Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh takes plea deal in financial fraud case

Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh has accepted a plea deal in his financial crimes case – admitting to swindling millions of dollars from desperate law firm clients in a scheme that came crashing down around him following the brutal murders of his wife and son.

The disgraced legal dynasty heir appeared in court in Beaufort County on Friday for what was supposed to be a hearing ahead of the start of his trial on a slew of state financial charges.

The hearing was delayed as prosecutors from the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office and Murdaugh’s defence attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin entered closed-door discussions in Judge Clifton Newman’s chambers.

Chief prosecutor Creighton Waters of the state Office of the Attorney General said the plea deal means Murdaugh will serve a “lengthy sentence” that “ensures Mr Murdgah will remain in state prison for a very long time.”

In total, Murdaugh was facing 101 state charges over his vast multi-million-dollar fraud scheme as well as over a bizarre botched hitman plot where he claims he asked Curtis Eddie Smith – his alleged accomplice, distant cousin and drug dealer – to shoot him in the head so that his surviving son could get a $10m life insurance windfall.

The convicted killer previously confessed to stealing millions from clients going back more than a decade during bombshell courtroom testimony at his murder trial – all the while continuing to profess his innocence in his wife Maggie and son Paul’s murders.

According to prosecutors, Murdaugh worked with co-conspirators and friends ex-attorney Cory Fleming and ex-Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte to swindle clients out of millions of dollars.

Alex Murdaugh in court on Friday 17 November (AP)
Alex Murdaugh in court on Friday 17 November (AP)

Among the victims was the family of Murdaugh’s dead housekeeper Gloria Satterfield – who died in a mystery trip and fall at the family estate in 2018.

Murdaugh allegedly stole more than $4m in a wrongful death suit payout from the family.

In September, Murdaugh pleaded guilty to 22 federal financial charges over the financial fraud scheme including wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.

He faced up to 30 years in federal prison on some of the charges which came under the agreement that the sentence would be served concurrently with any state conviction on the same charges.

His co-conspirators Fleming and Laffitte had already been convicted in federal court for their part in the convicted killer’s white-collar fraud scheme, with the former sentenced to four years and the latter to seven years.

Murdaugh’s state financial crimes trial was slated to begin on 27 November – though his legal team called for a delay as well as a change in venue due to the high-profile nature of the case.

Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaks with his defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, in Beaufort County (AP)
Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaks with his defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, in Beaufort County (AP)

The financial crimes plea deal marks just the latest twist in the saga of the Murdaugh dynasty as he remains embroiled in another legal battle demanding a new trial for the murders of his wife and son based on bombshell accusations of jury tampering.

In September, Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a motion accusing court clerk Becky Hill of breaking her oath by tampering with the jury and pressuring them into returning a guilty verdict against him.

They claim that she advised the panel not to be “fooled by” Murdaugh’s testimony on the stand or “misled” by the defence’s evidence, pushed them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and misrepresented “critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense”.

Ms Hill has denied the allegations.

In a sworn statement filed last week, the state branded the allegations as “a sweeping conspiratorial theory” and said that “not every inappropriate comment made by a member of court staff to a juror rises to the level of constitutional error”.

Based on the claims, Murdaugh’s legal team has demanded that the disbarred attorney be granted a new murder trial and called for the removal of Judge Newman from the case.

They argued that the judge would potentially be called as a witness in hearings involving the jury tampering allegations and also questioned his impartiality based on comments he has made about the case.

Clifton Newman at Murdaugh’s sentencing at murder trial (AP)
Clifton Newman at Murdaugh’s sentencing at murder trial (AP)

On Thursday, a court order from all five South Carolina high court justices revealed that Judge Newman was stepping down from all future proceedings in the murder case – but would continue to preside over the financial crimes case.

Maggie and Paul were found shot dead on the family’s 1,700-acre Moselle estate back on 7 June 2021. Alex Murdaugh had called 911 claiming to have found their bodies.

During his high-profile murder trial, jurors heard how Paul was shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun while he stood in the feed room of the dog kennels on the affluent family’s 1,700-acre Moselle estate. The second shot to his head blew his brain almost entirely out of his skull.

After killing Paul, prosecutors said Murdaugh then grabbed a .300 Blackout semiautomatic rifle and opened fire on Maggie as she tried to flee from her husband.

During the dramatic six-week trial, Murdaugh confessed to lying about his alibi on the night of the murders but continued to claim his innocence of the killings.

The jury didn’t agree and the disgraced legal scion was convicted in March of the brutal murders.