For awhile now, there has been a prevailing- and not inaccurate – sentiment that federal law enforcement and prosecutorial resources should be brought to bear on the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga. While I maintain state investigators and prosecutors are doing an excellent job on this sprawling set of cases – which revolve around a disgraced attorney, his powerful South Carolina family and the influential law firm it founded – some feel the Palmetto State (and its judicial branch in particular) is simply far too corrupt to even-handedly dispense justice.
Meanwhile, those who trust the state to handle this case by the book have questioned whether its law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies have sufficient bandwidth to follow all of its emerging rabbit holes.
Again, I continue to believe the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is living up to the words of its chief, Mark Keel – who has repeatedly vowed to pursue justice in this case “no matter where the facts lead us.” Similarly, I continue to trust the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson when it comes to handling any charges raised during the pursuit of this inquiry – which Wilson’s office did in the aftermath of a fatal 2019 boat crash that thrust the Murdaugh family into the statewide limelight nearly three years ago.
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(Via: Will Folks/ FITSNews)
Senior deputy attorney general Megan Burchstead (above) showed no fear or favor in her handling of that case, and she and her colleagues in Wilson’s office – including senior deputy attorney general Creighton Waters – are said to be similarly dialed in this go-round.
Also, those concerned about judicial interference on behalf of the Murdaughs (here and here) received some reassurance last week when S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman weighed in boldly during a bond hearing for 53-year-old Alex Murdaugh – the man at the center of this still-unspooling made-for-Hollywood scheissesturm.
Newman’s denial of bond for Murdaugh on a pair of theft charges represented a clear shot across the bow of the defendant’s powerful legal team – sending a message that I believe needs to be repeated often over the coming months.
Certainly, there have been some credible criticisms of the way the state has conducted this process … and the proof of its investigative, prosecutorial and judicial integrity must continue to manifest itself in the proverbial pudding. But as of this writing, I have seen nothing to suggest federal involvement in this case is warranted due to any malfeasance or incompetence on the part of any state actors.
Is it warranted? Yes. But it’s a bandwidth thing … not because of anything the state has done wrong. And federal involvement must not compromise the integrity of the current investigations.
Sadly, the entrance of the feds into this case – which I have consistently supported – has been steeped in scandal owing to a nefarious bid by Murdaugh defense attorney Dick Harpootlian to negotiate a backdoor plea agreement for his client.
“The goal of these ongoing plea negotiations was to strike a preemptive deal with the federal government that could conceivably mitigate some of the state charges Murdaugh is facing – as well as additional charges he is likely to face in the future,” I noted earlier this month.
Yeah … that is hardly the sort of “federal involvement” sought by those eager to see justice done for the many victims of this saga.
“This case is far too important for political games – or for law enforcement/ prosecutorial turf wars,” I concluded in my recent post. “Too many people are dead. And too many people have been ripped off or denied justice by a corrupt regional oligarchy. Yes, the feds need to be involved in helping right those wrongs – to the extent that is possible here – but strong-arming their way into this inquiry based on political pressure from above is not serving the cause of justice.”
Anyway … as the feds prepare to announce their involvement in this case on a much higher energy level, the cloud surrounding their grand entrance is becoming darker and more ominous by the day.
According to multiple sources familiar with the status of this ongoing investigation, a full-scale turf war has erupted between the regional offices of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in the state of South Carolina over who is to handle various Murdaugh-related matters.
Specifically, the current Murdaugh team – based out of the Charleston, S.C. USAO office – is facing criticism from fellow federal agents and prosecutors based in Columbia and Greenville. The rub? Alleged conflicts of interest within the Charleston office – which is headed up by acting U.S attorney Rhett DeHart.
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What sort of conflicts? Well, it turns out plenty of federal agents and prosecutors are miffed over the way DeHart has jumped into this case despite being warned by the attorney general that his involvement could potentially jeopardize one of the ongoing state investigations – namely the double homicide inquiry into the death of Alex Murdaugh’s wife and youngest son.
That inquiry is arguably the highest profile of the six SLED investigations involving the Murdaugh family.
Wilson is said to have personally informed DeHart that federal intervention in this investigation would be counterproductive – only to be informed by the federal prosecutor that he was jumping into the case regardless due to the pressure he is receiving from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C.
Why is Washington pressuring an acting U.S. attorney to dig his heels in? I can’t say with certainty, but I am sure the fact Harpootlian was a key figure in U.S. president Joe Biden’s pivotal “First in the South” Democratic presidential primary win back in 2020 has nothing to do with it (editor’s note: sarcasm alert).
Whatever motivated DeHart’s decision, its impact was immediately felt in prosecutorial circles across the Palmetto State – and not in a good way.
“We were enjoying excellent relations with the attorney general’s office,” one federal prosecutor following the drama told me. “This is going to torpedo that.”
Not only that, it is going to cast doubt over every move the feds make in connection with this case.
Aside from the pressure allegedly being applied by Harpootlian, DeHart’s office is facing criticism over the fact that one of its employees – a liaison to the scandal-scarred S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit – is the daughter of a current partner at the prestigious Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) firm.
PMPED and its partners are currently facing scrutiny in connection with an ongoing SLED investigation into allegations that Alex Murdaugh stole more than $10 million from the firm.
Carra Henderson is a special U.S. attorney who handles drug cases for the feds in the fourteenth circuit. Her father, Danny Henderson, is a workers compensation lawyer at PMPED who opened the firm’s Ridgeland, S.C. satellite office back in 1980.
Hold up … drug cases you say? Hmmmmm …
Also, Carra Henderson’s direct boss – S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone – has already recused himself from this case due to his close proximity to the Murdaugh family. In fact, until recently Alex Murdaugh was still carrying a badge as one of Stone’s deputy solicitors.
“How can that office investigate PMPED’s involvement when a partner’s daughter works there?” one Lowcountry lawyer wondered. “(The case) needs to be handled by Columbia or Greenville. I’ve heard (federal prosecutors) in the other offices are not happy the investigation could be compromised by Charleston handling it.”
That is true … although DeHart’s Meeting Street headquarters is apparently chalking such concerns up to “prosecutorial jealousy.”
To be clear: I am not suggesting either Carra Henderson or her father have done anything wrong. I am simply saying the stakes of this inquiry are far too high to have such a clear conflict of interest go unaddressed (especially seeing as the fourteenth circuit has already acknowledged its conflict in all things Murdaugh).
Bottom line? The feds are about to jump into this case in a big way … just not artfully.
That’s too bad … because once again, I believe this case calls for federal involvement.
“Based on some of the rabbit holes I have already uncovered, there is a clear nexus for the FBI to enter this case – and its resources would no doubt provide essential support to SLED agents currently striving to identify and apprehend all of those responsible for the maze of criminal conduct currently being uprooted,” I noted earlier this month. “Having said that, federal involvement must adhere to two critical conditions: First, it must not compromise the integrity of any of the ongoing state probes, and second, it must not be tied to some backdoor political deal aimed at mitigating consequences for a high-profile, well-connected defendant.”
So far, the feds are whiffing on all fronts … and now they are busy fighting amongst themselves over who is going to handle the ill-conceived prosecutorial invasion.
Stay tuned … and count on my news outlet to continue holding everyone involved in this saga accountable for their actions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, in addition to having lots of kids he has LOTS of hats (including that Chicago Blackhawks’ lid pictured above).
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