For the second time in five weeks, disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh appeared before a judge for a bond hearing Tuesday.
But this time was different.
On Tuesday morning, South Carolina circuit judge Clifton Newman denied bond for Alex Murdaugh during the highly-anticipated court hearing in Columbia, South Carolina.
Newman said that Murdaugh presented a danger to both himself and the community. He said he couldn’t provide a bond at this time.
“There’s no amount of bond the court can set that can provide safety to Mr. Murdaugh and the community,” Newman said.
Newman ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Murdaugh while he’s behind bars.
“I’m not satisfied as to his mental condition,” Newman said in court. Newman took a recess to review the evidence in the case before he made his decision, which is highly unusual for a bond hearing.
Creighton Waters, prosecutor with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, asked the judge for a $200,000 surety bond and GPS monitor. He said Murdaugh is a flight risk and should be considered a danger to himself and the community.
Murdaugh was arrested in Orlando, Florida Thursday and charged with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses related to the Gloria Satterfield case, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Murdaugh is accused of stealing millions of dollars from Satterfield’s family in her wrongful death settlement in 2019.
“That kind of money makes him capable of a flight risk,” Waters said.
Defense attorneys Dick Harpootilan and Jim Griffin appeared to be grasping at straws when arguing on Murdaugh’s behalf.
Murdaugh’s attorneys argued their client is a recovering addict and should no longer be considered a danger to himself or the community. They also said he was willing to voluntarily turn himself in on the charges before he was arrested Thursday, but law enforcement didn’t take him up on that.
Griffin said Murdaugh was “entitled to” a personal recognizance bond — which means he wouldn’t have to pay any money. Judge Newman rejected this idea almost immediately.
Harpootlian tried to argue that Murdaugh did not use his authority as an attorney in the settlement scam, but a paper trail showing emails and letters from Murdaugh’s law firm appears to prove otherwise.
Murdaugh’s attorneys also said that he needed to go back to rehab, but sources told FITSNews he was scheduled to be released from rehab on the day he was arrested.
On Tuesday, attorney Eric Bland — who represents Satterfield’s two sons in an ongoing lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh — told the court that he didn’t buy that Alex Murdaugh was a 20-year opioid addict as Murdaugh’s defense attorneys were pushing that narrative.
“If he was an opioid addict for 20 years, how did he try cases?” Bland said.
Along with Waters, Bland argued that Alex Murdaugh presents a danger to the community.
“This is a man who used a gun on Labor Day weekend,” Bland said, referring to Murdaugh’s alleged suicide-for-hire incident.
Bland said he wanted the court to make sure Alex Murdaugh’s assets were locked. Bland’s law partner Ronald Richter told the court Murdaugh has made several financial moves such as selling his $100,000 boat and giving power of attorney to his son Buster Murdaugh.
Bland argued that this case has larger implications on both the law profession and the state of South Carolina.
“Alex Murdaugh stained our profession and put a black eye on this state,” Bland said. “He’s a liar and a cheat.”
Ultimately, Newman denied Murdaugh’s bond. Murdaugh’s defense attorneys can request another bond hearing upon completion of the court ordered psychological evaluation. Until then, Alex Murdaugh will remain behind bars.
“I’m considering the safety issues that are present,” Newman said before he denied Murdaugh’s bond.
Bland told FITSNews that he thought Newman’s decision was “fair and courageous.” He said it’s very rare to see a judge deny bond in a non-murder case.
“I think he sent a strong message that we don’t have two systems of justice in this state,” Bland said.
Bland said he thought that Harpootlian and Grififn were surprised by Newman’s decision to not grant bond.
“The eyes of the world were on this courtroom today,” Bland said. “It wasn’t gonna be the Harpootlian lunch special. You know, $2.99 you get a turkey sandwich and fries and you’re out of there. No. He served the full meal justice.”
During the bond hearing, Bland said that Alex Murdaugh needs to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“He’s going to sit in jail for a long time before he gets out and gets some kind of bond,” Bland told FITSNews after the hearing. “It’s not gonna be easy on him.”
Murdaugh has not apologized to the Satterfield family.
Satterfield, who was the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper for more than two decades, died after an alleged trip and fall accident at Alex Murdaugh’s home in February 2018.
On September 15, 2021, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened an investigation into Satterfield’s death and her wrongful death settlement after a Hampton County Coroner found inconsistencies in her death.
During the hearing, a SLED agent told the court that law enforcement officers were investigating Alex Murdaugh for a number of incidents. He also confirmed that they were investigating Satterfield’s cause of death.
Satterfield’s death was not reported to the coroner at the time — nor did officials perform an autopsy, which caught the attention of the Hampton County Coroner, who asked SLED to investigate Satterfield’s death.
On Satterfield’s death certificate, the manner of death said “natural,” which the coroner said was not consistent with her injuries from a trip-and-fall incident.
In the last five weeks, South Carolina attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter have uncovered a shocking paper trail that shows how Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole $3.6 million from Satterfield’s grieving family.
Alex Murdaugh faces up to ten years in prison for the two felony charges connected with the Satterfield case.
The Satterfield case is one of six active criminal investigations involving Alex Murdaugh.
Last month, Alex Murdaugh appeared before a Hampton County judge after he turned himself in for the three charges connected to his botched shooting scenario last month. For that incident, Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report. He was given a $20,000 personal recognizance bond for that case and ordered to go to rehab.
Agents arrested Murdaugh after he was released from a Florida rehab facility for his alleged drug addiction. According to sources close to the situation, Murdaugh detoxed at a facility in Atlanta and transferred to a facility in Orlando, where he was scheduled to be released on Thursday.
Alex Murdaugh is still a person of interest in the double homicide investigation, according to his attorney Jim Griffin.
A paper trail of evidence shows that Alex Murdaugh led the pack in a scheme to steal millions of dollars in Satterfield’s 2019 wrongful death settlement.
After Gloria died, Murdaugh recruited his best friend Cory Fleming to sue him on behalf of her estate and convinced Gloria’s sons to sign over their personal representative rights to Westendorf so that Fleming wouldn’t be legally obligated to tell the Satterfield family what was going on with the settlement, according to Bland.
The $4.3 million settlement that was signed by Judge Carmen Mullen was not entered into the public record — a major violation of court procedure.
Murdaugh and Fleming allegedly claimed they were devising a structured settlement for Satterfield’s sons through a legitimate company called Forge Consulting LLC. Instead, Fleming made checks out to “Forge” after Murdaugh opened up a Bank of America account under that name.
“Alex Murdaugh opened up a bank account at Bank of America under the name of Forge, got the check cashed and walked away with the money,” Bland said.
In court yesterday, Waters said that Alex Murdaugh opened the “Forge” account in 2015.
Before Bland filed a lawsuit, Satterfield’s sons hadn’t received a dime of the $2.8 million they were entitled to receive in their mother’s settement settlement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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