Murdaugh murders and Laffitte trial: Cases advance in criminal, civil courts in SC
Cases involving disbarred and disgraced South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh and former Hampton banker Russell Lucius Laffitte continue to advance in criminal and civil courts, and some dates have been set in their upcoming trials.
Murdaugh, a former personal-injury lawyer and volunteer assistant solicitor with the 14th Judicial Circuit, is facing more than 90 financial and drug crime charges as well as two murder charges in the June 2021 shootings of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul after an alleged decade-long, multi-county crime spree.
Alex Murdaugh has also been directly named in 11 lawsuits — 10 in state courts and one federal court.
Laffitte, formerly a fourth-generation banker in the same Lowcountry county of Hampton, is facing lawsuits as well as criminal charges in state and federal courts.
Laffitte is accused of using his position as CEO of the bank that his family founded a century ago to assist Murdaugh in alleged financial schemes.
As the myriad of connected cases moves forward in the courts, here is the latest.
Laffitte federal trial date set in bank-fraud cases
In Laffitte's federal case, he is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and misapplication of bank funds in connection with Murdaugh's alleged schemes to steal settlement funds from legal clients and other attorneys.
After a Sept. 13 hearing, Laffitte has expected dates set for his federal trial. According to records from U.S. District Court in Charleston, a pretrial conference has been set for 1 p.m. Nov. 7 in Courtroom 1 of the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center in Charleston before Judge Richard Gergel.
Jury selection is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 8 in Courtroom 6 of the U.S. courthouse in Charleston.
The trial is expected to begin immediately after jury selection and last through Nov. 18.
According to court records, an earlier trial date had been requested, but Gergel granted Laffitte a continuance “to afford the defense an adequate time for preparation" during the Sept. 13 hearing.
Laffitte is also facing similar charges from previous South Carolina State Grand Jury indictments. Robert Kittle, a spokesperson for the state Attorney General, said Monday that no state-court trial dates have been set for Laffitte.
No trial date set for Murdaugh murders case
A trail date has not been set in the murder case involving Murdaugh, Kittle said Sept. 19.
Murdaugh was indicted July 14 on two counts of murder and two weapons charges and will face those charges in Colleton County. His defense team has petitioned the state courts administration for a January 2023 trail date, but no decision has been announced on that request.
Murdaugh remains jailed at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia on a $7 million bond he has been unable to meet.
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Mallory Beach vs. Murdaugh wrongful death lawsuit
The first civil case filed against Murdaugh was a 2019 wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Renee Beach and the estate of Mallory Beach. Mallory Beach, 19, died after an allegedly alcohol-fueled boat crash in February 2019 involving one of Murdaugh’s boats allegedly piloted by his son Paul in Beaufort County.
Although the suit has named multiple defendants, the primary defendants are Murdaugh and Gregory M. Parker Inc. d/b/a Parkers Corporation, owners of the convenience store that allegedly sold alcohol to the minors who were involved.
On Aug. 19, attorneys for the Parker defendants filed a motion to sever the defendants in the case, so that each defendant would receive a separate trial, due to delays with Murdaugh’s defense and the ongoing international media coverage surrounding Murdaugh. A Sept. 12 hearing was held on this motion before Judge Daniel DeWitt Hall.
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Hall approved the motion to sever, stating in his order that “the Court is well aware of the local, regional, national, and international interest and focus of the Murdaugh family…” and adding that, “The recent criminal indictments and civil lawsuits surrounding the Murdaugh family involve potentially the most reactionary and publicized proceedings in the history of the South Carolina judiciary and legal system, none of which is due to any conduct of Parker’s and have nothing to do with Plaintiff’s allegations against Parker’s in this case.”
In his order, Hall also stated he was granting Parker’s motion “to prevent delay, embarrassment, additional expense, and the prejudice it will suffer if not severed away from the Murdaugh defendants.”
Hall also set a trial date for Jan. 9, 2023, in Hampton County Court of Common Pleas, for just the Beach-Parkers case.
No trail date has been set for the Beach-Murdaugh case, Mark Tinsley, attorney for the Beach family, said Sept. 19.
But the issue of severance isn’t over. On Sept. 12, Tinsley a motion to reconsider Hall's order, claiming that severed trials denied his clients rights to an adequate jury trial and could cause them undue emotional stress and additional expense.
“The Court should not find that the “notoriety” surrounding the Murdaugh Defendants creates prejudice to Parker’s that supports severance of the claims,” Tinsley’s motion states. “That Parker’s is ‘tethered’ to the Murdaughs is a situation of their own making by illegally selling alcohol to an underage Paul Murdaugh. Parker’s has no one to blame but itself for the situation in which it finds itself.
“The only way the Beach family will get their right to have a jury determine all the issues, including damages, in a jury trial against the Murdaugh Defendants is a joint trial with all parties."
A hearing on the motion to reconsider has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 23 in Hampton County.
Laffitte discovery motion identifies possible witness list
In the Laffitte case, meanwhile, on Sept. 13, Laffitte’s attorneys, E. Bart Daniel and Marshall “Matt” Austin, filed a motion for discovery asking prosecutors to grant their client’s constitutional right to access the materials that the government intends to use as evidence against Laffitte.
Among the items listed in the motion were any and all notes, observations, emails, and audio or video recordings from all meetings between the government officials and “targets, subjects or witnesses,” including:
- Russell Lucius Laffitte
- Richard Alexander (“Alex”) Murdaugh;
- Corey Howerton Fleming (former attorney)
- Chris Wilson (attorney)
- Curtis Edward Smith
- Charles A. (“Charlie”) Laffitte, Jr. (banker, family member)
- Gray Laffitte Henderson (banker, family member)
- Jerry Rivers
- Spencer Anwan Roberts
Fleming, Smith, Rivers and Roberts have each been indicted for crimes that prosecutors say are connected to Murdaugh in various ways.
Laffitte house arrest and bond restrictions loosened
Upon his arrest on state crimes, Laffitte was given a $1 million bond and house arrest with GPS monitoring, and during a federal bond hearing he was also given a $500K bond and house arrest with monitoring. His attorneys then filed a motion for bond reconsideration.
During a Sept. 6 hearing, federal magistrate Judge Molly Cherry modified those restrictions, removing the home-detention requirements and placing Laffitte on “stand-alone monitoring,” which is when the court orders the use of location monitoring technology without placing the defendant on curfew, home detention or home incarceration. However, Laffitte is restricted to Hampton and Allendale counties, with the exception of court appearances in Charleston, unless otherwise approved by the U.S. probation office.