At a pivotal moment in Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial, a South Carolina judge ruled Monday that he would allow financial crimes allegedly perpetrated by the once-powerful lawyer to be admitted as evidence for a jury to hear.

The move comes after Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman was presented with testimony from multiple witnesses, including Murdaugh’s former law firm colleagues and banking partners, without a jury present so he could decide on relevance. of the accusations.

Murdaugh, 54, is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Margaret, 52, and their youngest son, Paul, 22, on the night of June 7, 2021. State prosecutors contend the killings were committed to cover up a series of financial misdeeds committed by Murdaugh, who they say stole around $8.5 million from more than a dozen victims and sought to gain sympathy before being publicly exposed.

«I believe that the jury is entitled to consider whether Mr. Murdaugh’s apparent despair over his dire financial situation and the threat of discovery for committing the crimes with which he was later charged resulted in the commission of the alleged crimes.» Newman said. «While motive is not a necessary element, the state must prove malice, and evidence of motive can be used to prove it.»

Murdaugh’s defense team challenged the judge’s decision. His lawyers previously said in court that his finances are only being used to vilify him and that the state has not offered any evidence showing that Murdaugh would have made a financial windfall from the death of his wife and son, such as an insurance payout. of life. nor that they knew of any alleged impropriety, which he tried to cover up by killing them.

“They have much more evidence of financial misconduct than evidence of guilt in a murder case. And that’s what this is all about,» defense attorney Jim Griffin said Friday.

Newman had said last week that it was the defense that «opened the door» to allow Murdaugh’s financial situation to be examined when they questioned witnesses on the stand about his character and whether there was any reason they might think Murdaugh he would kill his wife. and son.

«Evidence of other crimes or wrongdoing is necessary if it is an essential part of the crimes on trial,» Newman said.

From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh.
From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh.through Facebook

The trial, now in its third week, has garnered attention as a sprawling saga that began as an unsolved double homicide in 2021 but eventually escalated into broader allegations of financial fraud, a hired hitman scheme and drug addiction. drugs, and revived scrutiny of other deaths. tied to the Murdaughs, a prominent legal family in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh had been awaiting trial for three felony boating under the influence charges from a 2019 boating accident that killed a 19-year-old occupant. Prosecutors say the case only brought more scrutiny to the Murdaughs and put financial pressure on Murdaugh as the family faced a wrongful death lawsuit.

Dennis Bolt, a retired attorney in Columbia, South Carolina, who is not affiliated with the case but has worked on previous cases with members of Murdaugh’s defense team, said the judge’s ruling gives the prosecution an obvious advantage «because it allows let the state judge to prove that if you are a thief, you are ipso facto a murderer».

But Bolt said he doesn’t believe the financial-related evidence shown so far is proof Murdaugh committed the murders.

However, if Murdaugh were found guilty, the defense could cite the judge’s ruling as a basis for appeal.

«It’s interesting for me to reflect on how the prosecution will use it in their closing argument,» Bolt said of the financial crime allegations. «They can’t argue anything that isn’t evidence or law. Since there’s no evidence to actually link financial improprieties to the murders, what will they tell the jury?»

A sprawling saga surrounds Alex Murdaugh

Chief Prosecutor Creighton Waters said he hopes to start presenting the alleged financial misconduct for jury hearing starting Tuesday.

Among those who testified Monday was Muschelle Smith, a caretaker for Murdaugh’s mother, Elizabeth. Murdaugh has said that she visited her sick mother on the night of the murders as part of her alibi.

Smith testified that Murdaugh stayed for about 20 minutes, but a few days after the murders, he said that Murdaugh visited his mother for about 30 to 40 minutes.

On cross-examination, Griffin established for the defense that Smith had not seen any evidence of blood when he visited his mother.