BEAUFORT, S.C. — Former attorney Alex Murdaugh appeared in a South Carolina court Thursday for the first time since he was convicted six months ago of murdering his wife and young son as he faces the next phase of the sprawling state case in his against: a ring of alleged financial crimes involving two accomplices.
Prosecutors said Murdaugh, 55, faced 101 charges in total and an alleged loss of $8.8 million to those affected by the alleged crimes.
Murdaugh appeared in Beaufort County General Sessions Court. Alleged accomplices Cory Fleming, a former lawyer and college roommate, and Russell Laffitte, a former bank CEO, who prosecutors say helped him in schemes to defraud clients of money from at least 2005 through 2021, also appeared before court on Thursday.
A timeline of Murdaugh’s legal troubles
Murdaugh’s attorneys ultimately agreed to a Nov. 27 trial date after arguing for a delay. Fleming received a 20-year sentence to run concurrently with his 46-month federal sentence. The decision on the former bank CEO’s court case has been postponed to a later date.
Murdaugh entered through a side door, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, into a courtroom that was nearly full. His hair seemed to have grown back after being shaved when he was incarcerated.
Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over Murdaugh’s murder trial, also presided over this hearing, as the former attorney sat and looked directly ahead throughout the brief appearance.
In the end, Murdaugh was escorted out the same way he came in. He was in the courtroom for less than 30 minutes.
Murdaugh was last in court in March, when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the fatal shootings of his wife, Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the family’s hunting lodge. in June 2021.
That trial attracted national attention when prosecutors accused him of murdering his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract attention from the financial crimes that threatened to tear down his reputation in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where three generations of family patriarchs had wielded power as chief prosecutor for decades.
Newman allowed the jury to hear evidence of Murdaugh’s alleged financial irregularities, a critical victory for the prosecution.
But that fact also became an immediate element in Murdaugh’s defense.
Dick Harpootlian, who represents the former attorney, emphasized in the courtroom Thursday that the very public Murdaugh murder case came to an end just six months ago. It was broadcast on national television, podcasted, blogged, and deeply discussed on the Internet; All of that was cause for a change of location, he said.
“To try this case in less than a year than the other, where are we going to get a jury?” He asked her. “Mars?”
Murdaugh’s attorney also noted that they had requested a new murder trial because he alleged that the court clerk had tampered with the jury. He accused prosecutors of “another effort to create a national spectacle” and argued that the financial case could not proceed until issues in the murder case were resolved.
Murdaugh’s defense team accuses Colleton County Court Clerk Rebecca Hill of manipulating jurors by “advising them not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick verdict.” of guilt and even misrepresenting critical information and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she considered favorable to the defense.”
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime after six weeks of testimony.
Hill told Court TV that the allegations were “false.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office is prosecuting the murder and financial crimes cases against Murdaugh, has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate allegations of jury tampering.
Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense at the murder trial and, although he denied killing his wife and son, admitted to some financial misconduct.
He now faces more than 100 charges in state and federal courts, from money laundering to tax evasion and bank fraud.
Prosecutors allege that one of those plots involved him conspiring with Fleming to divert insurance settlement funds in the death of the Murdaughs’ former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in 2018 after what was described as a “trip and fall accident” at her family home.
Murdaugh is accused of directing Fleming to write checks totaling nearly $3.5 million to a bank account he used for his personal enrichment, while Satterfield’s estate received none of the money, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors made direct reference to Satterfield’s case Thursday during Fleming’s sentencing hearing. Lead attorney Creighton Waters pointed to Satterfield’s relatives sitting in the front row.
“It was extortion,” Waters said. “Plain and simple.”
In August, Fleming was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty and was also ordered to pay restitution and a fine. He pleaded guilty to the state charges and appeared in court Thursday to face Newman’s sentencing.
Fleming’s defense attorney, Deborah Barbier, said her client had already admitted his guilt and was “not making excuses.”
“He has come forward, he has fully admitted that he was wrong,” he said.
Tony Satterfield, son of Murdaugh’s housekeeper, testified at Thursday’s hearing along with other family members. He said he forgave Fleming, but that “it was up to the judge to decide.”
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for other victims of Fleming and Murdaugh’s alleged scheme, had harsher words for Fleming, who looked down and did not look at the Satterfield family during the proceedings.
“This is a dagger in the hearts of clients who trusted their attorneys,” Bamberg said.
Bamberg asked the judge to “firmly” sentence Fleming, who faced a prison sentence of up to 195 years. Fleming ultimately received a 20-year sentence, which will run concurrently with his federal sentence. In total, he will serve about four years in federal prison and 16 years in state prison.
Laffitte, former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, was sentenced last month to nearly six years in federal prison after being found guilty of stealing nearly $2 million from client legal settlements in connection with Murdaugh. Laffitte maintained his innocence and said he would appeal.
Haylee Barber reported from Beaufort and Erik Ortiz from New York.