Attorneys for convicted fraudster Russell Laffitte– the disgraced banker involved in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – filed motions in United States district court this week related to sworn statements they say shed light on their request for a new trial.
Laffitte was found guilty last month of bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and misapplying bank funds related to his role in the alleged financial scams of disbarred lawyer/ accused killer Alex Murdaugh. In addition to the federal convictions – which could land him behind bars for up to thirty years – there are still more than twenty Murdaugh-related state charges also pending against Laffitte.
Laffitte’s attorneys – Bart Daniel and Matt Austin – submitted a motion last month to have those guilty verdicts tossed due to some questionable eleventh hour jury reshuffling by U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel.
“Following nearly ten hours of deliberations, two jurors were improperly dismissed and replaced with alternates, only to have a newly constituted jury return a guilty verdict forty minutes later,” their request for a new trial (.pdf) noted. “One of those jurors requested removal based on her dissenting status, and the error in her removal constitutes a miscarriage of justice.”
On Tuesday evening, Daniel and Austin filed a new motion on Laffitte’s behalf asking Gergel to “seal two juror affidavits in this case.”
“Two of the jurors were dismissed by the court and replaced with alternates after deliberations began,” Daniel and Austin noted. “Those two jurors have prepared affidavits for the court’s review and as supplements to (Laffitte)’s motion for a new trial. The purpose of the (Laffitte)’s request to seal is to protect the personal information contained within these documents and to avoid public disclosure of the jurors’ names.”
Disclosing the names of the two jurors would “cause irreparable harm in exposing these two individuals to harassment and scrutiny,” according to Daniel and Austin’s motion. Not only that, the two attorneys argued the contents of the affidavits “raise safety concerns in relation to other jurors on the panel.”
Sources familiar with the two affidavits told this news outlet the jurors described in detail the “chaos” which overtook deliberations in this case just before the Thanksgiving holiday – including allegations of bullying on the part of certain members of the jury against the two most vocal holdouts.
The sworn statements are expected to be a critical component of Laffitte’s bid to get a new trial – although based on the evidence and testimony introduced during the initial proceedings, his lawyers are still fighting an uphill battle even if they prevail in their bid for a “do-over.”
This news outlet addressed the jury drama extensively in our recap of the Laffitte verdicts. Days after the trial, the court issued a transcript (.pdf) from that chaotic evening detailing how Gergel and prosecutors in the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs mounted a successful push to replace these jurors based on, among other reasons, a strong desire to conclude the deliberations prior to the pending Thanksgiving holiday.
Moments before being replaced, one of the jurors submitted a note to Gergel indicating they were “feeling pressured to change (their) vote.” The same juror also indicated they were on a time crunch – needing to take an antibiotic medication within two hours.
Gergel refused to allow jurors to take a break and return to deliberate the following day. He also refused to make arrangements for the juror in need of medication.
“It is not practical to get (their) medicine and drive back,” the judge said. “My instinct is that we have alternates and we should get to a verdict.”
According to Laffitte’s attorneys, Gergel’s decision to replace these two jurors rather than declare a mistrial – or allow jurors to come back the following day – “constituted error, and deprived (Laffitte) of one of his most cherished rights: the right to be judged by a fair, unanimous, and impartial jury.”
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“The court should have tried to preserve the empaneled jury and declare a mistrial when it realized a juror’s request for dismissal stemmed from animosity and pressure being brought to bear on her views on the case,” they wrote.
The affidavits submitted this week purportedly detail this “pressure” – outlining how jurors who were originally disinclined to convict Laffitte were allegedly browbeaten into submission.
As I noted in our prior coverage, the jury drama marred what “was an absolute tour de force” by federal prosecutors. Led by Emily Limehouse and Winston Holliday, the government’s attorneys “methodically, meticulously made a compelling case against Laffitte on each of the six charges filed against him.”
Limehouse and Holliday introduced damning documents and elicited incriminating testimony not only from government witnesses, but also from many of the witnesses called to the stand on Laffitte’s behalf.
In other words, if Laffitte succeeds in securing a new trial there is absolutely no guarantee it will go any better for him than the first one.
Federal prosecutors have yet to respond to Laffitte’s request for a new trial. In the event they do, count on this news outlet to update our readers with those motions – as well as a timeframe for any hearings scheduled by Gergel.
THE FILING …Juror-Affidavits-Laffitte
(Via: U.S. District Court)
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.
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I thought jurors had the right to their personal opinions. The picking process was over. Inability to come to one decision, that’s a hung jury. Replacing two jurors! That’s ridiculous especially someone who is telling the judge they felt bullied. Doesn’t sound fair or impartial to me.