COLUMBIA, S.C. — A state judge Tuesday morning denied bond to Alex Murdaugh on charges he embezzled $3.4 million from his deceased housekeeper’s estate.
Judge Clifton Newman said he would also require Murdaugh, 53, a suspended lawyer, to have a psychiatric evaluation.
“I am ordering the defense to produce a psychiatric examination,” Newman told the court.
After that evaluation, he might reconsider whether to grant Murdaugh bond, Newman said.
Prosecutors had sought a $200,000 bond; Murdaugh’s defense lawyers asked that Murdaugh be released on his personal recognizance, or on his promise to appear for future court proceedings.
Newman said in making his decision, he considered whether Murdaugh posed a danger to the community and was a flight risk, as well as that there were numerous ongoing criminal investigations surrounding him.
Newman had taken a recess after hearing 42 minutes of presentations by Murdaugh defense lawyers, a State Attorney General prosecutor, a S.C. Law Enforcement Division agent and lawyers for the heirs of the housekeeper’s estate. Newman then told the courtroom audience that he needed 15 minutes to ponder whether he should grant any bond at all to Murdaugh or require him to stay in jail until trial.
“I can tell you I am not in any way considering a personal recognizance bond,” Newman told the courtroom before the recess.
Wearing handcuffs fitted to shackles around his waist, Murdaugh was in the courtroom wearing a navy-colored jail suit and a dark mask. He walked slowly, his legs hobbled by an ankle chain. Throughout the hearing, Murdaugh sat at the defense table between his two lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, his head downcast.
Murdaugh did not speak during the 42-minute hearing except to reply briefly to the judge, who asked him if he had anything to say: “No your honor.”
Murdaugh was in Richland County court Tuesday morning on two felony charges of obtaining property under false pretenses.
The high interest in the case was evidenced by the presence of some 15 television cameras and some two dozen reporters.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Attorney General prosecutor Creighton Waters described what he said was “a chain of events that I’ve never seen before” — how Murdaugh stole $3.3 million from the estate of his family’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in a 2018 fall at the Murdaugh home. The money was supposed to go to Satterfield’s two sons for her funeral expenses and for compensation for her loss, warrants allege.
The $3.3 million was in the form of two checks — one for $2.9 million and the other for $403,000 that Murdaugh was able to divert from estate insurance proceeds and, using a friendly law firm, was able to steer into a sham bank account he controlled, according to warrants and a civil lawsuit, Waters said.
Motioning to Satterfield’s sons, who were sitting in the courtroom, Waters told the judge, “$2.7 million is supposed to go to these boys back here.”
Last month, the S.C. Supreme Court assigned Judge Newman to oversee all court matters related to criminal investigations looking into Alex Murdaugh.
Tuesday’s hearing comes after Murdaugh previously received a $20,000 personal recognizance bond on charges that he arranged his own murder for a $10 million life insurance payout.
Only four months ago, Murdaugh was one of South Carolina’s most prominent lawyers. Now he’s ensnared in the webs of six ongoing criminal investigations involving the killings of his wife and son, the embezzlement of millions and an alleged insurance fraud scheme.
His law license was suspended last month by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The Murdaugh saga catapulted into national headlines June 7 killings when Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, were found shot to death at Murdaugh’s Colleton County home on the ground outside the family’s dog kennel.
The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating, but has announced no suspects.
On Sept. 3, Murdaugh was confronted by members of his law firm, PMPED of Hampton County, who told him they had learned that he had been stealing money from the firm’s clients and the firm. Murdaugh resigned.
Then, on Sept. 4, Murdaugh persuaded a former longtime friend and client, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him so Murdaugh’s sole surviving son, Buster, could collect $10 million from a life insurance policy, according to SLED.
The plot — to be carried out with a gun on a country road — failed, and SLED charged Murdaugh with insurance fraud. Smith, 61, was charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud
In the ensuing days, Murdaugh’s firm issued a public statement alleging that he had stolen money — sources said millions — from the firm and clients.
Later in September, Satterfield’s two sons filed a lawsuit against Murdaugh and two of his friends, Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming and Hampton banker Chad Westendorf, alleging they had stolen millions in insurance proceeds from their mother’s estate.
That lawsuit, and subsequent filings by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, set forth in detail how Murdaugh and his friends schemed to get the millions from Satterfield’s estate.
Last week, SLED, using information in large part based on the two Satterfield sons’ lawsuit, swore out warrants charging Murdaugh with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.