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Smiling Alex Murdaugh appears in court in shackles as trial date set in financial fraud case

The disbarred South Carolina attorney is already facing two life sentences for the June 2021 murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul

Andrea Cavallier
Thursday 14 September 2023 21:32 BST
South Carolina lawmaker smiles and shakes hands with Alex Murdaugh in court

Alex Murdaugh appeared before a judge in a South Carolina courtroom on financial fraud charges for the first time since he was hauled away after being sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul earlier this year.

The disgraced attorney was shackled and handcuffed but smiled as he entered the courtroom in Beaufort County on Thursday before he shuffled to the defence table wearing a bright orange jumpsuit.

Murdaugh shook hands with members of his defence team and to the shock of many online, state Rep Todd Rutherford stood up and greeted the convicted killer with a handshake. Rutherford is one of the attorneys representing former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte - and alleged co-conspirator in Murdaugh’s financial crimes who is also appearing at the hearing.

Judge Clifton Newman, who oversaw the murder trial back in March, set a trial date of 27 November in Hampton County for Murdaugh, who is accused of stealing millions of dollars in insurance payments meant for the family of his housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died after a fall at the Murdaugh family property in 2018.

Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian argued in court on Thursday that his client’s financial fraud trial should be pushed back.

“There has been more publicity than any case in this state and maybe in the country,” he said.

Because of the high-profile murder case, he asked that the judge put some time between that and the financial case.

“Why? What is the hurry?” he asked. “Where are you going to get a jury?” he asked “Mars?”

Alex Murdaugh appears in court on 14 September (Law&Crime)

The judge responded by rattling off several counties in South Carolina including Beaufort County, the county where Thursday’s hearing was held.

Mr Harpootlian also brought up the bombshell motion filed just last week requesting a new trial in the murders based on allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill.

He argued that a new trial cannot go ahead while those matters are still being investigated.

“That we could go forward with another trial while that matter is being litigated?” he said.

Judge Newman responded: “Probably not in Colleton County.”

The  South Carolina Attorney General’s Office was given 10 days to respond to this motion – which gives them until Friday.

Murdaugh arrives in court on Thursday (Law&Crime)
(Law&Crime)

Murdaugh is facing more than 100 state and federal charges over his alleged financial crimes – many of which he admitted to on the witness stand at his murder trial.

The hearing on Thursday focused on the state charges. A court hearing on the federal charges is scheduled for 21 September.

Murdaugh previously agreed to plead guilty to federal charges stating that he stole millions of dollars from clients, according to court records.

Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte and former attorney Cory Fleming – both former friends of Murdaugh’s and alleged co-conspirators in his financial crimes – also appeared in court.

After several hours of arguments from both sides, victim statements and statements of support for Fleming, the former attorney was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges that he conspired with Murdaugh to steal millions of dollars from trusting clients.

Cory Fleming was sentenced to 10 years in prison (Law&Crime)

He had previously pleaded guilty to the financial fraud charges that stem from Murdaugh’s alleged scheme to steal money from the estate of his dead housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in a fall on the Murdaugh property in 2018.

He was also involved in stealing money from the family of Hakeem Pinckney – a man whose family Murdaugh represented after he was killed in a car crash in 2009.

While Fleming knew Murdaugh was asking him to do wrong, he previously said he didn’t realise the depth of his old friend’s depravity.

Laffitte – who was convicted of federal charges in November – appeared for a status conference in his state case. One of his attorneys - South Carolina State Rep Todd Rutherford, asked the judge to delay a trial until the fall of 2024. The state representative received backlash online earlier in the day when he stood up and greeted a smiling Murdaugh with a handshake.

After a back and forth between the defence and the state, the judge said that he would make a ruling at a later date.

Alex Murdaugh's attorneys Phillip Barber, from left, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin speak at a news conference after filing an appeal of Murdaugh's double murder conviction on 5 September
The defence team is requesting a new trial in the murders based on allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill

Before Murdaugh killed his wife and son, state and federal investigators said he stole millions from clients who suffered debilitating injuries and who needed money for medical care.

He is charged with stealing from his family’s law firm and helping run a drug ring to launder money. Authorities said Murdaugh asked a friend to kill him on the side of a lonely highway so his son would get $10m in life insurance. The shot only grazed his head.

In federal court, Murdaugh faces 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Court records didn’t indicate whether there’s an agreement to drop any charges in exchange for a guilty plea.

Each charge carries at least a maximum of 20 years in prison. Some have a maximum 30-year sentence.

The court appearance on Thursday comes just over a week after Murdaugh’s defence attorneys filed a bombshell motion requesting a new trial based on allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill.

The  South Carolina Attorney General’s Office was given 10 days to respond to this motion – which gives them until Friday.

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