COLUMBIA, SC – A judge on Tuesday denied bail from a prominent South Carolina lawyer who became involved in two multi-million dollar insurance fraud cases after he found his wife and son dead in their house.
The judge said Alex Murdaugh’s considerable financial resources and mental instability so far seemed to make him too risky to allow him to wait for his trial outside of prison for stealing $ 3.4 million from insurance money intended for the sons of his cleaning lady.
The decision means weeks, if not months in prison for the 53-year-old man who inherited part of a legal empire in small Hampton County, South Carolina. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all elected prosecutors. The family’s law firm, located in the city’s most impressive building after the courthouse, has spent a century winning multi-million dollar verdicts.
What remains unresolved is what sparked legal issues and at least six state inquiries into Murdaugh and his family in June: the deaths of his wife and son, who were found shot dead several times in front of their home.
Defense attorneys have asked circuit judge Clifton Newman to release Murdaugh on his own recognizance, as another judge did in September for attempting to stage his own death to secure a $ 10million insurance policy of dollars. Prosecutors have requested $ 200,000 bail and GPS monitoring for the latest charges, obtaining property under false pretenses.
“I’m not happy with his mental state,” Newman said, adding that he needed more information. He said he would reconsider his decision after receiving it.
One of Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian, said after the hearing that therapists at the Georgia and Florida drug rehab centers where Murdaugh has spent the past six weeks will send their cases to a local psychiatrist, who will prepare a report for the judge, hopefully within a week.
âWe understand the judge’s concerns about Alex’s mental state. We are more than happy to accommodate his request, “said Harpootlian, adding of Murdaugh,” He looked a lot more lucid today than I have ever seen him. “
Harpootlian and Murdaugh’s other lawyer Jim Griffin has said he faces overwhelming grief and guilt after finding the bodies of his wife and son. Murdaugh has categorically denied having anything to do with their deaths and no one has been charged.
The latest charges against Murdaugh relate to insurance payments due to be made to the sons of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 weeks after falling at the family home, investigators said.
No autopsy was performed and a coroner said her death was incorrectly described as “natural” on her death certificate. State police said in court on Tuesday that they were still investigating the circumstances of his death. Murdaugh denies having anything to do with his death, Harpootlian said after the hearing.
Murdaugh told Satterfield’s sons he would help them secure insurance settlements for his death, recommending that they hire attorney Cory Fleming without telling them Fleming was a friend of the family, according to a complaint filed by the sons.
Murdaugh negotiated more than $ 4 million in payments, then had the checks – less attorney’s fees and payments – sent to a fraudulent bank account, investigators said.
An attorney for the sons said they had not seen money from the settlements.
“He stole. He’s a liar and a cheater,” lawyer Eric Bland told the judge on Tuesday.
South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Creighton Waters said Murdaugh quickly took the money and put it in his personal accounts.
âHe had a credit card balance of $ 100,000 for months,â Waters said. âIt has to be paid for. He writes 300 and some big odd numbers to his father. He writes a check for 610 thousand dollars. He writes a check for 125 thousand dollars. Not a cent goes to this family.
Waters asked for a $ 200,000 bond and GPS monitoring, saying: “A man who is a danger to himself is a danger to others.”
Harpootlian and Griffin said Murdaugh needed more treatment for an opioid addiction that has lasted for more than a decade.
âHe’s not going to run,â Harpootlian said. “That’s not where he is now.”
Griffin argued that “the Alex Murdaugh who is not addicted to drugs lived a good and fruitful life – a law abiding life.”
“It wasn’t until he got hooked on opioids that things got wrong and he really regrets his behavior,” Griffin said.
Murdaugh has been in jail since his arrest Thursday at a drug rehab center near Orlando, Florida.
Housekeeper’s insurance isn’t the only six-figure case investigated by state police. Murdaugh’s former law firm – founded by his great-grandfather a century ago – accused him of stealing millions of dollars.
At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors hinted that Murdaugh had turned all his belongings over to his surviving son and in recent weeks had sold a boat and property in Beaufort County, which they said could be a attempt to hide money from at least three pending lawsuits.
Each charge of obtaining property under false pretenses carries a penalty of up to 10 years. The three counts related to the botched attempt to organize his own death could lead to up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Murdaugh continues to insist it has 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. The tight-lipped state police did not name any suspects or exclude anyone.
In addition to all other cases, state police are investigating whether Murdaugh has any links to a 2015 hit-and-run death and whether he or other family members attempted to obstruct the investigation. on a boating accident involving Paul Murdaugh who killed a 19-year-old in 2019. Murdaugh also denies any wrongdoing in these cases, Harpootlian said Tuesday.
The Murdaugh family has dominated the Hampton County legal community for nearly a century. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were elected prosecutors and their prestigious law firm became known for suing the railroads.