Alex Murdaugh, the former lawyer who was convicted this year of murdering his wife and son, pleaded guilty on Friday to a spate of money laundering and other financial crimes, fortifying the prospect that he will spend decades in prison even as he seeks a retrial in his murder case.
Alex Murdaugh, pictured in court in February during his murder trial, pleaded guilty to financial crimes on Friday.Credit…Pool photo by Grace Beahm Alford
Why It Matters: Mr. Murdaugh is trying to get his murder conviction thrown out.
In accepting the new plea deal, Mr. Murdaugh, 55, admitted to stealing from a series of clients over many years while he was working as an influential lawyer in rural South Carolina.
His lawyers have in recent weeks stepped up their effort to get him a new trial in the murder of his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul, who were shot to death on the family’s large hunting estate in June 2021.
A jury convicted Mr. Murdaugh of two counts of murder in March after a televised, high-profile trial, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole. But Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers are seeking to get the conviction thrown out based on what they say was questionable behavior by the court clerk. They accused the clerk of tampering with jurors, including by casting doubt on the defense case. The clerk has denied the claims.
What It Means: An additional 27-year sentence
The plea deal outlined on Friday calls for Mr. Murdaugh to be sentenced to 27 years in prison, which would keep him behind bars even if he were able to get his murder conviction tossed.
Standing in court in an orange prison jumpsuit, Mr. Murdaugh was asked by Judge Clifton Newman whether he had any doubts about the plea. “No, sir. There’s no question in my mind,” he replied.
Prosecutors have said Mr. Murdaugh killed his wife and son in a bizarre effort to distract from his long-running thefts from his clients and law firm. Mr. Murdaugh has adamantly denied any involvement in the murders, even as he admitted to stealing millions of dollars from clients and colleagues.
What Happens Next: Mr. Murdaugh’s financial victims may confront him in court.
Mr. Murdaugh is scheduled to be sentenced for the financial crimes on Nov. 28, at which point some of his victims may address the court.
Judge Newman oversaw the murder trial but agreed this week to step down from hearing motions related to Mr. Murdaugh’s effort to win a new trial. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers had argued that the judge was a potential witness to the clerk’s behavior and had shown bias against Mr. Murdaugh in statements after the trial was over.
Creighton Waters, a prosecutor with the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, said in court on Friday that at the heart of the financial crimes was Mr. Murdaugh’s abuse of people’s trust, and his greed.
“His unsatiable desire for money meant that not only was he taking six- or seven-figure fees, not only was he borrowing at very favorable rates from the bank, but he was also stealing from these clients on top of it,” Mr. Waters said.