Alex Murdaugh reaches plea agreement with state prosecutors on financial crimes
BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Disgraced former Lowcountry attorney and convicted killer Alex Murdaugh entered a guilty plea Friday afternoon to a series of state financial charges against him, just days before he was set to stand trial on some of those charges.
The deal was struck between Murdaugh’s attorneys and state prosecutors at the Beaufort County courthouse, after a nearly three-hour-long delay in a pretrial hearing to discuss a change of venue motion by the defense.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said the plea agreement should bring some finality to this matter.
“Mr. Murdaugh will waive any appeals that he may have and any post-conviction relief appeal that he may have as it relates to the financial matters that we are addressing here today, thus bringing finality to this sentence and to this chapter in the history of the South Carolina judicial system,” he said.
Waters also made a point to thank the victims, who he said showed “true courage” in coming forward about Murdaugh’s misdeeds.
This deal, prosecutors say, will ensure Murdaugh will stay in state prison “for a very long time.”
The plea agreement covers charges stemming from a decades-long scheme to steal money from clients and his law firm, which span multiple counties and jurisdictions.
“Understanding all that has been stated up to this point, how do you plead?” Judge Clifton Newman asked Murdaugh.
“I plead guilty, your honor,” Murdaugh, wearing an orange jumpsuit and white New Balance sneakers, said.
When asked by Newman whether he had time to think about his decision on this martter, he said he had a “a long time” to think about it.
In September, Murdaugh pleaded guilty to essentially the same set of financial crimes, but in federal court.
Testifying in his own defense at his murder trial, he admitted to many of these thefts.
At the conclusion of that weekslong trial in March of this year, Murdaugh was sentenced to two life sentences for the shooting deaths of his wife Maggie and son Paul.
“He feels very comfortable doing prison time for crimes that he did, and he knew that he was going to prison,” Murdaugh defense attorney Jim Griffin told reporters after the plea agreement was reached. “He does not, does not feel comfortable doing prison time for the murders of his wife and son, for which he did not do.”
Murdaugh’s defense team has argued that he deserves a new trial on the murder charges and has accused Colleton County Clerk of Court Becky Hill of jury tampering.
On Thursday, an order the South Carolina Supreme Court revealed that Newman, who presided over the murder trial, had recused himself from handling future proceedings in that case.
Attorneys for Murdaugh had also filed a motion seeking to remove Newman from all matters related to the financial crimes, but that motion was denied.
The stage was set Friday for a hearing regarding the motion by Murdaugh’s defense for a change of venue in the financial crimes trial related to the theft of millions of dollars from the family of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
His defense team had argued that it would not be possible to find an impartial jury for the trial, which was set to begin on Nov. 27.
On Friday, Murdaugh said he disagreed with the state’s narrative regarding his myriad financial misdeeds, but not the facts of the case.
He said he was “happy to be pleading guilty to these crimes” for a number of reasons.
When asked to elaborate, Griffin said Murdaugh wanted closure for his victims.
“Believe it or not, he cares for these victims and he feels badly about it, and he was, you know, people want to diminish this, but he was in the throes of an opioid addiction,” he said. “And, you know, it had taken over his life and so he’s opioid-free, he’s drug-free, and he feels awful about his conduct.”
Justin Bamberg, an attorney representing some of Murdaugh’s victims, said in a statement Friday that “Alex will never see freedom again, and while I never celebrate the downfall of anyone, I do celebrate him being held accountable for the horrible choices he made.”
Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who represent the Satterfield family, released a statement, which reads in part, “Alex Murdaugh’s guilty plea will finally allow his financial victims to begin the process of healing, and it will free the state up to refocus its time, attention, and resources toward the preservation of the murder convictions, the Labor Day shooting charges, and any other drug conspiracy charges that may come down the pike.
Justice is rarely pretty or perfect, but there should be no confusion that justice was served in this case. Sentencing for this plea of guilt will be in the near future. Alex’s victims will get a chance to look Alex Murdaugh and his lawyers in the eye and tell them how they feel about him, how he manipulated them, and the damage that they have done in their lives.
We have no doubt that at Alex Murdaugh will never get a fresh breath of air outside of prison. Irrespective of the murder convictions, this monster deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
Newman still has to officially sign off on the plea deal and sentence Murdaugh.
The negotiated plea calls for a 27-year state prison sentence, which he would serve if his convictions in the murder case were overturned.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 28.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement, “This is a win for the victims and for justice in South Carolina. We hope the families he betrayed and stole from feel a little peace that he is going to serve time for those crimes. It doesn’t matter your last name, your position, or your connections--no one is above the law in South Carolina.”
You can watch the full motions hearing after the recess below:
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