Crime & Public Safety

Mom’s attorney subpoenas DNR file on Beaufort Co. boat crash that killed teen daughter

Charged with 3 felony counts, Paul Murdaugh’s attorney says client not a flight risk

Defense attorney Senator Dick Harpootlian before Judge Steven John for the bond hearing and three felony charges to Paul Terry Murdaugh.
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Defense attorney Senator Dick Harpootlian before Judge Steven John for the bond hearing and three felony charges to Paul Terry Murdaugh.

An investigative case file on a Feb. 24 Beaufort County boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach and injured two others has been subpoenaed by the attorney representing a civil wrongful death suit for the teen’s mom — Renee Beach.

Mark Tinsley, of the Gooding and Gooding law firm in Allendale, said the file includes hospital surveillance along with police dash cam and body camera footage from the hours after Beach was ejected from the boat allegedly driven by 20-year-old Paul Murdaugh.

Murdaugh, 20, of Hampton, pleaded not guilty on May 6 to three felony counts of boating under the influence. He was released on a $50,000 recognizance bond.

The investigation file includes documents such as bank statements and sales receipts that trace the steps of the six of boaters in the hours leading up to the crash, Tinsley said.

“We are looking for whatever information we can find from that night,” Tinsley said.

Reports from any previous criminal charges against Murdaugh also could be in the file.

Beaufort County court records show Murdaugh received a “purchase or possession of beer or wine by a minor” citation by a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officer on May 29, 2017. The charges were dismissed on July 5, 2018, after Murdaugh was sentenced to an alcohol diversion program. These charges were not mentioned at Murdaugh’s bond hearing this month when discussing his criminal background.

DNR spokesman Robert McCullough previously said he could not provide an incident report from the 2017 incident because the record had been expunged.

Any evidence used to charge Murdaugh in the boat crash should be included in the case file. This could include blood work from Murdaugh on the night of the crash — if it was taken.

Tinsley said he subpoenaed DNR — which led the crash investigation — for the file. It is standard for attorneys in civil cases to ask investigative agencies for case files, he said. He said it is also normal for the agencies to release files for civil cases.

DNR passed the subpoena to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office to decide whether it will be released, Tinsley said. The Attorney General’s Office is the prosecutor for the criminal case.

“We are waiting to see if they will release it,” Tinsley said earlier this week.

Robert Kittle, Attorney General’s Office spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the subpoena.

The Civil Case

Renee Beach’s lawsuit, filed in Hampton County on March 29, alleges Murdaugh’s grandfather, father and brother allowed the underage boaters to drink before the crash.

From 1920 to 2006, three generations of Murdaughs have held the elected position of solicitor of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which includes Beaufort, Allendale, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

Randolph Murdaugh III, Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, served as solicitor from 1986 to 2006 and is now a contract employee with the solicitor’s office, according to solicitor’s office spokesman Jeff Kidd. Paul Murdaugh’s father, Richard Alexander Murdaugh, is a prominent Hampton County attorney. He also assists with cases in the solicitor’s office but is not a paid employee, Kidd said.

The suit also claims Luther’s Rare & Well Done on Bay Street in Beaufort, Parker’s 55 convenience store in Ridgeland and homeowners Kristy and James Wood all provided or sold alcoholic beverages to the boaters.

Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr., Paul’s brother, allowed him to use his driver’s license to purchase alcohol that was later shared with the boaters — all under the age of 21, the suit alleges. The group then consumed alcohol on Randolph Murdaugh’s property, referred to in the lawsuit as “The Island.”

The suit accuses Randoph Murdaugh of allowing underage drinkers to consume alcohol on his property and allowing them to leave in an “intoxicated state.” It also said the group drank alcohol that was “available for consumption” on “The Island” and “(Randolph Murdaugh) undertook a duty to supervise minors’ consumption of alcohol so as to not allow them to unnecessarily endanger themselves or others, including Mallory Beach.”

The boaters allegedly launched from “The Island,” located on Chechessee Creek, on the evening of Feb. 23.

The lawsuit accuses Alexander Murdaugh of “failing to supervise his son when he knew or should have known his son was illegally using a license to buy and consume alcohol.”

The Criminal Case

Beach was ejected from the 17-foot boat Paul Murdaugh is accused of driving when it crashed into a bridge in Archers Creek. Her body was found a week later in a marshy area about 5 miles from the crash site. The five surviving passengers in the boat, including Murdaugh, were injured, according to police reports. The reports also note all five appeared to be “grossly intoxicated.”

The boat, owned by Alexander Murdaugh, was traveling at a high rate of speed when it struck the bridge, per 911 audio.

A sobriety test was not offered to any of the boaters the night of the accident, McCullough previously said. It also was unknown early on who was driving the boat.

Paul Murdaugh was directly indicted on April 18 on one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.

Columbia lawyers Jim Griffin and Sen. Richard “Dick” Harpootlian are representing Paul Murdaugh.

The Attorney General’s Office decided to prosecute the case after current 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone’s office recused itself the day after the crash. Three of the occupants of the boat, including Paul Murdaugh, are related to current solicitor’s office employees.

Two judges in the 14th Judicial Circuit, Judge Perry Buckner and Judge Carmen T. Mullen, recused themselves in April from the wrongful death case filed by Beach’s mom. The recusals also apply to the criminal case.

It took DNR officials seven weeks to charge Paul Murdaugh in the death of Beach.

He was directly indicted — which bypasses the warrant, arrest, booking into jail and preliminary hearing process, during which the facts of the case are presented publicly in open court.

No other charges have been filed in the case.

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