‘I want to take responsibility’: Murdaugh pleads guilty on federal financial crimes

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:50 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 12:18 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Disbarred Lowcountry attorney and convicted killer Alex Murduagh entered a guilty plea to 22 federal charges on financial crimes Thursday morning.

Murdaugh is accused of stealing millions of dollars from his clients during his time as a lawyer.

District Judge Richard Gergel asked Murdaugh if he was entering the guilty plea of his own free will.

“I want to take responsibility. I want my son to see me take responsibility,” Murdaugh said. “It’s my hope by taking responsibility that people I’ve hurt can begin to heal.”

Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a plea deal Tuesday on the various charges, which range from conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud to bank fraud and money laundering. As part of the deal, prosecutors would recommend Murdaugh’s sentence run concurrently with any sentence given to him on the state level for financial crimes.

Murdaugh will also be forced to pay restitution as set by the court.

After the hearing, both defense attorneys and prosecutors spoke to the media.

“We’re pleased to report that Alex feels good about this, and obviously, he’ll be sentenced for it,” defense attorney Dick Harpootlian said. “And it’ll be substantial time but he will accept that.”

“We’ll say this: That there’s been a lot of sneering and skepticism about ‘Did Alex have a drug addiction?’” defense attorney Jim Griffin said. “So Judge Gergel and the probation officer who does a pre-sentence report will be given all those records and they will make a determination as part of the sentencing.”

“As you heard today, Murdaugh’s financial crimes were calculated and heartless,” prosecutor Emily Limehouse said. “The plea in federal court today is a product of nearly two years of investigative work by the FBI and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Our goal in holding him accountable for the financial crimes in federal court is to ensure that he’s never free man again.”

A sentencing report will be prepared for Gergel and the defense will have time to raise objections. It is not clear how soon Murdaugh could be sentenced for the charges.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

Murdaugh was found guilty in March of the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie; and son, Paul, at the family’s hunting property in rural Colleton County. Judge Clifton Newman sentenced him to two life sentences for those crimes, for which he has maintained his innocence.

Earlier this month, Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, filed a motion requesting a stay of Murdaugh’s conviction and a new trial and alleging that the Colleton County clerk of court tampered with the jury during the six-week trial.

The motion alleged Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill “tampered with the jury” by advising jurors “not to believe Murdaugh’s testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and even misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense.”

The motion alleges Hill instructed jurors “not to be ‘misled’ by evidence” presented in Murdaugh’s defense and “not to be ‘fooled by’ Mr. Murdaugh’s testimony.” Court documents also allege Hill had “frequent private conversations with the jury foreperson, a court-appointed substitution for the foreperson the jury elected for itself at the request of Ms. Hill.”

The defense also alleges Hill asked jurors for their opinions about Murdaugh’s guilt or innocence, “invented a story” about a Facebook post to remove a juror she believed might vote not guilty, and “pressured jurors to reach a quick verdict, telling them from the outset of their deliberations that it ‘shouldn’t take them long.’”

The defense alleges in the motion that the allegation of private conversations with members of the jury “is supported by sworn affidavits of jurors and a witness to juror interviews, testimony at in camera proceedings and other evidence including Ms. Hill’s own book.”

The motion then demands an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a new trial is warranted.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson requested that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigate the allegations.

“The State’s only vested interest is seeking the truth,” a statement sent from Wilson’s office stated. “As with all investigations, SLED and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office are committed to a fair and impartial investigation and will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Meanwhile, Murdaugh is scheduled to be back in court on Nov. 27 on more than 100 state charges related to financial crimes that he also faces.

Harpootlian said, however, that the defense has “serious questions” about whether that trial ought to go forward, saying they plan to file the appropriate motions at the appropriate time.