Murdaugh attorneys ask judge for more money from receivership to appeal murder convictions

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Published: May. 4, 2023 at 2:37 PM EDT

LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Defense attorneys for Alex Murdaugh, who was convicted by a Colleton County jury on March 2 of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul, are asking a judge to allow them to access more of his funds to help fund an appeal of those convictions.

Murdaugh’s defense argues that the lawyers need an additional $160,000 in legal fees for appeals.

The money is currently in the hands of receivers, who took hold of Murdaugh’s assets in 2021.

It is set to be distributed among the various victims of his alleged financial crimes.

Counsel for Murdaugh and the receivers of his assets argued before Judge Daniel Hall at the Lexington County Courthouse on Wednesday.

“The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the defendant a right of counsel of his choice,” Murdaugh defense attorney Jim Griffin said. “We have made a reasonable request for fees.”

Defense attorneys for Murdaugh say he has a Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel of his choosing on appeal.

Attorneys for the receivers argue that there is no legal precedent that the Sixth Amendment applies to appeal cases.

“Mr. Murdaugh’s motion is fatally flawed for their exclusive reliance on the Sixth Amendment, and the argument could end there,” Jordan Crapps, an attorney for the receivers of Murdaugh’s frozen assets, said.

The Murdaugh defense previously entered into an agreement in October of last year to access $600,000 from his 401(k) retirement account for his double murder trial.

Griffin said the attorneys exhausted those funds defending their client during the six-week trial.

“We did the honorable thing, we did the right thing and we complied with your order and brought it to everyone’s attention,” Griffin told Hall. “There’s this amount of money, we think we only need $600,000. Boy, were we wrong, but we’re not here complaining about that. What we’re here is to be compensated for work going forward to handle his appeal, and I think that’s completely appropriate.”

The money in Murdaugh’s retirement funds is untainted, his attorneys assert.

John T. Lay, lead attorney for the receivers, argued that awarding the money to the convicted killer goes against the purpose of the receivership, and gives him preferential treatment over other victims who will make claims for the funds.

“Our goal here is making sure no one gets out ahead,” he said. “If they go ahead and get their money now without that sort of accounting, claim process and evaluating vis-à-vis every other claimant then they’re getting an inappropriate preference.”

Eric Bland, who represents the family of Gloria Satterfield, the late Murdaugh housekeeper, agreed.

He argued that all of Murdaugh’s funds are tainted, given his years-long history of defrauding clients and his law firm.

“If you reward his theft today, you have just pushed in the front of the line when he’s already given me a judgment for my clients of $4.3 million plus accrued interest, and you know that he admitted stealing $8 million from clients in his murder trial,” Bland said.

WIS asked former assistant state prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Susan Williams to analyze the arguments.

She believes Hall should deny the request.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of the victims getting the money, and the whole purpose of having a receivership is to prioritize who is getting the money,” she said. “I believe also there’s no Sixth Amendment argument for attorneys for appeal, that you have to have your own attorney of choosing. I mean if you can’t afford an attorney, then you can’t afford an attorney.”

Williams suggested that there are other people who could help Murdaugh with his attorneys’ fees if they wanted to, or his lawyers could provide pro bono services for his murder appeals.

“But there’s nothing wrong with having a public defender from the indigent defense, and I think that the argument that his attorneys have made is like, ‘Oh, well if he doesn’t have us, then he’s going to end up with an indigent defense,’ and I see nothing wrong with that,” she said. “They’re very competent attorneys, they’re very experienced attorneys, same as what he has right now.”

Williams said she does not believe Murdaugh’s defense team has a strong basis for its appeal, and she thinks Judge Clifton Newman’s rulings throughout the trial were proper.

“I think that the court of appeals is going to affirm all of the judge’s rulings,” she said. “I don’t think that he, Judge Newman, made a mistake in letting in the financial crimes in the way that they were let in.”

Hall said he expects to have a decision on the matter by May 12.

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