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Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh is facing yet another legal battle after one of the young men who was injured in a deadly 2019 accident in Murdaugh's boat, filed a lawsuit this week accusing the lawyer of manipulation and orchestrating a “whisper campaign” against him.
Conner Cook, the close friend of Murdaugh’s recently murdered son, Paul, is seeking a jury trial and unspecified compensation according to the lawsuit filed on Monday for what he alleges are severe injuries and damages from which he continues to suffer. The suit confirms the details that emerged when the 21-year-old’s deposition from last year regarding the crash was unsealed, in which Cook told authorities that Murdaugh had intimidated him into lying about who was at the boat’s helm after approaching him in a hospital corridor while he was being treated for his injuries.
“Murdaugh and others were orchestrating a campaign to have Connor Cook held criminally and civilly responsible for the boat accident, through inadequate investigation, a ‘whisper campaign’ in the Hampton County community, and law enforcement misdirection and possible obstruction of the investigation,” the suit alleges.
In February 2019, Paul Murdaugh, Cook, Mallory Beach, and three other friends crashed into a bridge piling in the Sea Hunt boat owned by Alex Murdaugh. Several passengers were injured and 19-year-old Mallory Beach was ejected and died. One of the surviving passengers told investigators that she was “pretty sure it was Paul” driving the boat before the crash — but couldn’t be certain as she wasn’t looking back at the console in those moments.
The new lawsuit claims that of all of the young passengers on the boat that night, Cook alone was asked by law enforcement to undergo a sobriety test. Amid the two-month investigation into the crash, which the suit says was “stymied by possible obstruction and silence,” the Cook family lived in fear that Conner would be implicated in both the crash and Beach’s death.
In the aftermath, as the Beach family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the wealthy Murdaughs, Cook accused investigators of setting him up to take the fall for the deadly accident. It was revealed in August when Cook’s 2020 deposition was unsealed that he’d said on the record that while he was in the hospital with a broken jaw, he was approached by Alex Murdaugh about keeping quiet about who had been driving the boat.
"[Murdaugh said] that everything was going to be all right. I just needed to keep my mouth shut and tell them I didn't know who was driving and that he's got me," Cook told attorneys at his deposition.
Cook’s suit claims that Murdaugh also orchestrated the manipulation of the account of what happened during the crash by strongly encouraging his son’s friend to retain attorney Corey Fleming as his representation. Fleming is Murdaugh’s best friend and was Paul’s godfather, the suit states, adding that this conflict of interest was never disclosed to Cook.
Cook details in the suit how the following day, Fleming instructed him to decline to be interviewed by law enforcement and that he should direct all his communication to Fleming. Cook’s brief statement to police at the time was, “I remember seeing the bridge and that’s about it.” He was never charged in relation to the accident.
"[This] served to convert the unwitting Plaintiff Cook into an agent of protection for Paul Murdaugh, exposing Plaintiff Cook to the potential of being charged as boat operator and therefore responsible for the accident," the suit alleges.
At the time of his death in June, Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony counts, including boating under the influence.
The lawsuit also names the owner and on-duty clerk of local business Parker’s, where then-19-year-old Paul Murdaugh had purchased alcohol, using the ID of his older brother, Richard Alexander "Buster" Murdaugh; Buster is also named in the suit.
A call placed to Murdaugh’s attorney Jim Griffin on Wednesday afternoon regarding the suit was not immediately returned.
Cook’s lawsuit is the latest legal battle in what has become the sprawling case about murder, corruption, addiction and graft. Alex Murdaugh, whose wife, Maggie Murdaugh and son Paul were found shot to death at the family’s property on June 7 in a still-unsolved case, resigned from his family legacy firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltztoth & Detrick, and announced plans to enter a drug rehab treatment program earlier this month. The personal injury firm had announced that it planned to hire a forensic accounting firm to conduct a thorough investigation after allegations surfaced that Murdaugh had misappropriated potentially millions in funds.
For over 110 years, the Murdaughs ran the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office while maintaining the private firm.
The beleaguered attorney then survived a gunshot wound to the head over Labor Day weekend, but later surrendered to authorities after allegations emerged that the shooting was, in fact, a botched suicide plot to cash in on a $10 million life insurance policy. He was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report. He entered no plea and a judge released him on a personal recognizance bond and he returned to rehab for what he has said is opioid addiction.
Since the June double murder, two cases involving the deaths of a local teen and the family housekeeper have been reopened
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