Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Will Murdaugh appeal? 5 questions on what’s next


Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison Friday morning for the 2021 murder of his wife, Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, in a case that fascinated the country and reverberat­ed far beyond South Carolina. His lawyers said they plan to appeal the ruling, potentiall­y up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the trial concludes, several questions remain about what comes next for the prominent lawyer, his surviving son, Buster, and the people he defrauded financiall­y. The case has also shone a light on his attorneys, Dick Harpootlia­n and Jim Griffin, and how they came to represent the now disgraced patriarch of Southern wealth.

After the trial, Murdaugh was escorted to the Colleton County Jail. For the next 30 days, Murdaugh will remain in jail before getting processed to prison, likely one with maximum security. South Carolina has seven prisons with maximum security.

Housing in those facilities, according to the South Carolina Department of Correction­s, is typically single or double cells. The movement of individual­s in those prisons is “highly restricted,” according to the SCDC website, and “all perimeters are double-fenced with extensive electronic surveillan­ce.”

Murdaugh’s defense attorneys said they will file a notice of appeal in both state and federal court for Murdaugh’s murder conviction within 10 days of the sentencing. They will then request the transcript from the dozens of testimonie­s during the nearly six-week trial, which could take months to procure.

Then they will write up the legal justificat­ion for their appeal — which, Harpootlia­n told The Washington Post, will probably include contesting the inclusion of the financial crimes in the murder trial — and the state attorneys will write up their response. Harpootlia­n said the whole process could take a year or more. In the meantime, Murdaugh will remain in prison.

After Murdaugh was led away by sheriff’s deputies on Friday, Griffin told reporters he was confident they will succeed on federal grounds if their appeals fail at the state level. He added that Murdaugh’s team would take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

“There’s a huge federal issue,” Griffin said. “The state asking Alex about why he didn’t come forward and tell law enforcemen­t where he was at the time of the kennel video after he was arrested . . . . U.S. Supreme Court cases are clear that post-arrest silence can’t be used against you. That’s a classic violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

While some observers have questioned Murdaugh’s decision to testify at his own trial, Harpootlia­n said his client wanted to do so from the beginning. The defense team wasn’t certain if that was the right decision until prosecutor­s brought the financial fraud allegation­s into the trial.

“At that point, he had to testify,” Harpootlia­n said. “It had to happen. He had to tell his side.”

Murdaugh still faces nearly 100 charges, including alleged financial crimes, that will be tried at a later date.

During the trial, Murdaugh acknowledg­ed that he lied and stole millions from clients and law partners for years. While Murdaugh faces consecutiv­e life sentences, Justin Bamberg, the attorney that represents a majority of the victims in the financial fraud cases, said the ex-lawyer must be held responsibl­e for those, too.

“When you’re dealing with Alex Murdaugh, the only thing that will suffice at this point is complete accountabi­lity,” Bamberg told The Post. “It’s not just about the prison time, it’s about actually being held accountabl­e for all of the stuff that he did. That includes the financials.”

Murdaugh allegedly stole $750,000 from one of Bamberg’s clients. From another, roughly a million dollars. And from another, $102,000. Bamberg hopes Murdaugh will plead guilty on all counts, instead of going through a lengthy trial fighting charges he already admitted to in court.

Bamber also plans to file a suit in civil court to seek financial damages for his clients. He hasn’t yet calculated how much those damages will be worth, but he said part of him wants to leave it up to a jury to potentiall­y elicit a “billion-dollar” penalty.

“His assets are already frozen, I don’t care if all he’s left with is his body, the SCDC jumpsuit and the $5 sandals they give him,” Bamberg said. “He shouldn’t be left with anything because this man destroyed lives, violated people’s trusts and put a dark cloud over this profession.”

Murdaugh’s defense team was led by Harpootlia­n, a longtime lawyer and former Democratic state senator, and Griffin, a prominent criminal defense lawyer.

Harpootlia­n first worked with the Murdaugh family in 1975, when, as an assistant prosecutor in Columbia, S.C., he met Murdaugh’s grandfathe­r, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, who was the top prosecutor in a nearby district. That began a nearly 50-year relationsh­ip with the Murdaughs.

When Harpootlia­n was elected solicitor in his district in 1991, Alex Murdaugh’s father, Randolph Murdaugh III, was the 14th Circuit solicitor.

“We were profession­al associates,” Harpootlia­n said, adding that they’d talk from time to time but not often.

When Alex Murdaugh’s son Paul allegedly crashed a boat in 2019 — killing a friend, Mallory Beach — Harpootlia­n, now a state senator, was quickly called to represent the family. Harpootlia­n met with the family often as they prepared their defense and eventually brought in Griffin to help with the case.

Griffin and Paul Murdaugh grew close, bonding over their love of fishing, Harpootlia­n said.

“We were getting ready for that trial, we thought we had a good defense, when Paul and Maggie

were killed,” Harpootlia­n said. The defense lawyer said that, initially, he and Griffin worked with the family and the police as they tried to figure out the suspect.

But that changed after Alex Murdaugh turned himself in for an alleged suicide-for-hire plot so his son Buster could collect a $10 million life insurance payout in September 2021.

“I’m convinced that when he says he didn’t kill Maggie or Paul, he didn’t,” Harpootlia­n said. “I don’t believe he would have killed them to try and delay a hearing.”

Buster Murdaugh, 26, is Alex Murdaugh’s eldest and only surviving child. He has not completed law school — according to his Instagram bio, he graduated from Wofford College in 2018 — and is not currently working as a lawyer in his family’s legal practice, Harpootlia­n said.

He added that Buster Murdaugh does have a job and is living elsewhere in South Carolina, though he did not say where. It is not yet clear what will happen to his father’s money, and what that will mean for Buster Murdaugh.

He attended law school at the University of South Carolina School of Law for some time, according to court documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, but was kicked out for plagiarizi­ng by spring 2021.

That fall, Alex Murdaugh hoped the alleged plot to get himself killed would net a $10 million payout for Buster, according to an affidavit, The Post reported in September 2021. But the plot failed, and Murdaugh survived.

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