Annette Griswold enjoyed her job as Alex Murdaugh’s paralegal, until she slowly came to the realization that the prominent Lowcountry attorney was allegedly stealing funds from his law firm.
Griswold testified on the 13th day of Murdaugh’s murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse, where her former boss is being tried for the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at the family’s rural home.
Prosecutors allege Murdaugh killed them to distract attention from his alleged financial crimes that were on the verge of being uncovered, partly thanks to Griswold.
The paralegal testified Wednesday that Murdaugh often corrected her when she made out checks to Forge Consulting, a legitimate structured settlement firm used by the law group. Instead, he told her to make them out to Forge. At the time, Murdaugh told Griswold said it was a subsidiary of Forge Consulting.
In reality, it was the the name on a shell account Murdaugh was using to divert money from the firm to himself, according to previous testimony. Murdaugh did not have any kind of permission to use the Forge name, Michael Gunn, a principal at structured settlement company Forge Consulting, testified Wednesday.
Griswold said she first became suspicious of Murdaugh when she noticed $125,000 in both client money and attorneys’ fees being transferred to the fake Forge account.
“Those funds didn’t need to go anywhere, so it was really odd that they would all be sent to Forge,” she said. “They could have just stayed in the account.”
Later, she contacted the office of attorney Chris Wilson, a friend of Murdaugh’s, looking for attorney’s fees that were owed to the firm for what they called “the Faris case,” which Wilson worked on with Murdaugh. Wilson’s paralegal told Griswold the money had already been given to the attorneys at disbursement, which struck her as both surprising and inappropriate.
“I knew it wasn’t right,” she said. “It should have never gone to an individual attorney. It should go to the firm as a whole,” she said.
She eventually compiled everything she knew and prepared to take it to Jeanne Seckinger, the law firm’s chief financial officer. When Griswold’s daughter saw all of the material she had printed out, she told her mother, “You need to get your resume together, because when you turn this in they’re going to fire you,” Griswold testified.
After Seckinger confronted Murdaugh about the missing money, Murdaugh’s wife and son were shot to death later that night, plunging the whole firm into fear and confusion, Griswold testified.
“We were scared,” she said. “Was it a client? Was it aimed at Alex or the firm? We didn’t know. Just a million thoughts running through our heads.”
The firm rallied around Murdaugh and his brother, Randy, who also worked at the firm, Griswold said.
“We were in complete mama bear mode,” Griswold said.
Asked if she continued to try to find the fees from the Faris case after the murders, Griswold sarcastically responded, “What Faris fees? That was the furthest thing from my mind.”
But the firm’s internal investigation into the Faris resumed by early September, when Griswold said she found a check from the case made out to Murdaugh from the previous March.
“He’s been lying the whole time,” Griswold testified she remembered thinking. “He had these funds. He’s been lying to me.”
Murdaugh was fired from the firm shortly thereafter. Law partner Ronnie Crosby testified Tuesday that Murdaugh said he “knew he was going to get caught” when confronted about the thefts.
Griswold said Murdaugh apologized for his actions in a Sept. 26, 2021, text message, sent to Griswold and his other paralegal while he was in a rehab facility for reported drug abuse.
“The worst part is knowing that I did the most damage to those that were closest to me,” Murdaugh’s text said.
Prosecutors contend Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes motivated the killings in an attempt to keep them from coming to light. His defense attorneys have strongly rejected those claims.
Megan Fletcher, a State Law Enforcement Division agent, also testified Wednesday about gunshot residue particles.
A third witness, SLED agent Brian Hudak, took the stand briefly before Judge Clifton Newman announced the Colleton County Courthouse needed to be evacuated.
In an emailed statement, SLED wrote that “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.”
Murdaugh’s ex-colleague takes the stand
Ronnie Crosby rushed to his then-law partner’s house the night he learned Murdaugh’s wife and son had been shot to death at the family’s rural Colleton County home.
All the attorneys at what formerly was known as Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick were concerned about Murdaugh after the June 7, 2021, murders of Maggie and Paul. Many of them considered him a close friend.
But, on Tuesday, Crosby sat on the witness stand and identified Murdaugh’s voice on a video recorded on Paul’s cellphone shortly before he and his mother were gunned down by the family’s dog kennels — the third witness before Griswold did Wednesday to link Murdaugh to the voice on the video.
“Those are the voices of Paul Murdaugh, Maggie Murdaugh and Alex Murdaugh,” Crosby said after listening to the video.
In an earlier conversation with Murdaugh, Crosby testified that the question of whether Murdaugh went down to the kennels with the victims that night came up, “and he specifically said that he had not.”
Crosby recounted a conversation with the law firm’s CFO in May 2021, in which it was suggested Murdaugh may be structuring his payments to hide assets due to an ongoing lawsuit over his son’s 2019 fatal boat crash.
“I said, ‘Oh f--- no, we did not,’” Crosby recalled. “We were absolutely not going to participate in anything illegal, unethical or that would create liability or issues with the South Carolina Bar.”
This is a developing story. It will be updated.