Disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, already serving two life sentences for the murder of his wife and son, entered a guilty plea Friday to nearly two dozen state financial charges against him, including money laundering, breach of trust, conspiracy, forgery and tax evasion, as part of a plea deal his defense team negotiated with prosecutors.
A plea deal between the state and defense teams was revealed after an hourslong delay of a pretrial hearing, which was initially meant to discuss a “change of venue” motion, among other issues related to Murdaugh’s upcoming state financial trials in Beaufort County.
Murdaugh was facing dozens of state charges in alleged schemes to defraud victims of millions. The financial crimes he is accused of include embezzlement, computer crime, money laundering and tax evasion.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said the deal would bring “finality to the matter” and ensure Murdaugh would “stay in state prison for a very long time.” The agreement, if approved, would see Murdaugh spend a total of 27 years in a South Carolina state prison, according to Waters.
In court, Waters went through the details behind the scores of charges in roughly a half dozen South Carolina counties to which Murdaugh is pleading guilty, scheme by scheme, victim by victim, and listed the agreed upon prison time for each.
When Judge Clifton Newman asked Murdaugh if he agreed with the way Waters had described the crimes, Murdaugh said he disagreed with “some of the narrative.”
“I agree that I wrongly took all of that money and did all of those crimes. I disagree with some of the narrative,” Murdaugh said.
“I am guilty and I believe I would be found guilty,” he added. “I am glad to finally be given the opportunity to plead guilty. I am happy to be pleading guilty to these charges for a number of reasons.”
Newman will have to approve the deal and set the official sentence. Newman has scheduled a November 28 sentencing hearing.
“Alex Murdaugh’s guilty plea will finally allow his financial victims to begin the process of healing,” Eric “EB” Bland and Ronnie Richter, attorneys for some of the victims, said in a statement. “Justice is rarely pretty or perfect, but there should be no confusion that justice was served in this case.”
After being convicted of murdering his wife and son at his South Carolina Lowcountry estate, Murdaugh is already serving two life sentences in prison. But the disbarred attorney remained entangled in several other state and federal cases in which he faces more than 100 other charges.
When asked by Judge Newman if he wanted to withdraw his previous not guilty pleas on the charges, Murdaugh, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, replied, “Yes, sir.”
The plea deal requires Murdaugh to waive his right to appeal. It also only covers the state financial charges and does not address any of the remaining county charges Murdaugh faces.
Attorney general calls guilty plea “a win”
Judge Newman noted his acceptance of the plea agreement will be contingent on meeting all requirements from the Victims Bill of Rights.
In the South Carolina Constitution, the rights of victims involved in a criminal case are protected, including their right to be heard at proceedings and receive restitution from the person convicted of the crime.
“Alex’s victims will get a chance to look Alex Murdaugh in the eye and his lawyers and tell them how they feel about him, how he manipulated them, and the damage that they have done to them in their lives,” the victims’ attorneys’ statement said.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement following Murdaugh’s guilty plea “this is a win for the victims and for justice in South Carolina.”
“We hope the families he betrayed and stole from feel a little peace that he is going to serve time for those crimes,” Wilson added. “It doesn’t matter your last name, your position, or your connections; no one is above the law in South Carolina.”
If accepted, this would be the second plea deal for Murdaugh.
Separately, Murdaugh pleaded guilty in September to nearly two dozen federal charges, including wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering, alleging he stole millions of dollars from clients. Those charges carry a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison, with some carrying a maximum of 30 years. Sentencing will be set at a later date.
In March 2023, a Colleton County jury convicted Alex Murdaugh of shooting and killing his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at the family’s hunting estate in June 2021. Judge Newman sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences in a South Carolina state prison, which Murdaugh is currently serving.
Murdaugh’s appeal of the murder convictions is on hold, while his defense team pursues a motion for a new trial based on allegations that the Colleton County Clerk tampered with the jury. Clerk Becky Hill denied those allegations in a signed affidavit submitted to the court this month.
Judge Newman recused himself from hearing any post-trial motions related to Murdaugh’s murder case. No decision has been made on whether Murdaugh will receive a new trial.
Source : CNN