mr Tinsley claimed tried to “intimidate” and “bully” him in the early days of him taking on the case.

Mallory Beach died in the 2018 boat crash (Facebook)
Mallory Beach died in the 2018 boat crash (Facebook)

He described one moment where the accused killer approached him at a trial lawyers’ association function in August 2019.

“Alex sees me and he comes across and gets up in my face,” he said.

“He says ‘hey bo, what’s this I’m hearing about what you’re saying. I thought we were friends’... I took it as him trying to intimidate me … and sort of bullying me into backing off.”

Mr Tinsley’s testimony took place without the jury present during a shadow trial that has taken place in recent days.

Over the course of the last week, the judge has heard hours of testimony without the jury present about the legal dynasty heir’s alleged financial crimes as he weighed what evidence could be admitted in court.

Prosecutors argued that details of Mr Murdaugh’s financial crimes are key to proving the motive in the murders of Maggie and Paul, claiming that he killed his wife and son to hide the string of other crimes and scandals which were catching up with him.

Meanwhile, the defence asked the judge to throw the evidence out of the murder trial, arguing it is irrelevant and separate to the case.

At the time of the murders, Mr Murdaugh’s law firm PMPED was closing in on his alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme with a colleague confronting him about it on the morning of the killings and his finances were coming under scrutiny because of the Beach lawsuit.

After Mr Tinsley’s testimony, the judge issued a ruling on the evidence, concluding that Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes are allowed as evidence in his murder trial.

Dealing a major blow to the defence, Judge Newman agreed with the prosecution that the vast financial fraud scheme – in which he allegedly stole over $8m from law firm clients – is relevant to their attempts to establishing a motive for the murders.

While the state does not need to prove motive in the case, the charges do require proof of malice.

“I find that the jury is entitled to consider whether the apparent desperation of Mr Murdaugh because of his dire financial situation, the threat of being exposed for committing the crimes for which he was later charged, resulted in the commission of the alleged crimes,” Judge Newman said.

The alleged financial crimes – showing Mr Murdaugh was “under immense pressure after being confronted about missing fees”, his “dire financial straits and looming exposure of his criminal activities” – provide “context” for the murders, the judge said.

Following the murders, Mr Murdaugh was charged with a slew of around 100 charges from multiple indictments for embezzling millions of dollars from clients at his law firm PMPED.

In total, he is accused of stealing almost $8.5m from clients in fraud schemes dating back around a decade to 2011.

The attorney, who has since been disbarred, represented the clients in wrongful death lawsuits before allegedly pocketing the settlement money for himself.

During the shadow trial, the judge heard from a total of eight people affected by Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial fraud including the CFO at his former law firm PMPED, his best friend of decades and the son of his former housekeeper.

The financial testimony – including that of Mr Tinsley – will be heard once again in the presence of jurors.

Mr Murdaugh is facing life in prison for the murders of Maggie and Paul and has pleaded not guilty to the murders.

Their deaths brought to light a sprawling saga surrounding Mr Murdaugh – the son of a once-powerful legal dynasty who was in the grips of a 20-year opioid addiction and accused of stealing millions of dollars.

The deaths also raised fresh questions about the other mystery deaths connected to the Murdaugh family – including the 2015 death of teenager Stephen Smith and the 2018 death of the Murdaugh housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.