Attorneys for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh filed a motion in Hampton County, South Carolina this week requesting the transfer of $160,000 to subsidize the appeal of his recent murder convictions.
Attorneys Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin and Maggie Fox – all of whom represented Murdaugh in his double homicide trial in Colleton County – want to access the money from an escrow account set up to protect Murdaugh’s finances so that victims of his financial crimes can be compensated.
The attorneys are seeking money from the account to appeal his recent convictions and the sentences imposed against him instead.
Their motion specifically cited Murdaugh’s Sixth Amendment right to hire the counsel of his choice from untainted funds. It was filed in connection with an ongoing wrongful death case filed in Hampton County on behalf of the family of Mallory Beach.
(Via: S.C. Fourteenth Judicial Circuit)
Readers will recall Beach’s family sued a host of defendants – including Murdaugh – in the aftermath of a tragic boat crash that claimed her life on February 24, 2019. Brought by Allendale, S.C. attorney Mark Tinsley, the lawsuit is viewed by many as the impetus for the collapse of the once-powerful “House of Murdaugh” – a family which ran the Palmetto Lowcounty like a fiefdom for nearly a century.
The lawsuit connects to the Murdaughs most directly via the late Paul Murdaugh – who was allegedly at the helm of the 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat when it slammed into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. on that fateful early winter morning. Seconds before the boat crashed, GPS data obtained by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) indicated the vessel was traveling at a speed of approximately 29 miles per hour (or approximately 25 knots).
Beach was flung into the cold, dark waters upon the boat’s impact with the bridge piling. Her body was discovered a week later by fishermen.
Given its significance to all the developments which followed, the boat crash is the centerpiece of the hit Netflix documentary, ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’
The boat allegedly driven by Paul Murdaugh at the time of the crash belonged to Alex Murdaugh – the disbarred 54-year-old attorney who was found guilty of savagely slaying both Paul and his mother (Alex's wife), 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, on the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties on June 7, 2021.
S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences for those murders - and he began his new existence as S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) inmate No. 00390394 on March 3, 2023.
The receivership over Murdaugh's assets was ordered by S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall on November 2, 2021 after a series of shady legal maneuvers in which Murdaugh confessed judgment in lawsuits filed against him by his brother, Randolph Murdaugh IV, and his former law partner, John E. Parker – basically attempting to bypass other creditors as well as victims of his myriad alleged financial fleecings.
Hall's order put a stop to these maneuvers – imposing an asset-freezing injunction and appointing receivers to manage and recover funds to pay alleged victims currently suing Alex Murdaugh.
Hall entered a subsequent order last fall permitting Murdaugh to liquidate his 401(k) retirement account and route $600,000 of the funds for his defense in the murder trial. This agreement required the balance of funds from the retirement account -- $424,941.24 -- to be deposited with the Receivers on or about December 22, 2022.
(Click to view)
According to Harpootlian, Griffin and Fox, the funds received from Murdaugh’s retirement account for his defense "have been exhausted" and their defense of the convicted murderer cost them an additional $518,722.50 in out-of-pocket defense costs and trial counsel received attorneys’ fees in the amount of $81,277.50. They further asserted fees received by counsel were "grossly insufficient to cover the actual attorney’s fees incurred preparing for and defending Murdaugh during the six-week trial." The conservative estimate the team provided in the motion of the total attorneys’ fees incurred during the trial alone is $700,000 -- which they say does not include any compensation for legal services preparing the case for trial.
As mentioned, Murdaugh's defense team is requesting the court allow for an additional $160,000 from the escrow account held by the receivers to pay for fees and expenses to represent Murdaugh on appeal -- invoking his Sixth Amendment right to “a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice.” The motion alleged Murdaugh has "sufficient 'innocent' property to pay the undersigned (Harpootlian, Griffin and Fox), his counsel of choice, to represent him in the appeal of his convictions and sentences."
The attorneys claim the $424,941.24 from Murdaugh’s 401(k) retirement account deposited into the Receivers’ escrow account "are legitimate, untainted funds" and they further believe "there are additional funds that have been deposited into the Receivers’ escrow account that do not represent the proceeds from illegal activities."
Assuming Hall does not allow funds required to pay Murdaugh's legal team for his appeal, his attorneys suggested the burden for his appeal would shift to "overworked appellate public defenders."
"On behalf of my clients ... including the late HaKeem Pinckney, the late Blondell Gary, and others reliving their personal trauma that are still with us, I will be formally OBJECTING to Alex Murdaugh’s request," Bamberg said.
Regarding the claim made by Murdaugh's attorneys that the funds were "legitimate, untainted funds," Bamberg's response was unambiguous.
"I absolutely disagree," he wrote. "None of Alex’s money is 'untainted' in my opinion based on his admissions during his murder trial. I also don’t believe him not being allowed to take money that could go to his victims for himself instead violates his constitutional rights. To the contrary, Alex getting that money to fight an appeal only victimizes his victims once again."
Regarding Murdaugh's Sixth Amendment right to counsel, Bamberg said he "should NOT be entitled to deprive his financial victims of the limited amount of funds available — not a single penny, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, or anything else of value — so he can continue trying to get or keep himself out of prison."
Murdaugh's attorneys have submitted a notice of appeal, however they have yet to formally submit a document articulating the grounds. Count on this news outlet to keep our audience updated on the latest developments ...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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