Alex Murdaugh denied bond on $3M theft charges
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A judge in South Carolina denied bond Tuesday for attorney Alex Murdaugh on the second set of charges he has faced since finding his wife and son dead last June.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman issued the decision after hearing attorneys describe how Murdaugh used portions of $3.4 million in insurance payments to pay off his father, personal credit card bills and checks to himself.
The payments were supposed to go to the sons of his longtime housekeeper, who died in 2016 a few weeks after falling at the family’s home. The judge said he was denying bond because of Murdaugh’s financial resources and unstable mental health. He ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Murdaugh, and said he will reconsider his decision after that is conducted. Murdaugh’s lawyers asked for a personal recognizance bond so he could go to further drug rehab, but Newman rejected that request.
Murdaugh is already out on a personal recognizance bond after his arrest in September on insurance fraud and other charges after police said he tried to arrange his own death so his surviving son would get a $10 million insurance policy. The would-be fatal shot only grazed his head, authorities have said.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A judge in South Carolina said Tuesday he is considering keeping prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh in jail until his trial on charges he stole more than $3 million in insurance payments meant for the sons of his housekeeper who died after a fall in his home.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman said he would take 15 minutes to consider whether to set bond at all after prosecutors and lawyers for the housekeeper’s sons described how Murdaugh used the money to pay off his father, a personal credit card bills and checks to himself for nearly $750,000.
Newman said if he allows bond, Murdaugh will have to put up money to get out of jail. Murdaugh has already spent five nights behind bars after his second arrest in about a month.
Murdaugh, whose wife and son were shot to death months ago in a killing that is still unresolved, stole $3.4 million of insurance money that was meant for the sons of his housekeeper, never having the settlement logged in court records, according to sworn statements by the State Law Enforcement Division.
“He stole. He is a liar and a cheat,” attorney Eric Bland, who represents the sons, told a judge Tuesday.
South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Creighton Waters said within months, Murdaugh took the money and put it in his personal accounts.
“He had been carrying $100,000 credit card balance for months,” Waters said. “That gets paid off. He writes 300 and some odd grand to his father. He writes a check for 610 grand to himself. He writes a check for 125 grand to himself. Not a dime goes to this family.”
Waters asked for a $200,000 bond and GPS monitoring, saying the fact that Murdaugh tried to arrange his own death shows he could become violent and has the ability to run away if he wants. “A man who is a danger to himself is a danger to others,” Waters said.
Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian asked for another personal recognizance bond, saying Murdaugh needs more treatment for an opioid addiction that has lasted for more than a decade.
“He’s not going to run,” Harpootlian said. “That’s not where he is now. He’s been through six weeks of addiction treatment. He needs more.”
The judge said he wasn’t considering that at all.
Murdaugh’s other lawyer, Jim Griffin, added, “The Alex Murdaugh who is not hooked on drugs has lived a good, fruitful life — a law-abiding life. Only when he got hooked on opioids did things turn south and he truly regrets his conduct.”
Murdaugh is already out on a recognizance bond for a September arrest on insurance fraud charges after state agents said he tried to arrange his own shooting death on a roadside so that his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. The would-be fatal bullet only grazed him. He was arrested at a drug rehab center near Orlando, Florida, on Thursday and brought back to South Carolina.
The housekeeper’s insurance isn’t the only six-figure case being investigated by state police. Murdaugh’s former law firm — founded by his great-grandfather a century ago — has accused him of stealing possibly millions of dollars.
Each charge of obtaining property by false pretenses carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The three felony charges from the botched attempt to arrange his own death could bring up to 20 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Murdaugh continues to insist he had nothing to do with the June deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22. Murdaugh said he returned to their rural Colleton County home to find them shot to death. Tight-lipped state police have neither named any suspects nor ruled anyone out.
Murdaugh’s housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died from a stroke and heart attack in February, more than three weeks after being hurt in a fall at the Murdaugh home. No autopsy was performed, and a coroner said her death was improperly described as “natural” on her death certificate.
Murdaugh told Satterfield’s sons he would help them get insurance settlements for her death, recommending they hire attorney Cory Fleming without telling them Fleming was a family friend, according to a lawsuit filed by the sons.
Murdaugh negotiated more than $4 million in payments, then had the checks — minus fees and attorney payments — sent to his bank account, authorities said.
A lawyer for the sons said they haven’t seen any money from the settlements.
Fleming has promised to return any money he received to the sons and pay them an unspecified amount from a malpractice insurance policy.
The state Supreme Court has temporarily suspended the law licenses of both Fleming and Murdaugh.
In addition to all of the other cases, state police are looking into whether Murdaugh has connections to a 2015 hit-and-run death and whether he or other family members tried to obstruct the investigation into a boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh that killed a 19-year-old woman in 2019.
The Murdaugh family has dominated the legal community in Hampton County for nearly the past century. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were elected prosecutors and the family founded and built a prestigious law firm known for suing railroads.