Alex Murdaugh Denied Bail After Psychiatric Evaluation; Lawyers Appeal
Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
COLUMBIA - Defense attorneys for Alex Murdaugh have asked the state Supreme Court to overrule a lower judge and release their client from jail as he awaits trial on fraud and theft charges.
The Nov. 10 filing from Columbia lawyers Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin comes a day after Circuit Judge Clifton Newman declined - for the second time - to release Murdaugh on bail, deeming the disgraced Hampton County attorney a danger to himself and others.
Newman issued the ruling late Nov. 9 after reviewing a psychiatric evaluation for Murdaugh, who faces criminal charges of staging his own murder in a botched insurance fraud scheme and stealing from the estate of his late housekeeper.
In their appeal, Harpootlian and Griffin wrote that the psychiatrist who evaluated Murdaugh, Dr. Donna Maddox, "did not find that (Murdaugh) is a danger to himself or to the community."
Maddox, a forensic psychiatrist for more than three decades, has experience performing psychiatric evaluations in high-stakes court cases. In 2019 alone, she testified at the sentencing hearings of Lexington County child killer Tim Jones Jr. and Anderson school shooter Jesse Osborne.
After evaluating Murdaugh on Oct. 20 and reviewing his prior medical records, Maddox diagnosed him with "severe opioid use disorder" and recommended he spend another eight to 10 weeks at a residential treatment facility, the lawyers wrote.
In documents attached to their Nov. 10 appeal, Murdaugh's lawyers revealed for the first time that their client's opioid addiction began 20 years ago "when he was prescribed pain killers following knee surgery."
"Since then, he has spent millions of dollars supporting this insidious addiction," they wrote.
Murdaugh's lawyers also argued the state constitution guarantees their client the right to be released before his trial, since he isn't charged with a violent crime, or an offense that carries the death penalty or life in prison.
Still, barring an intervention by the state Supreme Court, Newman's order means Murdaugh, the scion of a wealthy and powerful legal family in South Carolina's Lowcountry, will remain at the Richland County jail while awaiting trial.
Murdaugh, 53, has spent more than three weeks there since his arrest last month on charges he used a fraudulent bank account to steal some $3.4 million that was owed in wrongful-death settlements to the family of his longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
Newman initially declined to let Murdaugh out on bail at an Oct. 19 hearing, saying he was worried the suspended attorney's admitted opioid addiction and personal unraveling make him a threat to himself and the public.
Newman asked Murdaugh's attorneys to furnish a psychiatric evaluation of their client. They provided the judge that write-up on Oct. 22, three days after the first bond hearing, according to Newman's order. Newman's ruling didn't disclose the findings of Murdaugh's psychiatric evaluation.
"After considering the arguments of counsel, the evaluation submitted, pending charges and other investigations, and the apparent character and mental condition of the defendant, the Court finds that the Defendant is a danger both to himself and the community," Newman wrote in his two-page order.
Even before filing the appeal late Nov. 10, Murdaugh's attorney, Harpootlian, said he was disappointed by the ruling. He declined to comment on his appeal to the Supreme Court.
"We think that he's entitled to bond under the Constitution and the statutes," Harpootlian said.
Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, attorneys who are suing Murdaugh on behalf of Satterfield's family, sided with Newman in a written statement.
"The justice system continues to work as intended regarding Alex Murdaugh," Bland said. He said the Satterfield family has confidence that "Murdaugh will no longer be receiving favorable treatment but will be drinking from the same cup of justice as every other charged criminal in the state drinks from."
Newman's ruling punctuated a monthlong reckoning for Murdaugh, a prominent Democrat and former assistant prosecutor who once led the state trial lawyers association. For most of the past century, generations of lawyers in his family ran the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office, prosecuting cases along the southern tip of South Carolina. The family simultaneously ran the high-powered Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick law firm in Hampton that built a reputation for winning huge judgments against railroad companies and other corporations.
But the Murdaugh legacy has come crashing down since Alex Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, and son Paul were found slain at the family's Colleton County hunting lodge in June.
Murdaugh remains a "person of interest" in the State Law Enforcement Division's investigation of those still-unsolved murders, his attorneys have said.
In the meantime, he has become a magnet for criminal investigations and civil lawsuits. He was kicked out of his family's law firm and accused of stealing millions from his clients and law partners.
He was hospitalized after a Labor Day weekend shooting he initially blamed on an unknown assailant who drove past him on a rural Hampton County road. Then he was arrested on insurance fraud charges after telling SLED he not only knew the shooter, but had enlisted the man to kill him as part of a scheme to leave behind a $10 million life insurance payout for his remaining son, Buster. He was released from jail on a $25,000 personal recognizance bond after that arrest.
Murdaugh admitted to a two-decade opioid addiction and checked himself into rehab.
He was sued by the family of his late housekeeper, who accused Murdaugh of concocting a scheme to steal millions they were owed from wrongful-death settlements tied to Satterfield's trip-and-fall at Murdaugh's hunting lodge. Then SLED arrested him in connection with the scheme, and a state prosecutor laid out evidence that Murdaugh used a fraudulent bank account to pocket $3.4 million that was meant for Satterfield's sons.
Even his former law partners, including his brother, sued him over half a million dollars in unpaid debts.
A judge froze Murdaugh's assets after concerns he or his son Buster might try to hide millions of dollars that could be recovered in civil suits against him.
All told, state and federal authorities have opened more than a half-dozen separate investigations involving the Murdaugh family since June.