SC judge to reconsider ruling separating Murdaugh from Mallory Beach fatal boat crash case

·4 min read
John Monk/jmonk@thestate.com

A state judge said Friday he will decide by Tuesday’s end whether to reverse himself and allow defendants in the Mallory Beach wrongful death boat crash lawsuit to be tried together instead of separately.

The high-profile civil case, about a 2019 death in a waterway near Beaufort, resulted in multiple lawsuits being filed by the Beach estate against various defendants. Those defendants include accused double murderer and disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh and Greg Parker, the owner of a convenience store that is alleged to have negligently sold alcohol that contributed to the deadly crash.

Friday’s statement by Judge Dan Hall that he would reconsider his decision to have Murdaugh family members, including Alex, tried separately from Parker came at the end of a lengthy hearing at the Hampton County courthouse.

Earlier this month, Hall ruled that because of all the adverse publicity surrounding Murdaugh, who was charged in July with murder in the June 2021 killings of his wife Maggie and son Paul, it would be “embarrassing” and “prejudicial” to Parker if any jury were to hear their cases together.

Murdaugh also faces some 80 fraud charges that, spanning more than decade he stole some $8.4 million from clients, fellow lawyers and associates.

If he reverses himself, Hall said, he will go ahead with a Jan. 9 trial date in Hampton County with Parker and Murdaugh and other Murdaugh family members as the joint defendants.

However, Hall noted that the state’s murder trial against Murdaugh may also take place in early January in Colleton County. If that happens, it would likely be impractical to have both trials simultaneously, so he will consider altering the trial date if that situation arises, Hall said.

In any event, Hall has set Jan. 9 as the trial date in Hampton County for the trial of Mallory Beach’s estate against Parker, as the lone defendant, to begin.

Murdaugh’s lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, have said they want to begin the murder trial in early January. However, no trial date has been set and the attorneys are still going through voluminous discovery material from the state Attorney General’s office, which has charged Murdaugh with the double slayings of his wife and son.

Lawyers spar over separating Beach boat crash case

On Friday, Mark Tinsley, the attorney for the Beach family, said 200 years of South Carolina law and more than a half-dozen state Supreme Court cases uphold the principle that in cases like the Beach boat crash case, joint defendants cannot be separated out by a judge’s action.

The law is “well settled” that plaintiffs determine the defendants in a civil case where multiple defendants bear a share of the liability, Tinsley told the judge.

The plaintiff is the one who has suffered, so it “is the sole right of the injured party” to choose the defendants, Tinsley said.

But Pankaj “PK” Shure, who is representing Parker’s, told the judge while Supreme Court precedents may pertain to who gets sued initially, the judge has the right to determine as the case progresses whether a defendant can be separated out and have their own trial.

The crimes Murdaugh is accused of are so numerous, and so dastardly, that they have created an international “media circus” that will prevent Parker from getting a fair trial if he is tried with Murdaugh defendants, Shure said. Moreover, none of the criminal allegations have a thing to do with Parker, or any allegations in the Beach case, he said.

The reason Tinsley is fighting to lump the Murdaughs in with Parker is so “the jury gets inflamed ... and that’s going to influence them,” said Shure, who after Tuesday’s hearing said Tinsley regards Parker as a “deep pocket.”

Parker is a well-to-do businessman who owns a chain of convenience stores.

Allegations in the case say that on Feb. 23, Paul Murdaugh — Alex’s late son— bought a load of beer at one of Parker’s convenience stores.

Paul, 19, was underage, and he used an identification card belonging to his older brother, Buster.

From there, Paul and his five friends used a boat to go to an island, where they began drinking. Later that night, they boated to downtown Beaufort, where Paul and one of his friends had more alcohol at a bar.

Shortly afterward, the boat — allegedly driven by an intoxicated Paul — crashed into a bridge piling in a waterway near Parris Island.

Parker’s is a defendant because, according to allegations, the clerk that sold Paul the beer should have noticed he was not the person on the ID Paul used. According to allegations in the Beach lawsuit, Maggie and Alex encouraged and allowed the underage Paul to buy alcohol and Buster allowed Paul to use a duplicate of Buster’s driving license.

The estate of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh are also defendants in the case.

Another original defendant in the case, the Beaufort bar that sold Paul alcohol, settled the case with Beach’s family.