BEAUFORT, S.C. – Former attorney Alex Murdaugh appeared in a South Carolina courtroom Thursday for the first time since he was convicted of murdering his wife and younger son six months ago as he faces the next phase of the state’s sprawling case against what lies ahead – a network of suspected financial crimes involving two co-conspirators.
Prosecutors said Murdaugh, 55, faces a total of 101 charges and an alleged loss of $8.8 million to those affected by the alleged crimes.
Murdaugh appeared in Beaufort County General Sessions Court. Also appearing Thursday were alleged accomplices Cory Fleming, a former lawyer and college roommate, and Russell Laffitte, a former bank CEO who, according to prosecutors, was with him from at least 2005 to 2021 had supported plans to defraud customers of money.
A timeline of Murdaugh’s legal troubles
Murdaugh’s lawyers ultimately accepted a Nov. 27 trial date after arguing for a delay. Fleming received a 20-year sentence to run concurrently with his 46-month federal sentence. The decision in the former bank boss’s court case has been postponed to a later date.
Handcuffed and wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, Murdaugh walked through a side door into a nearly full courtroom. His hair appeared to have grown back some after being shaved during his incarceration.
District Court Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over Murdaugh’s murder trial, also presided over that hearing, as the former attorney stared straight ahead throughout the brief appearance.
Ultimately, Murdaugh was brought out the same way he came in. He remained in the courtroom for less than 30 minutes.
Murdaugh was last in a courtroom in March, when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the June 2021 fatal shootings of his wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the family’s hunting lodge.
That trial drew national attention as prosecutors accused him of murdering his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from financial crimes that threatened to tarnish his reputation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where three generations of family patriarchs served as the top prosecutor for decades who exercised power.
Newman allowed jurors to hear evidence of Murdaugh’s alleged financial misconduct, a crucial victory for the prosecution.
But that fact also became an immediate element in Murdaugh’s defense.
Dick Harpootlian, who represents the former attorney, emphasized in the courtroom Thursday that Murdaugh’s very public murder case was concluded just six months ago. It’s been broadcast on national television, broadcast on podcasts, blogged and discussed extensively online – all of which is reason for a change of venue, he said.
“To try this case in less than a year than the other case, where are you going to get a jury?” he asked. “Mars?”
Murdaugh’s attorney also pointed out that they had requested a new murder trial because he claimed the clerk tampered with the jury. He accused the prosecution of “another attempt to create a national spectacle” and argued that the financial case could not continue until the questions of the murder case were resolved.
Murdaugh’s defense team accuses Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill of manipulating the jury by “advising them not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to rush to a guilty verdict.” “and even made critical and misrepresentations.” material information to the trial judge as part of her campaign to remove a juror who she believed was favorable to the defense.”
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of using a weapon during the commission of a violent crime after six weeks of testimony.
hill said Court TV that the claims were “untrue.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office is prosecuting the murder and financial crimes cases against Murdaugh, has asked South Carolina’s law enforcement agency to investigate allegations of jury tampering.
Murdaugh defended himself in the murder trial and, while denying killing his wife and son, admitted to some financial wrongdoing.
He now faces more than 100 charges in state and federal courts, ranging from money laundering to tax evasion to bank fraud.
Prosecutors allege that he conspired with Fleming in one such plot to siphon insurance money in the death of the Murdaughs’ longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in 2018 after what was described as a “trip and fall accident” at the family home.
Murdaugh is accused of directing Fleming to wire checks totaling nearly $3.5 million to a bank account he used for personal gain, while Satterfield’s estate received none of the money, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors referred directly to Satterfield’s case Thursday during Fleming’s sentencing hearing. The lead attorney, Creighton Waters, pointed to Satterfield’s family members, who were sitting in the front row.
“It was a shakedown,” Waters said. “Plain and simple.”
In August, Fleming was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison after pleading guilty and was also ordered to pay restitution and a fine. He pleaded guilty and appeared in court Thursday to be sentenced by Newman.
Fleming’s defense attorney, Deborah Barbier, said her client had already admitted his guilt and made “no excuses.”
“He made things worse, he fully admitted he was wrong,” she said.
Tony Satterfield, son of Murdaugh’s housekeeper, made a statement along with other family members at Thursday’s hearing. He said he had forgiven Fleming but that it was “the judge’s decision.”
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for other victims of Fleming and Murdaugh’s alleged scheme, had harsher words for Fleming, who looked down during the trial and did not look toward the Satterfield family.
“This is a stab in the heart of the clients who trusted their lawyers,” said Bamberg.
Bamberg urged the judge to give a “firm” sentence to Fleming, who faced a prison sentence of up to 195 years. Fleming ultimately received a 20-year sentence to run concurrently with his federal sentence. In total, he will serve about four years in federal prison and 16 years in state prison.
Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, was sentenced last month to nearly six years in federal prison after he was found guilty of stealing nearly $2 million from legal settlements with clients in connection with Murdaugh. Laffitte maintained his innocence and said he would appeal.
Haylee Barber reported from Beaufort and Erik Ortiz reported from New York.