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Judge says Murdaugh’s attorneys can’t use 401(k) for double-murder appeals

A South Carolina judge ruled on Friday that attorneys for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh cannot use $160,000 in assets that are currently being held by receivers who have court-approved oversight of Murdaugh’s money.

The $160,000 is needed to pay for legal fees and costs for appeals to higher courts related to Murdaugh’s March double-murder conviction by a Colleton County jury, Murdaugh’s attorney Jim Griffin said May 3 in a hearing before Judge Daniel Hall in Lexington.

“After careful consideration, Defendant Richard Alexander Murdaugh’s motion for payment of attorneys’ fees and costs from untainted funds is DENIED,” Hall wrote.

Griffin told the judge May 3 that defending Murdaugh at his six-week trial had used up all $600,000 that the judge originally approved, and defense attorneys needed an additional $160,000 for the appeal of his convictions and consecutive life sentences.

“The funds received from Murdaugh’s retirement account in defense of the murders and related charges at trial have been exhausted,” Griffin said in a March 21 motion to Hall seeking the $160,000.

On March 3, state Judge Clifton Newman sentenced Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences for the 2021 murders of his wife Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22. Murdaugh, who denied killing them, is now in a high-security cell in the S.C. Department of Corrections.

The $600,000 to finance Murdaugh’s trial defense came from the liquidation of Murdaugh’s 401(k) retirement funds, and there is still an additional $424,000 in Murdaugh’s retirement funds under the receivers’ control that Griffin wanted the $160,000 to come from.

Appeal costs are already mounting up, and the trial transcript alone is some $26,000, Griffin told the judge.

Griffin could not be reached for comment Friday.

His co-counsel in Murdaugh’s trial, state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, told The State newspaper Friday, “No comment.”

Jordan Crapps, an attorney for the receivers who have control of Murdaugh’s assets, urged the judge at last week’s hearing not to give Murdaugh’s lawyers any additional money from the pool of his remaining assets. Murdaugh’s lawyers had waived their right to get more money out of the liquidated retirement funds, Crapps said.

The money that went to defend Murdaugh at his trial came out of his retirement funds, and presumably was not any of the approximately $8 million that a state grand jury has accused him of stealing from clients and others over the years.

Murdaugh, 54, was once a successful lawyer who made more than $1 million a year at his Hampton County family law practice, one of the most dominant plaintiff’s law firms in the state.

A state grand jury indicted him on numerous counts of stealing more than $8 million from friends, his law firm, clients and his brother, Randy. Many of those victims would presumably have claims on Murdaugh’s assets held by creditors.

Eric Bland, a Columbia attorney who argued forcefully last week against giving Murdaugh’s attorneys money that others have claims on, said Friday that the judge “made the perfect call.”

“It wasn’t denying money for an appeal as much as it was trying to put Murdaugh in the front of the line in front of creditors and other victims who are going to make claims against the money the receivers have assembled,” Bland told The State.

Bland and his law partner, Ronnie Richter, represent the sons of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died of injuries after a 2018 fall on the front steps of the family’s house in western Colleton County.

Murdaugh has confessed to being responsible for the theft of some $4.3 million in liability insurance proceeds due to the Satterfield sons for her death, and he acknowledged he owes the money to the sons, Brian Harriott and Tony Satterfield.

Mark Tinsley, an Allendale attorney representing the family of Mallory Beach, who died in a 2019 boat crash allegedly piloted by Murdaugh’s late son, Paul, also argued to Hall May 3 that they should not get any of the remaining retirement funds.

Tinsley’s lawsuit against Murdaugh and Greg Parker, a convenience store operator, seeking millions of dollars in damages from them both goes to trial in August in Hampton County.

Based on Griffin and Harpootlian’s representations to the judge that they would not seek any more money from the retirement funds, “I think this was the only conclusion that could be reached,” Tinsley said Friday.