Alex Murdaugh appears in court to plead guilty for first time

Alex Murdaugh appears in court to plead guilty for first time

Convicted killer and disgraced legal dynasty heir Alex Murdaugh appeared in federal court today where he pleaded guilty to a string of financial fraud charges – admitting that he stole millions of dollars from law firm clients for his own personal benefit.

The double murderer stood before US District Judge Richard Gergel at the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center in Charleston on Thursday morning where he waived his right to a jury trial and confirmed his wish to change his plea to guilty.

“I’m pleading guilty of my own free will and because I am guilty, and for several other reasons,” Murdaugh told the court.

When Judge Gergel asked him to reveal his other reasons, Murdaugh said he wanted his surviving son Buster to see him take responsibility for what he had done and also wanted to try to make things right with his victims.

Murdaugh had confirmed earlier this week that he would plead guilty to the 22 federal charges, including charges of wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.

His court appearance marked the first time that he has ever pleaded guilty to a crime.

It is also the second time he has appeared publicly since he was sentenced to life in prison back in March for the brutal 7 June 2021 murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.

Last week, he made an appearance in court in Beaufort for a hearing on a string of state financial crime charges. In that case a trial date was set for 27 November.

In federal court on Thursday, Judge Gergel started the hearing by asking Murdaugh procedural questions relating to his consent and competency.

Murdaugh, who has been behind bars for approximately two years and has a long-running opioids addiction, said that he had been sober for more than 700 days.

Lead federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse read the plea agreement aloud in court, with Judge Gergel reminding both parties that the deal is not a waiver of Murdaugh’s right to appeal.

Per the plea agreement, Murdaugh must be completely truthful about his financial crimes and provide any relevant evidence or records in the case.

If he does not, the agreement can be rescinded and further charges can be brought against him.

Murdaugh must also submit to a polygraph test related to his financial fraud and assets at the government’s request and must also help to trace and retrieve all assets, money, and accounts he stole. (There was much speculation at the close of the murder trial as to whether money had been hidden away.)

While Murdaugh admitted to stealing millions from his legal clients during bombshell courtroom testimony at his murder trial, this marks the first time that he has ever pleaded guilty to committing a crime.

Now, he faces up to 30 years in federal prison on some of the charges.

Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh in court last week (AP)
Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh in court last week (AP)

The charges are conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud (up to 30 years in prison, $1m fine), bank fraud (up to 30 years in prison, $1m fine), wire fraud (up to 30 years in prison, $1m fine), more countrs of wire fraud (up to 20 years, $250,000 fine), conspiracy to commit wire fraud (up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 fine), and counts nine to 22 include money laundering (up to 20 years, the greater of a $250,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved).

Under the agreement, federal prosecutors have agreed that the sentence would be served concurrently with any state conviction on the same charges.

Murdaugh reviewed the charges against him and told the court that there are a few issues he disputes before he deferred to his attorney Jim Griffin.

Mr Griffin said that Murdaugh wanted to make clear to the court that he was not intending to steal from the estate of victim Donna Badger – only from her surviving husband Arthur Badger.

Judge Gergel responded with a mildly sarcastic tone, clarifying that Murdaugh admitted to stealing but not meaning to steal from the dead wife’s estate account, reported ABC News’ Drew Tripp.

The judge then conceded that he was fine with that clarification.

Mr Griffin also reiterated an issue from the civil case around Gloria Satterfield – the Murdaugh family housekeeper who died after a trip and fall at the home in 2018.

The attorney said that he wanted to establish for the record that Murdaugh had invented the story given to insurance adjusters about how Satterfield fell.

A further issue was brought up by Murdaugh attorney Phil Barber regarding the forfeiture matter in the plea agreement as there was a discrepancy in the total loss amounts in the fraud proceeds attributable to Murdaugh.

Murdaugh has admitted to stealing nearly $9m, but the government believes the amount is actually over $10.5m.

However, the government is not ready to present that case of the higher amount.

Alex Murdaugh in mug shot (SCDOC)
Alex Murdaugh in mug shot (SCDOC)

In total, Murdaugh is facing more than 100 state and federal charges over his vast multi-million-dollar fraud scheme which went on for more than a decade.

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.

Among the victims was Satterfield’s family, who Murdaugh allegedly stole more than $4m from in a wrongful death suit payout.

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

Murdaugh will now be sentenced at a later date.

While Murdaugh has now reached a deal on the federal charges, he is heading to trial on the state charges in November.