(Reuters) – A colleague at the law firm of disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh, who is on trial for the murder of his wife and youngest son, testified on Tuesday that she confronted him with evidence of his embezzling money from clients just a few hours before the killings.
Prosecutors have told jurors that Murdaugh, 54, murdered his wife, Maggie, and his son Paul on June 7, 2021, in order to divert attention from his financial crimes, which were on the verge of being discovered by his law firm colleagues.
Murdaugh, who hails from one of South Carolina’s most prominent and powerful legal families, has pleaded not guilty. He has said he was at the home of his mother, who has dementia, on the night of the murders, and came home that night to discover his wife and son had been shot in the dog kennels of their country estate.
In the third week of witness testimony, Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer of the Murdaugh family law firm, said she went up toward Murdaugh’s office earlier that day to confront him over more than $700,000 in legal fees that were missing in a case Murdaugh handled.
“He looked at me with a pretty dirty look, one I’d not seen before,” Seckinger testified.
She said she demanded he prove to her he had not taken the money. The conversation was cut short when Murdaugh received a phone call in which he learned that his hospitalized father was terminally ill.
In the months that followed, Seckinger and her colleagues would conclude that Murdaugh had been systematically stealing millions of dollars from clients and his law firm partners for many years, Seckinger testified.
Murdaugh has been charged with about 100 counts of financial crimes in separate proceedings, and has been disbarred as a lawyer.
A lawyer for Murdaugh noted that the killings only delayed the firm’s investigation into Murdaugh’s embezzlement by a few weeks, seeking to discredit the prosecution’s attempt to ascribe a motive to Murdaugh to murder his own family.
“So the inquiry didn’t stop with Maggie and Paul’s murder, did it?” the defendant’s lawyer, Jim Griffin, asked Seckinger. “The death of his wife and son got him 30 days’ reprieve on your investigation?”
If convicted of murder, Murdaugh faces between 30 years in prison and a life sentence without possibility of parole.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)