Connor Cook was aboard a boat operated by Paul Murdaugh when it crashed near the Archers Creek Bridge near Parris Island in February 2019, sending 19-year-old passenger Mallory Beach overboard. She died, another young woman was bleeding heavily, Cook broke his jaw – and deputies and wildlife officers arrived to find the underage survivors intoxicated, according to authorities.
Although Murdaugh was charged in the incident several months later, the petition alleges thtt authorities and “unknown others” had first attempted to frame Cook as the boat operator due to Murdaugh’s status as a member of a wealthy family with generational ties to the local prosecutor’s office.
“This motion was kind of a necessity in terms of kind of staring down the barrel at a statute of limitations,” said Joe McColluch, an attorney for Cook. “And there’s a significant range of questions about whether there is a civil conspiracy case to be made here, and against whom it should be brought.”
The petition seeks phone records and a chance to depose several witnesses – members of the local sheriff’s department as well as South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officers – who responded to the crash.
They are former South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officers Robin Camlin and Michael Brock, the latter of whom is now at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, as well as current DNR officer Austin Pritcher, along with John Leroy Keener and Troy Andrew Krapf of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
“[Cook] further believes that these deponents through their official positions with their respective law enforcement agencies, in concert with others unnamed, may have information of collusion and/or a civil conspiracy to shift the blame for the boat accident away from Paul Murdaugh by wrongfully shifting the focus to [Cook],” the petition reads.
Under state law, such a Rule 27 petition can be filed ahead of a potential lawsuit in order to secure relevant testimony.
Both the DNR and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the civil litigation.
Additional court documents include depositions of the same officers from a wrongful death trial brought by Beach’s family. And they highlight discrepancies between some of the responding officers’ testimony.
In one instance, a Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputy said that at the scene, “I was trying to find out who was driving and I – they wouldn’t tell me.”
That’s despite contemporaneous police recordings in which Cook’s cousin, Anthony Cook, who was also on the boat, said Murdaugh was behind the wheel and told officers that he’d “killed” Beach.
Testimony from another document reveals that Officer Brock had a potential conflict of interest with the Murdaugh family.
“I think his wife or somebody worked for the Murdaughs, or had something to do with them,” Camlin, then Brock’s superior at the DNR, said during a deposition in the Beach case
Authorities ultimately stopped looking into Cook as a potential driver, and Murdaugh was out on bail in connection with the crash and Beach’s death when he was murdered.
But the boating tragedy is only part of a saga that has seen an alarming number of deaths in South Carolina’s quiet Lowcountry region, best known as a coastal countryside full of landmark historical buildings near the Georgia state line.
Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother Maggie Murdaugh, 52, were both gunned down on a family property in rural Islandton on June 7 – shot multiple times and left for dead, according to authorities. Just days later, Randolph Murdaugh III, Paul Murdaugh’s 81-year-old grandfather and a longtime local prosecutor, died of natural causes at his home in Varnville.
The Murdaugh family is the most prominent legal family in the region – through its personal injury law firm and the fact that three generations of Murdaughs served as 14th Circuit Solicitor, the top prosecutor for the four surrounding counties.
In 2006, Duffie Stone assumed the position – a longtime family friend and colleague. Murdaugh III’s son, Alex, the husband and father of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, is a part-time prosecutor in the same office.
Stone recused himself from Paul Murdaugh’s drunken boating case, but the family’s prominence has fueled speculation about how much influence its name still carries. As a result, Cook’s petition was filed in Richland County, far removed from the Murdaughs’ home in Beaufort.
Adding another layer of mystery to the double homicide, state investigators said that while looking into the slayings, they found information that led them to reopen the 2015 case of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a rural road with severe trauma to the head.
His death had officially been ruled a hit-and-run, although that decision has proven controversial.
“There was no evidence that pointed towards this being a hit-and-run, or a vehicle even being involved in it,” former South Carolina State Trooper Todd Proctor, who led the preliminary investigation into Smith’s death, told Fox News last month.
“It looked like it was more staged,” he said. “Like possibly the body had been placed in the roadway.”
That’s because there were no tire marks in the road or broken car parts that might have fallen off, and Smith did not appear to have slid across the asphalt after an impact.
“We had no evidence to show there was any movement of the body,” Proctor told Fox News.
Despite that, the incident was ruled a hit-and-run, and no one was ever arrested. Police said Smith’s car was found without any gas and that he may have started walking and been hit in the head by the mirror of a passing tractor-trailer.
The link between the Murdaugh slayings and Smith’s death remains unclear.
Fox News’ Griff Jenkins, Stephanie Pagones and the Associated Press contributed to this report.