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Alex Murdaugh strikes a deal, pleading guilty in state's financial fraud cases

Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaks with his defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, in Beaufort, S.C. on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. A pretrial hearing is scheduled Friday on state charges that Murdaugh stole money from his legal clients.
James Pollard
Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaks with his defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, in Beaufort, S.C. on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, during a pretrial hearing on state charges he stole money from his legal clients.

Alex Murdaugh agrees to plead guilty to stealing millions from former clients, colleagues and friends in exchange for a 27-year state prison sentence.

Alex Murdaugh smiled as he made his way into a Beaufort County courtroom Friday morning. It’s where he was expected to soon stand trial on charges that he stole millions from the family of his late housekeeper.

His attorneys had wanted the trial delayed or a change of venue, arguing they could not seat an impartial jury following the convicted killer’s infamous murder trial earlier this year. They had even asked the judge who presided over that trial to recuse himself from this case.

But just as the hearing began, Judge Clifton Newman recessed for more than three hours while prosecutors and the defense hammered out a deal. A jury was no longer needed.

Murdaugh agreed to plead guilty to charges in all of the state’s financial fraud cases against him in exchange for a 27-year-state prison sentence.

“I do agree that I wrongly took all of that money your honor and did all of those crimes,” Murdaugh said.

Judge Newman must still formally accept the plea but said he expected to do so during sentencing which he set for Nov. 28.

Then prosecutor Creighton Waters meticulously laid out the details of the crimes going back to 2011.

Murdaugh’s smile faded, his lips pursed as Waters described “an insatiable desire for money” he says drove the disbarred attorney to steal $9 million dollars from personal injury clients, colleagues and friends. Waters spoke of victims who both trusted and feared Murdaugh, a man whose family dynasty as prosecutors dates back 100 years.

“He used his power and his influence and his law license to steal for over a decade,” Waters said.

The plea agreement essentially settles a slew of state financial fraud charges in multiple counties that include breach of trust, money laundering and forgery. Murdaugh’s attorneys say he has long wanted to plead guilty.

“Really the only impediment was would we have plea terms that would give him an opportunity to get out of prison,” defense attorney Jim Griffin said. “And today we got those terms.”

Murdaugh is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife Maggie and 22-year-old son Paul. But he’s fighting for a new trial, alleging the Colleton County Clerk of Court improperly influenced jurors to reach a guilty verdict during his six-week-long murder trial.

If granted a new trial and found not guilty, Murdaugh’s attorneys say he could be released after serving 22 years. He’s also awaiting sentencing on similar federal charges which he pleaded guilty to earlier this year.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson released a statement following the hearing.

“This is a win for the victims and for justice in South Carolina,” Wilson said.

“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.”

Victims and their families are expected to attend Murdaugh’s sentencing at month's end. Meantime, Murdaugh has waived his right to appeal as part of the plea agreement.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.