Alex Murdaugh, the embattled attorney accused of misappropriating millions of dollars in funds meant for the family of his longtime housekeeper, was denied bond and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation on Tuesday, a South Carolina judge ruled.
“There is no way this court can set a bond at this time,” Judge Clifton Newman said. “I am therefore denying bond at this time and will require Mr. Murdaugh to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to be submitted to the court for further consideration at a later date.”
Murdaugh appeared at the bond hearing at the Richland County Courthouse in Columbia, South Carolina, on charges of obtaining property by false pretenses related to the death of Gloria Satterfield. He has not offered a plea in the case.
The investigation into Satterfield’s death follows several months of legal and personal challenges for Murdaugh, a member of a prominent legal family in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
In June, his wife and one of his sons were shot dead outside their home in Islandton in a case that remains unsolved. That probe has led authorities to reopen investigations into the deaths of Satterfield in 2018 and of 19-year-old Stephen Smith in 2015.
Last month, Alex Murdaugh was shot in the head on a road in Hampton County in what authorities have described as a botched suicide-for-hire scheme and an attempt to secure a $10 million life insurance payout for his surviving son. He was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Murdaugh was released last month on a personal recognizance bond and has not offered a plea in that case.
In addition, his attorneys have admitted that he had an addiction to opioids, and the law firm that bears his name sued Murdaugh and accused him of lying and stealing funds as part of a “systematic scheme.” Murdaugh “has pledged his full cooperation to the firm,” his attorney, Jim Griffin, told CNN about two weeks ago.
Murdaugh was in a drug rehab facility in Orlando last week when he was charged with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses related to Satterfield’s death.
Psychiatric evaluation for Murdaugh
In court Tuesday in that case, the judge read from a memo filed by the defense detailing Murdaugh’s history with opioid addiction, the suicide-for-hire scheme and his stint in drug rehab.
“There is no amount of bond the court can set that safely provide protection to Mr. Murdaugh, the community,” Newman said.
Murdaugh’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Griffin, on Tuesday asked that Newman consider granting a personal recognizance bond and allow Murdaugh to continue treatment for an opioid addiction. They were denied.
An attorney for Satterfield’s children praised the judge’s ruling.
“I think it’s a good day for justice, as the arguments my partner and I made about lawyers who mistreat and steal from their clients. It’s a real stain on our profession,” said Eric Bland, an attorney for Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott.
Bland’s partner, Ronnie Richter, similarly thanked the judge.
“The Satterfields got some taste of judgment today, so thank you, Judge Newman,” Richter said. “I really feel like the court appreciated the weight and gravity of this situation. It was important to demonstrate that influence and power does not create a second tier of justice in this state, and I think that weighed heavily on the decision to withhold bond in this situation.”
Still, Harpootlian expressed optimism that he will be able to present a “clean bill of health” soon to the judge.
“We understand the judge’s concerns about Alex’s mental condition. We are more than happy to comply with his request,” Harpootlian said outside court on Tuesday.
Harpootlian said Murdaugh’s defense team has already been in touch with the medical professionals at two detox and drug rehabilitation facilities where Murdaugh has spent time in recent weeks. Related documents would be presented to Newman in the next few weeks, he said.
“We think we can get him a clean, a relatively clean bill of health by the end of this week by a psychiatrist based on the six weeks of examinations he’s had by mental health experts both at the detox facility and rehab facility,” Harpootlian said.
Murdaugh “seems much more clear-headed today than I’ve ever seen him,” Harpootlian said, adding that his lawyers will continue working to get Murdaugh into “treatment as quickly as possible.”
Harpootlian would not comment on whether Murdaugh has admitted to financial crimes, citing attorney-client privilege.
Affidavits lay out alleged scheme
Murdaugh was arrested Thursday in Florida on suspicion of misappropriating settlement funds in connection with the death of Satterfield, his former housekeeper, authorities said.
Satterfield, who worked for the Murdaughs for more than two decades, died following what was described as a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaugh home in 2018, according to attorney Eric Bland, who represents her estate. Bland filed a lawsuit in September against Murdaugh on behalf of Satterfield’s estate, seeking the money the family says it is due.
Affidavits released Saturday describe what authorities say happened after Satterfield’s death: Murdaugh recommended an attorney to the family, and that attorney brokered insurance settlements of approximately $4.3 million, one affidavit said.
A settlement agreement stipulated that $2,765,000 was for the Satterfield family, the affidavit said.
“The Satterfield family were never notified of the settlement nor received any of the proceeds from them, and the settlement agreement was not properly filed in the court record,” the affidavit said.
Instead, Murdaugh directed the attorney to write a check to a bank account created and owned by Murdaugh titled “Forge,” in order “to deprive the Satterfield family of insurance settlements owed to them by converting the $2,961,911.95 to Mr. Murdaugh’s own use,” according to the affidavit. He had previously deposited $403,500 to the same account as part of a preliminary settlement agreement, according to a second affidavit.
While there is a legitimate company called Forge Consulting LLC that handles insurance settlements, it is not affiliated with the Satterfield settlement nor the “Forge” account owned by Murdaugh, the affidavit said.
“Mr. Murdaugh titled the account ‘Forge’ as a misrepresentation in order to conceal misappropriation of the funds in question,” the affidavit added.
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