When will Alex Murdaugh be tried on state financial crimes? SC lawyers fight over date
A South Carolina judge on Friday set a Sept. 11 date for opposing attorneys to meet to decide when convicted double-murderer Alex Murdaugh should stand trial for a host of alleged financial crimes.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters, with the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, told Judge Clifton Newman Friday that he prefers to have a trial later this fall — not next year — on at least some of the charges against Murdaugh.
But Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian said his year is stacked, in part, because of legislative duties given he is a state senator from Richland County and has what is called “legislative immunity” from court appearances through July.
Harpootlian said he also wants to visit his wife, Jamie, the U.S. ambassador to Slovenia, and he hopes this year to dispose of a massive civil case against the state Department of Corrections’ over alleged neglect of five murdered young children.
Since Murdaugh, once a prominent attorney from Hampton County, was just convicted in March of the murders of his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, it will likely be hard to find an unbiased jury, especially since the trial was televised and viewed by millions of people, Harpootlian told the judge.
Alex Murdaugh faces charges in estate theft
Murdaugh, 55, in state prison serving two consecutive life sentences for double murder, faces some 100 additional charges, mainly financial, in five separate Lowcountry counties. The crimes involve money laundering, embezzlement, computer crimes, and the theft of more than $9 million in stolen money.
Waters told Newman that Beaufort County would be a logical place to have Murdaugh’s first trial because that county was the site of his biggest alleged theft.
“We’ll do whatever we need to do,” Waters said. “I think Beaufort’s probably the best place.”
Beaufort County is where Murdaugh and his longtime friend, Beaufort lawyer Cory Fleming, schemed to steal $4.3 million from the estate of Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper who died in February 2018 after falling at his house.
In all, Murdaugh faces state charges involving the theft from numerous victims of some $9 million from 2011 to 2021.
Over two years, in 2018 and 2019, Murdaugh and Fleming arranged for his personal liability insurers to send $4.3 million to Satterfield’s estate, then they stole the money, with Murdaugh getting most of it, according to state charges.
Fleming pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to charges involving stealing from the Satterfield estate.
He is scheduled to go to trial in state court in Beaufort County also on Sept. 11.
He faces 18 state charges in all connected to the Satterfield thefts, including conspiracy, making false statements in an insurance claim, breach of trust, money laundering and computer crimes.
Fleming’s lawyer, Debbie Barbier, declined to comment.
Will Murdaugh go to trial on financial crimes in 2023?
For Murdaugh, with Harpootlian’s legislative job that state law exempts him from appearing in court from roughly January to August, there’s really “only two, three months” to try him this year, Waters told Newman.
Newman, who presided over Murdaugh’s murder trial, told the attorneys that he will not be available to handle a trial after Jan. 1, 2024, since he turns 72 this year. Under the state’s mandatory retirement law, Newman must retire at the end of this year.
“My calendar will be out of the picture,” Newman said. “My tenure’s up Dec. 31.”
Complicating the picture is the recent federal indictment against Murdaugh, accusing him of more than $7 million of various financial crimes dating back to 2005, including the money stolen from the Satterfield estate.
It is not clear how the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office will reconcile their schedules in what are parallel prosecutions, since charges by each office cover roughly the same sets of crimes.
“We enjoy a really good working relationship with the Attorney General’s Office,” assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Limehouse told reporters Thursday after Fleming pleaded guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Satterfield case.
“Out of deference to our state partners,” Limehouse said that federal prosecutors delayed charging both Murdaugh and Fleming with federal financial crimes until after the state prosecuted Murdaugh on the murder charges.
“Our main goals are to hold everybody accountable for these crimes and to make the victims whole,” she said.