Prosecuting Murdaugh for the double murder cost taxpayers $264k
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Prosecuting Alex Murdaugh wasn’t cheap.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s office confirmed to WIS that it spent $264,316.68 on housing, witnesses, travel, and other materials to successfully prosecute Murdaugh for the double murder of his wife and son.
Taxpayers footed the bill, but a Columbia-area watchdog is calling for Murdaugh and future convicted defendants to pick up the tab for their prosecutions.
Two former Midlands prosecutors strongly oppose the concept.
Columbia-area citizen watchdog John Crangle provided WIS with a spreadsheet of the Attorney General’s costs for the Murdaugh Trial.
The Attorney General’s Office spokesman Robert Kittle verified the spreadsheet.
Here’s the breakdown:
Kittle declined to comment on the story beyond pointing to the length of the trial (six weeks) and transportation to Colleton County as factors driving cost.
Former 11th Circuit Prosecutor and Current Defense Attorney Jim Huff said a non-death penalty murder trial in South Carolina usually runs three to five days.
He said multiple on-scene witnesses or a case based on circumstantial evidence can drag out a trial.
However, there are times when prosecutors can drag out a trial with “too much evidence.”
“Prosecutors sometimes feel that anybody that touched the case that knew anything, they just got to put everything into the recipe so to speak, to bake a cake. Sometimes they just don’t know when to stop,” he said.
The vast majority of Murdaugh prosecution expenses were for lodging, but the largest single expense went to California-based Park Dietz & Associates.
The state paid the forensic consulting firm $37,840. The spreadsheet describes the expense as “Professional Services and Expenses”.
On its website, the firm claims to have provided experts who have testified and consulted in “thousands of criminal matters,” including high-profile cases.
Kittle told WIS the firm did not arrange any witnesses but did consult on criminology.
Another $16,100 went to witness Dr. Kenneth Kinsey for consultation and research. Kinsey played a key role in the prosecution’s rebuttal of Murdaugh’s legal defense.
The office spent $171,044.26 at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Walterboro. That included housing for office attorneys, staff, and witnesses, along with various accommodations from mid-January through early March.
Travel costs drove up the price by $22,533.70. They included flights for witnesses, travel reimbursements for staff/witnesses, and the rental of a 2021 Ford Explorer used for 11 days in January.
The largest individual travel reimbursement was provided to prosecutor David Fernandez at $1,764.24 for his time between Jan. 22 and March 3.
JLA Investigations and Security LLC were paid $10,769 for an “expert retainer” and “professional services”. The company specializes in digital forensics.
The remainder of the costs are comprised of miscellaneous items the prosecution bought for the trial. They included posterboard, maps, a book on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Gorilla Duct Table, and other items.
The attorney general’s office also indicated which items were reusable and which were not. Only 0.94 percent of the expenses ($2,488.52) went to reusable items.
“A lot of the expenditures are not going to be usable in another prosecution. The witnesses against Murdaugh can’t be used to prosecute John Doe. Right? All the investigative work done that was done by SLED can’t be used to prosecute Jane Roe,” Crangle said.
Murdaugh’s defense attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin declined requests for comment on this story.
Footing the bill
Crangle argues that convicted criminals, such as Murdaugh, should pay the costs of the investigation and prosecution through restitution.
“The taxpayers now are being forced to pay these costs, when the criminal defendants should be required to pay them. Particularly when the criminal defendants have assets that can be attached,” he said.
Crangle conceded defendants often lack resources but said the issue should fall to the judge in the case. He said there could be judgments where the convicted offenders would be required to pay the costs if they obtained the money to do so.
“Some statutory guidelines could be formulated, to give the judge a basis on which to make. Or you could simply trust it to the discretion of the judge to make that determination. But I don’t think it’s difficult in a case like Murdaugh,” he said.
Crangle points to the 2007 case against former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who was ordered by a federal judge to pay $28,676.31 to the State of South Carolina to compensate it for the legislative session held to replace Ravenel.
Former 5th Circuit prosecutor Brett Perry and Huff both raised concerns about equal protections – a concept enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause 14th amendment.
Perry disagreed with Crangle’s argument and said the Ravenel case is a different situation.
“It was not a situation where Mr. Ravenel has assessed the cost of the prosecution. Believe that case was in federal court if I’m not mistaken, and I don’t believe Mr. Ravenel was ordered to pay a penny to the federal government, who absorbed the cost of prosecuting him,” he said.
Ravenel did not pay the court for his prosecution but was responsible for a $221,323.69 fine.
Perry also questioned where the line would be drawn.
“If it cost 100 percent of your net worth, to cover the cost of your prosecution, would you take everything someone had in order to do that?” he asked.
Huff also strongly opposed the concept, describing it as unconstitutional. He said prosecutors would begin considering factors other than the crime and its worthiness of prosecution.
“Lady justice isn’t blind anymore. We’re going to look at the resources of the accused. ‘Let’s go prosecute the folks that have money, not because the prosecution merits it, but we can fund our office better,’” he said.
Crangle disagreed with the concept that the rich would face additional punishment.
“I don’t regard it as an additional punishment. I regard it as a every defendant should be required to pay restitution for their wrongdoing, whether you’re judgment proof or not. The question is are you capable of paying it and can it be recovered?” he said.
Huff said Crangle’s concept also presents the opportunity for reverse enforcement.
“By the same token, then if the prosecution loses, they should bare all the cost to the defendant. It’s not a system of justice I would want to be a part of I can tell you that,” Huff said.
Crangle said he wants to see legislation on the issue, but is early in his lobbying efforts.
In the meantime, Murdaugh’s attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to release funds for an appeal of his murder convictions.
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