Murdaughs

Russell Laffitte’s Request for a New Trial Denied

Case heads to appeals court …

Russell Laffitte
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A motion for a new trial – and for a judgment of acquittal – filed months ago on behalf of convicted fraudster Russell Laffitte has been denied by the judge who heard the case.

Laffitte, 51, of Hampton, S.C. was the former chief executive officer of Palmetto State Bank (PSB). On November 22, 2022, he was found guilty of bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and misapplying bank funds related to his role in the financial scams of disbarred lawyer/ convicted killer Alex Murdaugh. Specifically, a jury determined that Laffitte profited by helping Murdaugh rip off his clients – and then helped him cover his tracks with loans that never should have been issued and payouts that never should have been made.

The new trial/ acquittal motion filed by Laffitte’s former attorneys – Bart Daniel and Matt Austin – was based on some questionable eleventh hour jury reshuffling by U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel. According to the initial filing (.pdf), two jurors were “improperly dismissed” by Gergel.

Moments before being replaced, one of these jurors submitted a note to Gergel indicating they were “feeling pressured to change (their) vote.” Gergel also denied a motion filed moving for an evidentiary hearing on the issues raised in his motion for a new trial.

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In January, Austin and Daniel were replaced by Mark Moore and Michael Parente of the Nexsen Pruet law firm. As noted in our initial report on this change of legal representation, sources familiar with the case told us Moore and Parente were brought on because Laffitte’s request for a new trial represented a direct challenge of Gergel’s judgment in the jury matter – and it made sense to have a lawyer who wasn’t directly involved in those proceedings take the lead.

Moore, incidentally, is one of the attorneys of record in a Murdaugh-related civil case – working on behalf of Savannah, Georgia convenience store czar Greg Parker.

This news outlet addressed the jury drama extensively in our recap of the Laffitte verdicts. Days after the trial, a transcript (.pdf) was released documenting the jurors’ removal – or at least the discussion of it that took place in open court.

Laffitte’s motion to dismiss was based on various grounds including Gergel’s decision to replace the jurors rather than declare a mistrial – or to have jurors come back and continue deliberations the following day. The motion stated his decision “constituted error, and deprived (Laffitte) of one of his most cherished rights: the right to be judged by a fair, unanimous, and impartial jury.”

“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.

In their post-trial motion, Laffitte's legal team further claimed Gergel allowed prosecutors to “distort the factual distinction” between Arthur Badger and the estate of his late wife, Donna Badger, and by “prohibiting Laffitte from arguing against the government’s mistake of law and fact.” They argued for a new trial stating that the language of the indictment created a risk that the jury would believe Laffitte had breached a fiduciary duty to Arthur Badger when he had no fiduciary relationship with him.

"The court finds that the language of the Indictment adequately explained that any reference to the 'Estate of Donna Badger' included any settlement proceeds from the separate settlement of Arthur Badger," Gergel wrote in his response.

During the course of the trial, testimony from PSB board member Becky Laffitte revealed a sale of the bank was being considered. The defense argued this possible sale could incentivize adverse testimony of PSB board members against Laffitte - and accused the court of having "shut down the entire line of questioning.”

In his response, Gergel stated the defense failed to raise any possible relevance of a 2020 board retreat discussion until the cross-examination of Becky Laffitte - one of the final witnesses for the government. He added that he actually allowed the defense to continue this line of questioning.

With Laffitte's motion for a new trial and judgement of acquittal denied, his legal team will likely seek an appeal at the appellate court level. In addition to the federal convictions – which could land him behind bars for up to thirty years – Laffitte is also facing more than twenty state charges related to the Murdaugh saga.

As I have consistently noted, the jury drama marred what was an absolute tour de force from the prosecutorial team representing the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs. Led by assistant U.S. attorneys Emily Limehouse and Winston Holliday, federal prosecutors methodically and meticulously made a compelling case against Laffitte on each of the six charges filed against him – introducing damning documents and eliciting incriminating testimony not only from government witnesses, but also many of the witnesses called to the stand on Laffitte’s behalf.

In other words, even if an appeals court vacates his conviction and grants Laffitte a new trial, the odds of him being found 'not guilty' are long ...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews' incomparable research director. She's also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she's married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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