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3 weeks, dozens of witnesses: Takeaways from Murdaugh trial

 

Three weeks into disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial, prosecutors have called dozens of witnesses offering wide-ranging — and sometimes disjointed — testimony.

Jurors have heard from the investigators who found the bodies of Murdaugh’s wife and son, and technicians who found gunshot residue, cracked open cellphones to get videos and tested dozens of ammunition casings.

They’ve heard from betrayed law firm employees, heartbroken friends of Murdaugh and his family, and a man whose insurance settlement was stolen after his mother, the Murdaughs’ housekeeper, died in a fall at their home.

But witnesses have been called in disorganized groups and tantalizing scraps of evidence have been introduced but not explained. The defense hopes to start its case in middle of next week and had planned a week of testimony but is rethinking that because of the trial’s length.

Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in the deaths of 52-year-old Maggie, shot several times with a rifle, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, shot twice with a shotgun at kennels near their Colleton County home on June 7, 2021. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

The disbarred lawyer also faces about 100 other charges ranging from stealing money from clients to running a drug and money laundering ring.

Much of the week’s testimony focused on whether Murdaugh stole money from his family’s law firm and clients. Prosecutors contend Murdaugh thought he was about to get caught stealing and killed his wife and son to buy time to cover up the money trail.

The office manager from the family law firm said Murdaugh stole millions in fees and client settlements. A law school buddy said Murdaugh took advantage of his trust and left him to pay $192,000 to keep his client trust fund balanced. The son of the Murdaughs’ housekeeper and nanny who died in a fall testified Murdaugh promised to get them a hefty insurance settlement for the death but kept more than $4 million collected for himself.

The defense objected to each witness, saying there was no evidence linking the killings to financial misdeeds.

“This is piling on. This is more trying to prejudice the jury into believing somehow someone who steals a bunch of money in any way whatever would commit a murder,” Murdaugh lawyer Dick Harpootlian said.

DISJOINTED CASE

Prosecutors have called 47 witnesses in 12 days of testimony, but at times there has been little rhythm to the order.

This week, the caretaker of Murdaugh’s mother testified about a blue jacket Murdaugh might have held when he visited but then other witnesses testified about financial crimes before the state forensic scientist who tested the jacket for blood and gunshot residue took the stand.

Long, tedious testimony has focused on cellphone data between Paul Murdaugh’s friends.

Some intriguing evidence has been introduced but never explained to jurors, who do not have notebooks to keep track of testimony.

A crime scene technician put into evidence a receipt with a $1,021.10 item from Gucci circled, but it hasn’t been brought up since. An FBI technician gave the times Murdaugh’s SUV was shifted into and out of park the night of the killings without interpretation.

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Business

Amid the AI hype, don’t forget about no-code

No-code startup Softr, which allows its customers to build apps from their existing data, announced Tuesday that it has added Google Sheets to its integration list.

Previously, Softr focused on Airtable databases. Its move to support data from Google’s spreadsheet product likely expands its potential customer pool. Even before that expansion, CEO Mariam Hakobyan told TechCrunch+ that her company grew its annual recurring revenue 3x from December 2021 to December 2022.

 

Softr’s quick revenue expansion is a good reminder that while the tech world seems completely consumed by all things AI, there’s quite a lot of work going on in other areas that are worth keeping an eye on.

That said, there is an interesting connection between AI and no-code worth writing down: Both are potentially great expanders of human capability. AI tooling could operate as a second brain of sorts for the digitally busy, and no-code services may allow nondevelopers to build the tools they need to complete their work. In both cases, the genres of new tech development have a shot at helping regular folks do a lot more, more quickly and often at a low cost.

Something else that modern AI tooling and no-code share is accessibility. Softr, for example, grew its base of signed-up users from 35,000 to 150,000 in 2022. That’s really quite a lot for a service that was, until recently, Airtable-specific. On the AI side, I don’t need to reiterate just how much market demand there is for modern LLM tooling.

Let’s dig into Softr’s progress since we last covered the company and chat about what we can learn about no-code progress as a method of building more accessible software.

Softr, no-code and empowering the regulars
Ask anyone who works at a company that builds software and isn’t part of the engineering or product orgs how long it will take them to get something built for their own needs. Without even making Jira ticket jokes, we all know what the answer will be. And to a degree, the standard situation makes sense: What nondeveloper employees need is often pretty basic software, and expensive engineers need to focus on the company’s core offering not internal tooling.

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Twitter’s legacy blue checkmark era is officially over

Twitter appears to have officially killed off its legacy blue checkmarks, one of the last remaining vestiges of the pre-Elon Musk owner era.

The legacy blue checks, which Twitter doled out to journalists, celebrities and other public officials for free to help curb impersonations and spam, were supposed to end April 1.

Musk took to Twitter on April 11 — days after the legacy checkmarks should have disappeared — to shift the end date to April 20 or 4/20. Yes, that’s the day when folks honor weed because Twitter is now owned by a middle schooler.

With the legacy checkmarks gone, Twitter will have verification marks only for paid users and businesses as well as government entities and officials. Now, if a user sees a blue checkmark and clicks on it, the label reads: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

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Autotech Ventures’ new $230M mobility fund adds fintech, circular economy to its investment strategy

Autotech Ventures will use its newly closed $230 million fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility.

Fintech, logistics, supply chain and the circular economy are at the top of the list.

The $230 million fund, its third since launching in 2017, will be used to invest in seed through Series C mobility-related startups, according to the company. A mixture of financial and corporate LPs, including Allison Transmission, American Axle, Iochpe-Maxion and Shell participated in the fund.

“We’re still a ground transportation-focused firm and we have a very similar strategy [with this fund],” Alexei Andreev, Autotech Ventures managing director told TechCrunch. “On a high-level, it’s same as Fund 1 and Fund 2. However, one of the fastest areas of growth is SaaS-enabled fintech. Auto commerce is inefficient and there are large pockets of profit to capture.”

The firm is particularly interested in transportation-related fintech ventures that are poised to grow during a recession.

“We made a prediction that sooner or later there will be a recession and we identified areas that benefit when the economy softens, Andreev said, noting that this latest fund invested in Yendo, a Dallas-based startup (formerly known as Otto) that lets customers borrow against their vehicles at the same interest rate as standard credit cards.

Autotech Ventures’ previous fintech investments include U.K.-based buy now, pay later startup Bumper and Carpay, a buy here, pay here loan servicing SaaS platform for car dealers.

Andreev said the firm is also investigating investment opportunities in the circular economy, a nascent industry focused on finding ways to reuse materials and products. Circular economy startups have garnered an increasing amount of attention and investment as automakers transition away from gas-powered vehicles and towards EVs.

Autotech Ventures is also cautiously wading into generative AI, although Andreev was quick to note that the company has not made any investments in that area.

Autotech has more than $500 million under management and has invested in more than 40 companies.

Some of the firm’s investments include computer vision startup DeepScale (which was acquired by Tesla), Lyft, used vehicle marketplace operator Frontier Car Group, Drover, Outdoorsy, Swvl, parking app SpotHero and Xnor.ai, which Apple acquired in January 2020. Five of those startups have gone public, including indie Semiconductor and Volta Charging.

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