Alex Murdaugh, the convicted killer, did something Thursday that he hasn’t done in the two years since his life of luxury and power began to unravel: he pleaded guilty to a crime.
Murdaugh was guilty of 22 charges of financial fraud and money laundering in federal court.
Murdaugh, 55, is spending life in jail without the possibility of release for shooting his wife, Maggie, and their younger son, Paul.
Since their murders in June 2021, he has denied any involvement in the crimes and said he was innocent in two days of testimony earlier this year until being convicted on two counts of murder.
“Alex will tell you two things.” For starters, he stole the money. “Two, he did not murder Maggie and Paul,” defense counsel Dick Harpootlian stated following the hearing.
Even if his murder conviction and sentence in state court are overturned on appeal, the disbarred lawyer’s federal guilty plea will almost certainly land him in jail for years, if not decades.
Murdaugh told the judge that he wanted to be held accountable for stealing from his customers and to make things right for his surviving son.
“I’d like to accept responsibility.” I want my youngster to see me take charge. “I hope that by accepting responsibility, the people I’ve hurt can begin to heal,” Murdaugh said as he stood in his orange South Carolina prison uniform.
At a later date, he will be sentenced. At a press conference following the hearing, federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse hinted that prosecutors would seek a substantial sentence.
“Our goal in holding him accountable for the financial crimes in federal court is to ensure that he’s never a free man again,” Limehouse said.
Investigators believe Murdaugh began stealing from his family law company in 2005 by withholding fees supposed to be shared by everybody and exaggerating his costs.
The agreement for pleading guilty in federal court is simple. Prosecutors will request that Murdaugh’s federal sentence run concurrently with any state-court jail term he serves. They are not going to give him the usual credit for pleading guilty.
In exchange, authorities receive a requirement that is especially important in this case: “The Defendant agrees to be fully truthful and forthright with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies by providing full, complete, and truthful information about all criminal activities about which he/she has knowledge,” reads the standard language included in Murdaugh’s deal.
That might cover a wide variety of misconduct. The federal accusations against the disgraced attorney, whose family were both prosecutors and the founders of a hard-hitting legal business in small Hampton County that no longer bears the Murdaugh name, deal with taking money from at least five clients and opening false bank accounts.
Murdaugh testified Thursday that he stole money meant to care for a man paralyzed from the neck down in a vehicle accident, from two sisters who were youngsters when their mother and brother were killed in the incident, from the estate of his longtime housekeeper who died in a fall at the family home, and from others.
Murdaugh is still facing over a hundred separate accusations in state court. Authorities say he tried to have someone kill him so his surviving son could earn $10 million in life insurance, but the bullet barely grazed Murdaugh’s skull.
Murdaugh also neglected to pay taxes on the money he stole, misappropriated settlement money from multiple clients and his family’s legal practice, and ran a narcotics and money laundering operation, according to investigators.
At the end of November, he is set to stand trial on at least some of those accusations. State prosecutors have insisted on holding him accountable for each one.
Murdaugh’s attorneys stated Thursday that there are major doubts about whether the trial will go place, but they did not elaborate.
Murdaugh swayed back and forth in federal court as Limehouse described each attempt to steal money to the judge.
When Judge Richard Gergel asked Murdaugh if he disagreed with any of the prosecution’s descriptions, the former attorney, whose law license has now been revoked, referred to his counsel, Jim Griffin.
Griffin claims that when Murdaugh represented a lady who died in a car accident, he did not steal from her inheritance, but rather from her surviving husband’s money.
“Doesn’t make it any better, but that’s just one fine point of clarification,” he continued.
Several times during the hearing, Murdaugh’s past work was addressed. Gergel began by saying that he understood Murdaugh was familiar with the customary questions that defendants are asked when they plead guilty and that he mainly stuck to the script.
When Gergel inquired if Murdaugh was sober, the former lawyer, who blames his misdeeds on decades of painkiller and other drug misuse, said he had been “proudly clean” for 744 days.
That would be September 7, 2021, three days after he allegedly urged a buddy to murder him on the side of that lonely Lowcountry two-lane road.
Griffin believes Murdaugh’s drug use will play a significant role in the sentencing report that will be produced prior to his next hearing. Neither side will agree to a precise period of time Murdaugh should be imprisoned until the report is done.
Murdaugh admitted to 14 charges of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud. The hushed courtroom echoed with the click of his pen as he signed the paperwork.
Each offense carries a possible jail sentence of at least 20 years. Some have a maximum penalty of 30 years.
Other terms of the plea agreement include Murdaugh undergoing a lie detector test if requested and repaying the $9 million he is accused of stealing.
That money must be turned over to federal authorities immediately, which may generate tension because the state now controls Murdaugh’s assets.