by MANDY MATNEY and LIZ FARRELL ||
In a decision that appeared to shock both Alex Murdaugh and his attorneys Monday morning, the presiding judge of the state Grand Jury set bond for Murdaugh at $7 million on four dozen charges that he stole and laundered money from his law firm, as well as clients that include a longtime family friend, a law enforcement officer who was injured in the line of duty and the family of the woman who helped raise his children.
The bond, which included several conditions such as house arrest and electronic monitoring, would have to be paid in full before Murdaugh could be released from jail on those charges.
Murdaugh, however, is currently being held without bond at Richland County Detention Center on two larceny charges related to the theft of settlement money from his former housekeeper’s family. His attorneys have filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court to release Murdaugh, but the court has yet to rule on the request.
Judge Alison Lee did not address Murdaugh’s current no-bond situation Monday.
The hearing, which was held virtually, included:
- A rebuke from Lee to participants who were apparently attempting to live-stream the hearing despite her ban on photography and recording devices. She instructed media and other participants on the call to “take notes the old-fashioned way.”
- Unyielding arguments from the state Attorney General’s office that Murdaugh presented a danger to the community and continued to be a flight risk.
- A long apology-free statement from Murdaugh in which he told the judge he’s been exercising and “feels better than I have in a long time.”
- An announcement from Murdaugh’s attorneys that, in a significant reversal from their previous actions, Murdaugh was offering a confession of judgment for $4.3 million in the Satterfield case.
- The revelation that Murdaugh’s victims were worried about retaliation and that one victim had reportedly been called a “snitch” by someone in Murdaugh’s corner.
Prior to announcing her decision, Lee spoke about her hesitation in setting a bond for Murdaugh.
“I’m a little reluctant but I’m obligated by state law and the constitution,” she said.
Judge Lee ordered the following conditions for Murdaugh:
- house arrest with the location being provided to the court.
- mental health and substance abuse counseling
- no contact with any victims
- passport stays surrendered
- $7 million paid in full
- GPS monitoring
- random drug testing
“I’m concerned about his contacts within the community, in those individuals who may want to support assisting him financially outside of the receivership,” Lee said.
‘Things were moving really quickly and negatively’
For the first time during one of his bond hearings, Alex Murdaugh, 53, addressed the court on Monday morning.
Murdaugh, who closed his eyes and hung his head for a lot of the hearing, argued that he is not a danger to himself or the community.
On September 4 — the day of the alleged “suicide-for-hire” scheme — Murdaugh said he was in a bad space mentally.
“Things were moving really quickly and really negatively,” he said. “My world was caving in as much as it had three months prior to that particular day.”
Three months before the alleged shooting, Murdaugh said he found his wife Maggie and son Paul murdered on their 1,700-acre property in Colleton County, South Carolina.
Murdaugh is a person of interest in the double homicides, according to his attorney Jim Griffin.
No arrests have been made in that case yet.
On Monday morning, Murdaugh said that on the day before the Labor Day “shooting,” he had met with his brother and another law partner at his now-former law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick, to discuss his “actions.” Murdaugh didn’t specify what those actions were. However, PMPED partners have said the firm had just found out that Alex was stealing from them and Alex had admitted to the fraud.
In a speech that was more self-pitying than contrite, Murdaugh said he had been going through opiate withdrawals on September 4.
“I was in a very bad place …,” he said. “I made a terrible decision that I regret now and I’m sorry about and frankly embarrassed about. I’m not in that place now.”
Murdaugh, continuing to portray himself as an addict, said he was now 98 days opioid-free and has completed 38 days of rehab treatment. He said this is the longest stretch he’s gone without opioids in 20 years and that he’s been exercising behind bars.
“I feel good, I feel better than I have in a long time,” he said. “I’ve been humbled and surprised by the outpouring of love and support that I have received. I want to be there for my son. I want to deal with everything that I have to deal with, which is a lot. I want to repair as much of the damage that I’ve done as I can. I want to repair as many of the relationships as I can.”
While addressing the court, Murdaugh made sure to absolve his two friends Cory Fleming and Chris Wilson from any wrongdoing. Fleming was the Satterfield family’s attorney while Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole millions of dollars from Satterfield’s wrongful death settlement. Wilson was mentioned in one of the November indictments.
Murdaugh said Wilson and Fleming are “two of his oldest and dearest friends” who “didn’t know anything and didn’t do anything wrong.”
Murdaugh also told the court that he continued to be in contact with his son Paul’s friends.
At no point in the speech did Murdaugh take responsibility for the crimes at issue.
The suspended attorney who stands accused of stealing from multiple clients said he cared about his clients “dearly.”
Shock from Harpootlian
Immediately after Lee announced her decision Monday morning, Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian asked the judge to reconsider.
”Your honor, the attorney general did not request $7 million,” he told her, seemingly aghast.
Harpootlian referred to the prosecution’s argument that Murdaugh has stolen and likely hidden substantial amounts of money as “spurious” and told the court that his client has no money, let alone $7 million.
”Could he tell us where those assets are?” Harpootlian said of prosecutor Creighton Waters of the state Attorney General’s office. “Because we might could use them to post bond. … These spurious allegations by the attorney general that (Murdaugh) stole a bunch of money, we don’t know where that money is. I can tell you where it’s not, it’s not in his bank accounts.”
In a bold request prior to Lee’s decision, Harpootlian had asked the judge to set bond “low enough to where he can make it.”
Several times during the hearing, Harpootlian told the court that Murdaugh was “entitled” to bond per the state constitution and state law.
In fact, Harpootlian and his co-counsel, Jim Griffin, advocated for the judge to set a personal recognizance bond and said that Murdaugh still needed treatment for his “20-year opiate addition.”
One of their main arguments for his release was that Murdaugh was no longer a danger to the community because his license to practice law has been suspended and therefore he does not have access to clients from whom he can steal.
Harpootlian and Griffin also used to their advantage the fact that Murdaugh’s assets have been frozen and are being analyzed by a court-appointed receiver in a separate civil case involving the 2019 death of Hampton County teen Mallory Beach.
”So he has nothing to hide anymore,” Griffin said.
Despite Murdaugh being granted time to address the court, it was Harpootlian who offered an apology on Murdaugh’s behalf to the Satterfield family and said that Murdaugh had agreed to a $4.3 million confession of judgment in their civil case against him.
Alex Murdaugh is ‘particularly unhinged’
Creighton Waters with the South Carolina Attorney General’s office told the court that he was not arguing for no bond, but did think that the conditions for Murdaugh’s release should be significant.
Twice he reminded the court that Murdaugh’s crimes carried a total potential sentence of 508 years and $3.5 million in fines.
Waters recommended that the judge set bond at $100,000 for each felony count the state Grand Jury had handed down, putting the total of the prosecution’s request at $4.7 million.
Calling Murdaugh “particularly unhinged,” he told the court that Murdaugh was the definition of a flight risk and a danger to the community.
He pointed out that Murdaugh had targeted those in the community who were the “most trusting” of him and therefore the “most vulnerable” to his schemes.
Waters noted that Murdaugh was at the height of power and prestige at the time of his unraveling. He said that Murdaugh had the ability “to marshal significant personal and family assets.”
He also told the court that victims were worried about retaliation from Murdaugh supporters and that one victim had been called a “snitch.”
While Waters briefed Lee on the details of Murdaugh’s indictments during the hearing, Murdaugh hung his head.
After telling the court that Murdaugh stole money from his law firm, Waters commented that it was “indicative of the cavalier attitude” that Murdaugh takes when it comes to his crimes.
Lee stopped Waters and told him to stick to the information in the indictments and that he would be given an opportunity to make his arguments later.
Murdaugh was first arrested in September on three charges related to a Labor Day shooting incident related to alleged insurance fraud. He was released after a Hampton County magistrate judge set his bond at $20,000.
He was again arrested Oct. 14 and is being held without bond at the Richland County Detention Center on two larceny charges related to the Satterfield case, in which he is accused of stealing $3.6 million from the family of the woman who helped raise his kids.
As of Monday, Murdaugh faces a total of 53 charges in crimes that include stealing from his former law firm, clients — including at least one longtime family friend and a law enforcement officer who was injured in the line of duty — and a colleague.
“This guy is taking advantage of people he’s known since they were in diapers,” a source close to the investigations into Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes told FITSNews.com on Thursday shortly after the latest indictments were handed down.
The state Grand Jury indicted Murdaugh on 27 charges in November and another 21 charges on Dec. 9.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s office has charged Murdaugh with the following:
- 15 counts of computer crimes
- 13 counts of breach of trust with fraudulent Intent
- 11 counts of money laundering
- 7 counts of obtaining signature or property by false pretenses
- 2 counts of forgery
Late Thursday, The Island Packet reported that Murdaugh’s attorney Jim Griffin did not know about the charges until they were announced by the Attorney General’s Office.
The new charges come just three weeks after Murdaugh was indicted by the state Grand Jury on 27 charges for allegedly stealing nearly $5 million from his now-former law firm and his clients, including a law enforcement officer who was injured in the line of duty and the heirs of the woman who helped raise Murdaugh’s children.
As of Thursday, Murdaugh is accused of stealing more than $6.2 million in alleged schemes dating back to 2016.
Confession of Judgment
During the hearing, Harpootlian announced that Alex Murdaugh has confessed judgment of $4.3 million in the Gloria Satterfield case — which is essentially agreeing to the amount owed.
In early November, a South Carolina judge ordered for a receiver to manage all of Murdaugh’s funds.
Harpootlian said that the receivers would have to approve the confessed judgment before its official.
The confession of judgment comes after several moves by Harpootlian and Griffin to get Murdaugh out of having to pay the Satterfields, or admit to any wrongdoing in the case.
On November 17, Harpootlian and Griffin filed a shocking motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirators have already paid the Satterfield family.
The two defense attorneys are apparently changing their strategy.
Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter — who uncovered a shocking paper trail showing how Murdaugh allegedly stole over $3 million from Satterfield’s grieving family in her death settlement — have recovered more than $7 million for the Satterfield family since they filed their lawsuit in September.
Harpootlian read a statement from Murdaugh in which he attempted to apologize to Gloria Satterfield’s family.
“…To the entire Satterfield and Harriott families for his financial transgressions committed in connections with a wrongful death settlement funds recovered in connection with the death of Gloria Satterfield and the pain that it’s caused.”
Harpootlian argued that 10 of the 12 victims have already been compensated for the money that Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole.
In a statement, Bland and Richter said that the Satterfield family “is pleased that Mr. Murdaugh has finally expressed his apologies and has taken a positive step toward resolution by agreeing to confess judgment to Gloria’s sons.”
“As devout Christians, the Satterfield family is guided by their belief that in order for them to be forgiven by their heavenly Father, they in turn must forgive others who have sinned against them,” the statement said.
“But forgiveness, like faith, is not always easy and the family prays for God’s grace to unburden their hearts of the weight created by Alex Murdaugh. As for earthly justice, the family remains committed to the criminal process, but will leave and entrust Mr. Murdaugh’s fate to the State of South Carolina, to this Honorable Court and to a future jury who will pass judgment on his crimes.”
Growing Legal Problems for Murdaugh
In addition to his litany of criminal charges, Murdaugh, 53, is also a defendant in seven active civil complaints — three of which are related to a 2019 fatal boat crash involving his son Paul, who was murdered alongside his mother this past June.
Murdaugh was named a person of interest in the murders, according to his own attorney Jim Griffin. There have been no arrests made thus far.
He is being sued in two separate actions by his brother and a former law partner for a combined total of more than $500,000 in unpaid debts. He has signed two “confessions of judgment” in those cases, which ostensibly prioritizes those debts over others.
He is also being sued by the family of Gloria Satterfield, from whom he is alleged to have stolen $3.6 million, and by his former law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick, who say he “converted” client and firm money into personal use.
A federal lawsuit filed by his insurance company in 2019 was dismissed in September.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is currently investigating several cases potentially connected to Murdaugh, including:
- the double homicide
- allegations of obstructing justice in the boat crash investigation
- financial irregularities reported by his now-former law firm
- the 2018 suspicious death of the Murdaugh’s domestic employee, Gloria Satterfield
- the 2015 suspicious death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old Hampton man and former classmate of Murdaugh’s older son, Buster
- allegations of scheming to steal and launder settlement money from an unknown number of clients
The South Carolina Supreme Cory suspended Alex Murdaugh’s license to practice law in September.
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Questions About Judicial Assignment
A bond hearing for Murdaugh — on the 27 charges he received the week of Nov. 15 — was originally scheduled to be held Dec. 10, however, late Thursday evening the decision was made to postpone it, according to sources close to the investigation.
Lee presided over Monday’s hearing because of a move by the S.C. Supreme Court that some saw as a concerning contradiction to an earlier judicial assignment.
Judge Clifton Newman was hand-picked by the court in September to handle criminal matters related to Murdaugh. The assignment was made in good faith as a way to address any public worry that the Murdaugh family’s influence could result in conflicts of interest or even favoritism in the courtroom.
After Newman denied Murdaugh bond in October, Murdaugh’s attorneys moved to override the judge’s decision and filed a writ of habeas corpus with the state Supreme Court. The court has not yet ruled on that request.
Then in early December, the S.C. Supreme court issued an order stating that Lee, the current responding judge of the state Grand Jury, will handle initial bail matters for Alex Murdaugh on charges that were brought by the state Grand Jury.
Lee has been criticized by this news outlet multiple times for giving bond to violent offenders in the past.
In fact, she was blocked from becoming a federal judge because of her penchant for excessive judicial leniency.
Lee also was denied a seat on the S.C. appeals court because lawmakers were concerned about her doling out bond to violent criminals.
On Dec. 9, our founding editor Will Folks wrote about the reactions some in the legal community have had to Lee’s assignment:
“The specific wording of the order (above) is troubling as it authorizes Lee to set bail and hear “any motions to adjust the amount or conditions of bail for defendants” indicted by the statewide grand jury.
“‘Defendants’ being the operative word …
“Some attorneys have speculated Harpootlian and Griffin will argue Lee is empowered to address Newman’s denial of bond because Murdaugh is a defendant under indictment by the statewide grand jury – even though the charges on which he is currently detained were filed in the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit.”
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 tips to email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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