Alex Murdaugh confronted by theft victims at sentencing: ‘What kind of animal are you?’

Victims of Murdaugh’s fraud scheme spoke at his sentencing on Tuesday

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 28 November 2023 21:22 GMT
Satterfield sons speak in Alex Murdaugh sentencing

Family annihilator Alex Murdaugh was confronted in court by several victims who put their trust in him in their hour of need – only for him to abuse that trust and steal millions of dollars in much-needed wrongful death and personal injury payments.

The disgraced legal scion appeared in Beaufort County Court in South Carolina on Tuesday morning where he was sentenced to 27 years in state prison on a slew of financial charges, after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors earlier this month.

Cuffed and shackled and dressed in a bridge orange prison jumpsuit, the man whose family once reigned over the Lowcountry’s justice system entered the courtroom smiling before taking a seat next to his longtime attorneys and friends Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian.

At the sentencing, he was forced to come face to face with many of the victims that he stole from, including the family of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield – a woman who helped raise his two children Paul and Buster – and his longtime former friend Jordan Jinks.

For more than a decade, Murdaugh stole over $12.4m in funds from several clients at his law firm PMPED in a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme which went on at least from 2008 through 2021 when he was caught.

As part of the scheme, Murdaugh worked with his co-conspirators and friends ex-attorney Cory Fleming and ex-Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte to swindle clients out of millions of dollars.

The attorneys would represent the victims in wrongful death suits, with Laffitte and Fleming sometimes acting as conservators to the victims – before the men pocketed the money for themselves.

Much of the stolen money was funneled through a fake “Forge” bank account which sought to imitate the legitimate and totally unrelated business Forge Consulting.

Alex Murdaugh talks with his attorneys Dick Harpootlian, left, and Jim Griffin during his sentencing (AP)

Some of the money was also channeled through checks cut to Curtis “Cousin Eddie” Smith – Murdaugh’s distant cousin and alleged drug dealer who also happens to be the alleged accomplice in the killer’s bizarre botched hitman plot.

In an emotional victim impact statement, Jordan Jinks broke down sobbing on multiple occasions as he spoke of how close he used to be to the convicted killer – so much so that he told him he would have given him the money if he had just asked.

“What kind of animal are you?” he asked.

Mr Jinks looked Murdaugh in the eye as he said: “I’ve been waiting on this day to look in your eyes. I wanted to sit down with you one on one… unlike a lot of these people here these victims, I have a lot of intimate stuff that I could say.

“You remember all those wildlife hunts I had for law enforcement? Your entire family was the guest of honour,” he said.

Mr Jinks paused multiple times as he said: “I knew I was going to break.”

“I’m not crying because of what he stole from me. I’m crying from what he did to everybody in this suit. These kids, these people dying,” he said.

“I didn’t want to come up here and bash you. But I’ve got to ask you – What kind of animal are you?”

Mr Jinks said it “hurt” him to see Murdaugh behind bars – and that he didn’t used to believe his former friend could have killed his wife and son.

Now, after hearing the crimes he had committed against so many victims, he now does.

“When I saw you on TV in an orange jumpsuit it hurt me. When all this came about with Paw Paw and Maggie... but after hearing the things you did to these victims here, I changed my mind. So I ask you again: what kind of animal are you?” he asked.

“The money you stole from me, I would have gave to you if you asked me – that’s how I felt about you… you didn’t have to steal it from me, man.”

When Mr Jinks told Murdaugh that he would like to sit down with him and speak to him about “intimate things”, the convicted killer spoke up, responding: “I’d like that.”

Tony Satterfield addresses the court during Alex Murdaugh’s sentencing (AP)

Satterfield’s son Tony Satterfield spoke directly to the double murderer as he told him that he forgives him for the years of pain he has put their family through.

“I really don’t have words, you lied, you cheated, you stole, you betrayed me, my family and everyone else and you did that across my mom’s death first of all,” he said.

Mr Satterfield brought up the fact that Murdaugh sent him a “half-hearted sorry letter” some time ago – saying that he knows it was half-hearted as his “actions don’t follow through” with his apology.

He said that he had his own sorry letter to read to Murdaugh.

“I’m sorry you felt you had to betray us,” he said.

“I’m sorry your family has to now go through what they’re going to have to go through for the rest of their life because of your actions, what you did.”

He added: “I want you to know I forgive you. l’ll pray for you every day.”

Satterfield’s sister Ginger Hadwin told Murdaugh how her sibling loved his children like his own – and yet he betrayed her in a way she “will never understand”.

“Gloria worked very hard for you for 20 years. She loved Buster and Paul as her own. She loved Maggie and she trusted you wholeheartedly,” she said.

“She trusted you and your family as her own family. To be betrayed by you, I will never understand. And how you were able to profit from her death, we will never be able to understand.”

To Murdaugh directly, she asked: “Do you not have a soul? I don’t understand it but then I thank god I don’t understand it as maybe I would be in the same position as you.”

“I’m sorry you threw your life away,” she added.

Murdaugh stared ahead at the family members as they spoke and nodded.

Alex Murdaugh addresses his victims at sentencing for financial crimes

Attorney Eric Bland, who represents the Satterfield family, gave a scathing victim impact statement on behalf of the victims where he branded Murdaugh “the Mount Rushmore of all criminals” who stole from the people closest to him.

“This day was coming for two years,” he said.

“This was predatory behaviour… this wasn’t Enron… it wasn’t stealing money from faceless people, from shareholders. This was Alex Murdaugh stealing money from those that were closest to him,” he said.

“Gloria Satterfield who broke bread with him and his family for 22 years, raising his family… Jordan Jinks, a lifelong friend, he grew up playing ball together.”

Mr Bland added: “This is close theft, the unicorn of all thefts… He is the Mount Rushmore of all criminals… And he hit the home run when he was convicted of double murder.”

He went on to slam Murdaugh and his attorneys Mr Harpootlian and Mr Griffin, saying they “still didn’t do the right thing: even after his crimes were exposed – as he tried to vacate his confession and “attacked the jury pool”.

“My clients want their money Mr Murdaugh, when are you planning on paying? They want that $4.3m dollars,” he asked.

Mr Bland also fired back at comments made by Mr Harpootlian at the start of the hearing, where he complained that some of the attorneys were seeking to sell t-shirts and hats and promote their podcasts.

While Mr Bland does have a podcast, he pointed out that so too does Mr Griffin.

Both Mr Bland and Mark Tinsley, an attorney who represents some of Murdaugh’s other victims, brought up Judge Newman’s damning comments when he previously sentenced the killer to two life terms for murder.

“You have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you. I’m sure,” he told Murdaugh back on 3 March.

“I’ll never forget the words you used at the end of his murder sentence of how he will get visitors at night. It’s pierced me,” Mr Bland said.

“I am here to tell you that Gloria Satterfield will visit him... All these people will visit him and let them know that it is not okay. They will visit him and I hope they do as not only did they hurt these people he hurt his family.”

Mr Tinsley disagreed, saying that Murdaugh is a “broken person” and that, to him, the people he stole from and victimised don’t “matter” to him.

“Alex you’re a broken person. I don’t think you’ll lie in bed at night and these people will come to you,” he said.

“I don’t think that those people matter and I don’t know when that happened… but I feel bad for you because of that. I don’t think you’ve always been this way but somewhere along the way you became broken.”

Gloria Satterfield died in a ‘trip and fall’ at the Murdaugh home in 2018 (Provided)

Several of the victims also raised the question of where all of the stolen money went.

Creighton Waters, the prosecutor in the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, told the court that the financial fraud schemes were able to take place because of the “power” and “influence” that Murdaugh wielded in the area.

“How power and influence and trust – trust was used to steal millions of dollars for years and years,” he said.

Mr Waters described the “palpable fear” among Murdaugh’s victims to come forward and speak out about what he had done to them because of this power.

“You don’t understand who you’re messing with,” he recalled some fearful victims telling him.

Mr Waters traced the scheme back to 2008 and 2009 when he said Murdaugh came into financial trouble after the economic recession.

“He then started to steal,” he said.

The first case Murdaugh is convicted of is the case of Hakeem Pinckney – a deaf man who was left a quadriplegic after a horror car crash in 2009. He died two years later.

Murdaugh stole most of a $309,000 settlement and then an additional $89,000 payment meant for Pinckney’s mother.

He also stole $325,000 from Natasha Thomas who was a minor when she was involved in the crash.

Arthur Badger went to Murdaugh to file a wrongful death lawsuit when his wife was killed in a car crash in January 2011.

Mr Badger was left a single parent to the couple’s six children.

Murdaugh stole $1.325m from the family.

He also stole $538,000 from Deon Martin in 2015 and 2016, after he was injured in a car crash.

It was around this time that Murdaugh changed tactics by funnelling money through the fake Forge account, Mr Waters told the court.

Another victim was former lieutenant with the South Carolina Highway Patrol Tommy Moore, who hired Murdaugh as his personal injury lawyer when he suffered a broken neck in the line of duty. Murdaugh has admitted he stole $100,000 of a $125,000 settlement for the officer.

As well as clients, Murdaugh also stole from those close to him – including close friend Johnny Bush and his brother Randy Murdaugh – who also worked at the law firm PMPED.

But, perhaps the most shocking case – the “big one” as Mr Waters called it – is the scheme which he perpetrated against Satterfield’s family.

Satterfield had worked as the Murdaugh family housekeeper for more than two decades, even acting as a “second mom” to Buster and Paul.

She died in February 2018, following a tragic fall down the steps of the family’s Moselle home – the same estate where Murdaugh murdered his wife Maggie and son Paul three years later.

Following her death, Murdaugh recommended that her sons hire Fleming to represent them in bringing a wrongful death claim against him so that they could collect from his homeowner’s insurance policies.

The insurance companies ultimately settled the estate’s claim for more than $4m – two payments of $505,000 and $3.8m.

Murdaugh and Fleming then stole the settlement money for themselves and the housekeeper’s sons “never received one dime of that”.

Hakeem Pinckney (provided)

After spending around an hour-and-a-half walking the judge through Murdaugh’s fraud schemes, Mr Waters gave a damning conclusion as to why Murdaugh should stay behind bars in state prison for the remainder of his life.

“There are 101 offensives. People might say ‘why are we resolving this in this manner?’” said Mr Waters.

“And the reason for that, there are a lot of reasons for that. Ultimately we have here a guilty plea where Alex Murdaugh has admitted his guilt... Mr Alex is waiving his appellate rights and within the law his post-conviction rights.

“With his plea here today, there is certainty, as much as the law will allow, that he will serve at least 85 per cent of that 27-year sentence if your honour accepts that result. Mr Murdaugh will remain in state prison for what is likely the remainder of his life.”

Mr Waters said that the deal will ensure Murdaugh will be held in state prison – rather than being moved to a federal prison which are notoriously nicer.

“We can be assured that he is not leaving state prison... these are South Carolina crimes,” he said.

“He’s staying in South Carolina prison where he belongs.”

Murdaugh is a “unique and unprecedented case” and so is “deserving of a unique and unprecedented sentence”, he said, adding: “The well was bled dry by this man.”

After hearing from his victims, Murdaugh stood and gave a statement to the court where he apologised to the victims – but also used the floor to once again deny all responsibility for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.

Despite the overwhelming evidence presented at his murder trial, Murdaugh hit out at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, claiming they had only honed in on him because of his other criminal activity.

“I now ask every single person who cares about Maggie and about Paul, as I know that the things that I did and that I’m pleading guilty to today allowed SLED and the Attorney General’s office to focus on me – and not to pursue the person or the people who hurt and killed Maggie and Paw Paw,” he said.

The disgraced legal scion – who was exposed for lying about his alibi on the night of his loved ones’ murders – also went on to blame the few crimes he has admitted to on his apparent opioid addiction.

“After hours, weeks, days months of self-reflection, I took more and more pills because I was hiding – attempting to hide – from the reality of the things that I was doing to all of you,” he said.

In his rambling, lengthy statement in court, Murdaugh also hit out at the rampant speculation about his son Buster and the unsolved 2015 death of a gay teenager – and sought to downplay the role that the family’s late housekeeper of 20 years had played in his children’s upbringings.

Admitting that he did “terrible things”, Murdaugh insisted that he does “care” about each of the people he stole from.

“I did terrible things. Each of you placed your trust in me. I am proud of that and to this day I am still honoured by that,” he said.

“I did terrible, terrible things. Things that thinking about right now cause me to be hurt, cause me to be disturbed. It is so important to me that you know how bothered that I am about the things that I did.”

Murdaugh accepted a plea deal in the state financial crimes case on 17 November – admitting to swindling millions of dollars from desperate law firm clients in a scheme that came crashing down around him following the brutal murders of his wife and son.

In total, Murdaugh was facing 101 state charges over his vast multi-million-dollar fraud scheme.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to 22 charges in exchange for the other charges being dropped and a reduced sentence.

The 22 charges include: seven counts of money laundering, four counts of obtaining a signature by false pretences, six counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent, and one count each of breach of trust with fraudulent intent, forgery, computer crimes, criminal conspiracy and willful attempt to evade or defeat a tax.

Emotional speech at Murdaugh sentencing

Based on the remaining charges, Murdaugh could face up to 239 years in prison but the prosecution and the defence brokered a deal to ask the judge to issue a 27-year sentence.

Handing down the sentence, Judge Clifton Newman told Murdaugh he believes he is “empty” and something of an “enigma”.

“You’re quite an enigma – a person many of us thought we knew,” he said, before echoing Mr Jinks’ comment calling him an “animal”.

“You’re an enigmatic person. I don’t know that you understand yourself,” he said.

The judge recalled only one other time where he was presiding over a capital punishment case and the perpetrator “heartless” and “empty”.

“You come closest to that young man,” he told Murdaugh.

“Being empty, I don’t see anything. I tried to reach you at sentencing in the other case. I listened to you today and I don’t see anything in you. Hopefully something will emerge in your spirit, in your soul.”

Murdaugh has previously confessed to the slate of financial crimes, first making a bombshell confession when he took the stand at his murder trial earlier this year.

In the dramatic moment, Murdaugh admitted that he had indeed stolen from all of the victims read out to him by Mr Waters. But despite the confession, Murdaugh continued to claim he was innocent of the murders of his wife and son.

This September, Murdaugh then pleaded guilty to 22 federal financial charges.

He faces up to 30 years in federal prison on some of the charges which came under the agreement that the sentence would be served concurrently with any state conviction for the same offences.

His co-conspirators Fleming and Laffitte have already been convicted in federal court for their part in the convicted killer’s white-collar fraud scheme, with the former sentenced to four years and the latter to seven years.

At his murder trial, jurors heard how Murdaugh’s colleagues at PMPED were closing in on his thefts with a colleague confronting him about $792,000 in stolen money on the morning of the murders.

His finances were also coming under intense scrutiny in a lawsuit brought by the family of Mallory Beach – a 19-year-old woman who died in a 2019 crash in the Murdaugh family boat. A hearing for the boat crash lawsuit was scheduled for 10 June – three days after the murders.

Jurors at the trial heard how Murdaugh shot and killed his wife and son to distract from his crumbling empire.

Two months later – in September 2021 – Murdaugh was ousted from his law firm after they uncovered his years of theft.

Hours later, Murdaugh was shot in the head by the side of a road in Hampton County in a bizarre incident now known as the “roadside shooting” incident.

Days later – after checking in to rehab for what he claims was a two-decade-long opioid addiction – he confessed to paying his distant cousin Mr Smith to shoot and kill him in an assisted suicide plot so that his surviving son Buster could get a $10m life insurance windfall.

Both men were arrested and charged over the incident. However, Mr Smith denies Murdaugh’s version of events and – despite the plea deal in the state financial crimes case – the charges are still making their way through the courts.

This comes at a time when Murdaugh remains embroiled in another legal battle as he demands a new trial for the murders of his wife and son based on bombshell accusations of jury tampering.

In September, Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion accusing court clerk Becky Hill of breaking her oath by tampering with the jury and pressuring them into returning a guilty verdict against him.

They claim that she advised the panel not to be “fooled by” Murdaugh’s testimony on the stand or “misled” by the defence’s evidence, pushed them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and misrepresented “critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense”.

Ms Hill has denied the allegations. In a sworn statement filed last week, the state branded the allegations as “a sweeping conspiratorial theory” and said that “not every inappropriate comment made by a member of court staff to a juror rises to the level of constitutional error”.

Based on the claims, Murdaugh’s legal team has demanded that the disbarred attorney be granted a new murder trial.

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