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WATCH LIVE: Murdaugh appears for sentencing hearing on financial crimes

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Photo: Gogu Dumitru / 500px / 500px / Getty Images

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh will learn Tuesday whether a judge accepts a plea deal and a negotiated sentence on financial crime charges.

Murdaugh, who faced scores of charges, pleaded guilty on Nov. 17 in a plea agreement prosecutor Creighton Waters said covered multiple charges across multiple indictments from multiple counties. Waters said that in putting together the agreement, prosecutors ensured there was “at least one and sometimes more than one representative charge for each victim that was victimized by Mr. Murdaugh in the course of his legal practice.”

Under the agreement, that Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman must accept, Murdaugh would face a sentence of 27 years and would have to serve at least 85% of that, or just under 23 years, before he could become eligible for parole.

He also faces restitution, but at the hearing earlier this month, Waters said they would defer exact amounts Murdaugh owed his victims for the sentencing hearing.

Newman questioned Murdaugh under oath about his willingness to accept the plea agreement, asking if Murdaugh understood the agreement and wanted Newman to accept the plea and pose the negotiated sentence. Both times, Murdaugh said yes.

If Newman does accept the agreement, and he indicated he was inclined to do so at the hearing, it would bring close the chapter of prosecuting Murdaugh for financial crimes.

But his attorneys are still fighting for a new murder trial.

Murdaugh was convicted in March for the June 2021 slayings of his wife, Maggie, and their son, Paul, at the family’s rural hunting property in the Islandton community of Colleton County. Newman sentenced him to two life sentences for those convictions.

But Murdaugh attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin filed a motion for a new trial alleging jury tampering.

After the Nov. 17 hearing, Harpootlian and Griffin told reporters Murdaugh had been waiting to plead guilty to the financial crime charges to make sure the terms would give him “an opportunity to get out of prison.”

“And today we got those terms and, you know, he’s prepared to serve a long time,” Griffin said. “As he said to me as we were going into the courtroom, he feels very comfortable doing prison time for crimes that he did. And he knew that he was going to prison. He does not, does not, feel comfortable doing prison time for the murders of his wife and son for which he did not do and we still are singularly focused on exonerating him for those convictions.”

Griffin also said his client wanted to provide closure for his victims.

“Believe it or not, you know, he cares for these victims, and he felt badly about it, and he was, you know, people want to diminish this, but he was in the throes of an opioid addiction,” Griffin said. “And, you know, it had taken over his life and, and so you know, he’s opioid-free, he’s drug-free, and he feels awful about his conduct and he’s going to spend the next 22 years in prison, apologizing.”

Harpootlian said Murdaugh’s son, Buster, has been subjected to “tremendous scrutiny and online bullying and harassment by everyone” and said Murdaugh hopes his guilty plea will help with that.

“He’s very concerned about his son, Buster,” Harpootlian said.

If Murdaugh is granted a new trial on the murder charges, Newman, who was appointed to preside over all of the Murdaugh cases, will likely not preside over the new trial.

Murdaugh’s defense attorneys filed a motion to bar him from presiding over any future cases, arguing he “has personal knowledge about the clerk of court’s conduct” which they argue will be disputed at a hearing about whether Murdaugh should have a new trial. Documents also allege Newman made statements after the judge returned guilty verdicts that violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

But the state’s high court denied the motion to bar Newman from presiding over future cases, stating he has already requested a new judge be assigned.

There has been no word yet on whether Murdaugh will be granted a new trial on the murder charges, despite his insistence that he did not kill his wife and son.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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