A federal court determined that convicted former banker Russell Laffitte does not have the right to a new trial based on possibly exonerating evidence from the convicted murderer and suspected thief Richard “Alex” Murdaugh.
Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank in Hampton, is accused of assisting disbarred attorney Murdaugh in stealing or misappropriating money from his law clients. He has been indicted in state court and convicted in federal court but has repeatedly demanded fresh legal processes or an acquittal.
Laffitte, who was charged with bank fraud and wire fraud in 2022, pled not guilty but was found guilty on all six federal indictments on Nov. 22. The former banker is still on the run.
Laffitte filed a second request for a new trial on March 9, with new legal counsel, noting remarks made by Murdaugh on the witness stand during the recent murder trial that Laffitte did not plot with or help him in stealing from his clients.
On April 10, Presiding Judge Richard Gergel denied that motion, labeling Murdaugh a “serial liar” and a “fraudster” whose evidence is not trustworthy in granting Laffitte’s request.
What did Murdaugh have to say about his putative co-conspirator Laffitte?
Murdaugh was charged in July 2022 for the shooting murders of his wife, Maggie, and their younger son, Paul, in June 2021. His double murder trial started on January 23 in Walterboro, South Carolina, and he was convicted by a Colleton County jury on March 2. He was condemned to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of release on March 3.
During that well-known trial, Murdaugh took the stand and gave hours of evidence in the hopes of exonerating himself and his claimed collaborator, Laffitte. On the witness stand, the disbarred lawyer claimed the following about the disgraced banker:
- “Russell Laffitte didn’t do anything.”
- “Russell Laffitte never conspired with me to do anything; everything I did was done by myself.”
- This is something I did. I accomplished these things incorrectly. Russell Laffitte accomplished nothing…”
- “You keep talking about everything I did with Russell Laffitte, but what I want you to know is that I did this, and I am the one who stole money from individuals I shouldn’t have taken, and Russell Laffitte was not engaged in intentionally assisting me in doing so… If he did it, he did it unknowingly.”
Murdaugh was “very willing” to testify on Laffitte’s behalf, but could not do so without compromising himself, according to Laffitte’s counsel. In recent court documents, the defense also contended that Murdaugh’s testimony represents “newly discovered evidence” that warrants a new trial for Laffitte under federal law.
What did the federal judge think of Alex Murdaugh?
Judge Gergel cited South Carolina Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, who ruled over Murdaugh’s case, in his judgment. According to Judge Newman, Murdaugh “engaged in… duplicitous conduct here in the courtroom” and the jury found that he lied “throughout [his] testimony.”
Judge Gergel decided that Murdaugh’s testimony was not only not newly discovered evidence, nor would it have resulted in an acquittal, but that Murdaugh is “manifestly not a credible witness.”
“Evidence offered during the Defendant’s trial established without question that Murdaugh is a serial liar and fraudster who stole from his clients and law partners,” ruled the federal court. “He is now on trial for the double homicide of his wife and son.” Under these conditions, it’s impossible to imagine a less trustworthy witness.”
Judge Gergel ruled, “The Court finds that Defendant cannot carry his burden of establishing that he would probably be acquitted in a new trial on any of the six counts of conviction if Murdaugh testified on his behalf in a new trial.”
What will happen next in federal and state courts for Russell Laffitte?
On December 6, 2022, Laffitte’s counsel submitted a first request for a new trial or an acquittal. On March 6, 2023, Judge Gergel refused such a request.
Laffitte’s conviction remains, barring any challenges or petitions in federal court, and he is ready for the punishment procedure.
The US Probation Office produced a 63-page Draft Presentence Investigation Report (Draft PSR) on March 27 to assist in determining how much time he would serve in federal prison and where. The report describes the total value and scope of Laffitte’s offenses and requests further information on Laffitte’s money from his counsel.
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