A GoFundMe campaign started on behalf of a prosecution witness in the Alex Murdaugh family murder case sparked a dispute in the middle of the disgraced South Carolina lawyer’s trial on Thursday.
The fundraiser was meant to reward Mushell “Shelley” Smith—who was the caretaker over Murdaugh’s mother—“for her bravery” in taking the stand earlier this week to testify about seeing the defendant after he allegedly murdered his wife and son in 2021.
The “very first donation” to the GoFundMe came from Mark Tinsley, another prosecution witness, the defense revealed in court. Tinsley is a lawyer who represented the family of Mallory Beach, a teen killed in a 2019 boat crash that set in motion the bizarre chain of events that prosecutors say led to Murdaugh’s downfall.
Prosecutors confirmed that Tinsley made a $1,000 donation to the Smith GoFundMe and then removed his name. Murdaugh defense lawyer Philip Barber wanted Tinsley barred from testifying because of the payment, claiming he had never seen such a thing happen.
“He made a financial payment to a witness in the middle of a trial,” Barber argued.
However, Judge Clifton Newman refused to prevent Tinsley’s testimony in yet another crucial win for the prosecution. “That'll be good fodder for cross-examination,” Newman said.
Prosecutors allege that the death of Beach while on a boat with Murdaugh’s son Paul was the precipitating event in the family’s twisted crime saga.
Beach’s family sued, and the litigation filed by Tinsley threatened to expose financial crimes by Alex Murdaugh—who allegedly then killed his Paul, 22, and his own wife Maggie, 52, near dog kennels on the family estate in a diabolical attempt to garner sympathy and distract from questions about whether he was fleecing clients and his law firm.
When Tinsley did take the stand on Thursday afternoon, he testified that he had filed a motion to see the details of Murdaugh’s financials in June 2021 and a hearing was scheduled days before Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were killed.
Tinsley was not the only person to donate to Smith’s GoFundMe. As of Thursday afternoon, the campaign has raised over $9,950 from 247 donors.
The campaign said it was started by Smith’s children after her appearance on the witness stand earlier in the week brought her “much heartache and stress.”
“My mother is the most caring, giving, and selfless person ever,” Smith’s daughter, Rachelle Buckner, wrote. “She would give the shirt off her back if she could. “Since knowing she would have to testify she had gone through so much with the what-ifs, should I, and the I HAVE TO! I want to reward her for her bravery and her honesty as it was one of the hardest things she had to do. We want to show her that she is not alone and we stand behind her 100%!”
Smith’s children and Tinsley did not respond to a request for comment about the GoFundMe from The Daily Beast. Smith, reached by phone, said only that “it was wild” before hanging up.
On Monday, a visibly uncomfortable Smith told a Colleton County jury that Alex Murdaugh came to visit his mother on the night his wife and child were shot to death—even though he normally visited during the day. She testified that Murdaugh “was fidgeting” during the 20-minute visit with his ailing mother before he abruptly left.
In the days after the murders, Smith said, Murdaugh told her that if anyone asked, she should say he had been at his mother’s house for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Later, Smith said Murdaugh offered to help her with her wedding expenses—even though they’d never discussed her upcoming nuptials before.
The caretaker’s testimony was vital to the prosecution’s goal of upending Murdaugh’s timeline of the evening. But Smith’s clear discomfort while on the stand made her testimony sometimes confusing and contradictory—especially when she admitted that she did not see Murdaugh stash a blue rain jacket in one of his mother’s closets as she had originally told investigators. (The rain jacket, according to one law enforcement agent who testified on Wednesday, contained a significant amount of gunshot residue.)
Murdaugh, 54, is facing two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with the case. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his defense team has argued that their client is innocent and has had no motive to murder his family. If convicted, Murdaugh faces up to 30 years in jail.