Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh pleaded guilty in state court on Friday afternoon to nearly two dozen financial charges against him – admitting he laundered money, obtained money and property by false pretenses, broke his former clients’ trust, forged documents, committed computer crimes and evaded taxes.
Murdaugh also pleaded guilty to conspiracy related to some of the drug charges leveled against him.
All told, Murdaugh pleaded guilty to 22 charges – with sentences which could land him in prison for 257 years. However, his attorneys – Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – negotiated a sentence of 27 years on all of them. Murdaugh was initially facing more than 100 state charges which could have landed him in prison for several centuries.
Murdaugh’s guilty plea was heard by S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman, who has presided over all of the cases tied to the Palmetto State’s most notorious defendant.
Newman did not impose a sentence upon Murdaugh during Friday’s hearing. Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters, who laid out the details of the deal, requested sentencing be deferred until such a time as Murdaugh’s victims “could be present and speak to the court.”
Newman promptly set Murdaugh’s sentencing hearing for Tuesday, November 28, 2023 in Beaufort County, S.C.
Waters praised Murdaugh’s victims for showing “true courage” in standing up to Murdaugh – especially the ‘first victims” who came forward with their stories.
According to the prosecutor, the plea brought “finality to this chapter in the history of South Carolina’s judicial system.”
In addition to the agreed-upon sentence, Murdaugh acknowledged in the plea agreement that he owed restitution to his victims, but Waters said he would defer the question of how much he owed to the sentencing hearing.
Questioned by Newman, Murdaugh acknowledged his acceptance of the details of the plea.
“Yessir,” he said.
Newman also questioned Murdaugh as to whether he had had sufficient time to consider changing his plea.
“Yessir,” he responded. “Plenty of time.”
Newman then asked Murdaugh how he intended to plead …
“Guilty, your honor,” Murdaugh said.
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After Waters engaged in an abbreviated recapitulation of the charges against him, Newman asked Murdaugh whether he agreed with the prosecution’s narrative.
“I agree that I took all of that money and I committed those crimes,” Murdaugh said, although he quickly added, “I disagree with some of the narrative.”
Asked whether he believed he would be found guilty, Murdaugh responded “I am guilty, and I believe I would be found guilty.”
“I am happy to be pleading guilty to those charges,” Murdaugh said.
Murdaugh was previously convicted in March of brutally murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, at Moselle – the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.
A Colleton County jury took less than three hours to find him guilty of those crimes after a six-week, internationally televised trial in Walterboro, S.C.
During that trial, Murdaugh admitted to virtually all of the material facts tied to the financial crimes to which he pleaded guilty on Friday. Murdaugh’s admissions came as he took the stand in his own defense – a fateful decision which was reached after Newman ruled that evidence and testimony related to his financial crimes was admissible.
Murdaugh was sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison for those crimes by Newman. Murdaugh has since filed an appeal of those convictions – which is expected to focus on the admissibility issues – but that process is on hold pending the court’s consideration of a recently filed motion for a new trial based on jury tampering allegations involving Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill.
Judge Newman recused himself from hearing that motion earlier this week, according to an order issued by the S.C. supreme court. S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty must now appoint a new judge to handle motions in Murdaugh’s double homicide case.
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Murdaugh’s case has dominated headlines in South Carolina – and beyond – for the better part of two-and-a-half years.
Three generations of Murdaughs – including Alex’s late father, Randolph Murdaugh III – held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006. Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor – and past president of the influential S.C. trial lawyers lobby. The “House of Murdaugh” ran the Palmetto Lowcounty (including Beaufort) like a fiefdom for nearly a century – dispensing justice as it saw fit.
That fiefdom began to collapse in February 2019, however, when Murdaugh’s youngest son – the late Paul Murdaugh – allegedly crashed a boat belonging to his father into a piling near the Archer’s Creek Bridge outside of Parris Island, S.C. The crash killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. – and exposed the Murdaugh family to the white hot glare of the statewide limelight for the first time. It also led to the filing of a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit which threatened to expose more than a decade’s worth of Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds.
According to state prosecutors, this “gathering storm” is what led Murdaugh to brutally murder his wife and younger son.
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“Things were falling apart for him,” Waters said in court. “Things were really coming to a head.”
Murdaugh’s plea deal spared state prosecutors from having to deal with a host of potential jury issues in Beaufort County, part of the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit where the Murdaughs once ruled supreme. Early indicators from jury questionnaires revealed a sizable percentage of respondents had stated their inability to render impartial justice in the case.
That likely presaged a lengthy – and costly – jury selection process. One which would not necessarily have ended with a seated jury.
The plea deal also prompted Murdaugh’s attorneys to withdraw their motion asking Newman to recuse himself from handling the financial crimes trial based on prior statements made about the defendant.
“Today Alex Murdaugh pleaded guilty to his financial crimes,” attorney general Alan Wilson stated. “This is a win for the victims and for justice in South Carolina. We hope the families he betrayed and stole from feel a little peace that he is going to serve time for those crimes. It doesn’t matter your last name, your position, or your connections — no one is above the law in South Carolina.”
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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