By MICHELLE LIU Associated Press/Report for America
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Speaking publicly for the first time in months, the prominent South Carolina attorney accused of a slew of mostly financial crimes after his wife and son were found shot dead outside their home blamed some of his problems on a 20-year-long opiate addiction shortly before a judge set bond at $7 million Monday.
The entire $7 million must be posted for Alex Murdaugh to go on house arrest with electronic monitoring, get counseling and be randomly drug tested, said Circuit Judge Alison Renee Lee in the virtual hearing.
The 53-year-old heir to a legal dynasty in Hampton County, South Carolina, faces nearly 50 counts for what prosecutors said were schemes to steal more than $6.2 million in settlement and other money from about a dozen clients. He also faces some other charges after police said he tried to fake his own death.
Monday’s hearing marked the first time Murdaugh has spoken publicly at length since the deaths.
He faces a separate set of charges for what police say was an attempt to have himself shot and killed Sept. 4 so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
Murdaugh described to the judge his frame of mind leading up to the events of that day. He said he he had met with his brother and another law firm partner to confess a 20-year-long hidden addiction and to “discuss my actions” in the 24 hours before the attempted killing, and was going through opiate withdrawal at the time.
The firm announced its own investigation into missing funds shortly after Murdaugh said he was going into rehab in September.
Murdaugh said he knew he had tarnished his family’s legacy, but that he had improved since September and had not used opiates in more than three months.
“My head is on straighter, I’m thinking clearer than I have in a long, long time,” Murdaugh said. “I want to deal with these charges appropriately and head-on.
I want to repair as much of the damage that I’ve done as I can. I want to repair as many of the relationships as I can.”
Monday’s bond hearing centered on charges handed down by a grand jury totaling 48 counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent; computer crimes; money laundering and forgery. Prosecutors said that among Murdaugh’s victims in the schemes dating back to 2015 were family friends, an undocumented immigrant and a car wreck victim.
Investigators say Murdaugh used a fraudulent bank account he created with a similar name to a company that handles legal settlements. According to indictments, he then used the money to pay bank overdraft fees, credit card payments, checks written to friends and family and other items.
Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were prosecutors in tiny Hampton County, where every road leading to the county seat is two lanes. The family’s law firm, located in the most impressive building in town after the courthouse, has spent a century winning multimillion-dollar verdicts.
His legal troubles began after his wife, Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, were found shot to death at the family’s estate in June. No one has been charged in their deaths and Murdaugh’s lawyers said he has denied having anything to do with their killings.
Running parallel to the criminal court saga is a growing number of lawsuits. Murdaugh’s former law firm has sued him, as have the sons of his dead housekeeper, who died after a fall at one of the family’s homes in 2018. The Murdaugh family also faces lawsuits surrounding a 2019 boat crash in which Paul Murdaugh was charged with boating under the influence causing death.
On Monday, attorneys for both Murdaugh and deceased housekeeper Gloria Satterfield’s sons announced during the bond hearing that some victims were nearing resolution with Murdaugh, who is also accused of stealing insurance money meant for Satterfield’s sons.
The lawyers for both Murdaugh and Satterfield’s family said Murdaugh had agreed to a $4.3 million judgment in the case, subject to the approval of court-appointed receivers who now control his assets.
“The family is pleased that Mr. Murdaugh has finally expressed his apologies and has taken a positive step toward resolution by agreeing to confess judgment to Gloria’s sons,” Satterfield lawyer Ronnie Richter said in a statement.
Lee’s bond order surpassed amounts recommended by prosecutors, who had recommended the judge either set bond at the $6.2 million Murdaugh was accused of stealing or a lesser figure of $4.7 million — about $100,000 for each count.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge to set bond at a maximum of $200,000 and indicated they would ask Lee reconsider her Monday decision.
“He can’t post a $7 million. He couldn’t post a $700,000,” said defense attorney Dick Harpootlian. “He has no money.”
Murdaugh has been jailed since October on charges of stealing insurance money from Satterfield’s sons.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman again denied bond in November, citing Murdaugh’s considerable financial resources and mental instability. A spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s Office said although the new grand jury indictments now supersede the arrest warrants that Newman denied bond on, Murdaugh will remain at a Richland County detention center unless he posts the $7 million bond.
His attorneys have appealed that no bond decision to the state Supreme Court.
He could face more than 500 years in prison if convicted of all the charges, which are all felonies.