To say the United States government has ass-backed its way into the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga is putting it charitably. The feds have screwed this particular pooch six ways from Sunday … and the ongoing infighting between their South Carolina offices over this high-profile investigation is only compounding their problems.
And justice’s problems …
Also, the feds appear to be adopting their typical “our way or the highway” approach when it comes to working with state and local law enforcement … to the extent they are even keeping their “law enforcement partners” aware of their actions.
All of this is most unfortunate … and does not serve the herculean task at hand.
This saga – which revolves around a disgraced attorney, his powerful South Carolina family and the influential law firm it founded – has captivated American audiences. Just this past weekend, Dateline NBC and 48 Hours aired new segments on the drama – which has engrossed readers due to the prominence of the protagonists as well as the multiple unsolved deaths which appear to be tied to them.
Oh and there are millions of dollars missing … perhaps tied to some seriously sinister shadiness.
Add it all up and the story has been made-for-Hollywood from the get-go …
Unfortunately, the office of acting U.S attorney Rhett DeHart has not handled its entry into the case well at all. Aside from the full-scale turf war underway between the regional offices of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) over who is to handle various Murdaugh-related matters, there are some serious integrity issues at play.
Specifically, DeHart’s foray into this case appears to have originated with backdoor negotiations by attorneys for 53-year-old Alex Murdaugh – the man at the center of this category five scheissesturm. As I noted several weeks ago, the goal of these ongoing 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.”
In other words, Murdaugh’s powerful attorney – Democratic state senator Dick Harpootlian – wants to get his client into a minimum security federal correctional facility as soon as possible in the hopes of keeping him out of the far-less-friendly confines of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC).
Also, I am told by sources familiar with the status of this investigation that Harpootlian isn’t the only defense attorney rushing to strike a deal with the feds …
Does Harpootlian have leverage here? Absolutely – and plenty of it. He was a key figure in U.S. president Joe Biden’s pivotal “First in the South” Democratic presidential primary win in 2020, and his wife recently received an ambassadorship to Slovenia from Biden as a token of the president’s appreciation.
Many believe it is Harpootlian’s influence which has officials at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pushing DeHart to get involved in the case.
Should he be involved, though?
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DeHart was explicitly warned by S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson 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 which is being investigated by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
SLED is in charge of at least seven active criminal inquiries involving Murdaugh, his family or the influential Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) firm it founded. Meanwhile, a growing maze of civil cases have sprung up around the criminal investigations.
Last week, my news outlet reported on a potential conflict of interest involving Carra Henderson – a special U.S. attorney who handles drug cases for the feds in partnership with the S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor’s office. Her father, Danny Henderson, is a workers compensation lawyer at PMPED who opened the firm’s Ridgeland, S.C. satellite office back in 1980.
Henderson’s direct boss in the fourteenth circuit is solicitor Duffie Stone – who 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 at the time. “(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.”
This week, my news outlet has uncovered another potential conflict of interest involving one of Alex Murdaugh’s former attorneys who is now employed by DeHart’s office in Charleston, S.C.
Until March of this year, assistant U.S. attorney Amy Bower worked for the law offices of Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd – which has been representing Murdaugh in a high-profile wrongful death suit filed by the family of Mallory Beach.
In fact, Bower was one of Murdaugh’s attorneys on the case.
Beach, 19, of Hampton, S.C., was killed shortly after 2:00 a.m. EST on February 24, 2019. On that fateful morning, a 17-foot, center console fishing boat owned by Alex Murdaugh and allegedly driven by his late son, Paul Murdaugh, slammed into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge at a high rate of speed.
Murdaugh was “drunker than Cooter Brown” at the time of the crash, to quote his late grandfather – former S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III (one of three Murdaughs to hold this post between 1920-2006).
Paul Murdaugh was criminally charged with three counts of boating under the influence in the wake of the incident, but he never stood trial because he and his mother, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, were savagely murdered on the family’s hunting property on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties five months ago.
Alex Murdaugh remains a “person of interest” in connection with that inquiry, incidentally. He and other members of his family also reportedly remain at the heart of an ongoing statewide grand jury investigation into alleged obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the boat crash.
While I have consistently maintained that neither Henderson nor Bower have committed – or even been accused – of any sort of unethical behavior, I have long maintained that the stakes of this inquiry are far too high to have potential conflicts of interest go unaddressed. And frankly, the fact that one of Murdaugh’s former lawyers and the daughter of one of his former law partners currently work for an office which is investigating him strike me as credible conflicts.
Accordingly, I reached out to the U.S. attorney to get his thoughts on the situation.
“While the U.S. attorney’s office does not comment on, or confirm or deny, pending investigations, it is the responsibility and duty of this office to work with our federal agency partners to investigate any allegation of federal crimes,” DeHart said in a statement provided to this news outlet. “Further, it is the responsibility of this office to ensure there are no conflicts of interest in any pending investigations. When such conflicts are apparent, the office implements appropriate screening measures consistent with official guidance from the office of the general counsel at the executive office of U.S. attorneys.”
Stay tuned … and count on this news outlet to continue holding everyone 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 classic “Block C” University of South Carolina lid pictured above).
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