CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh did something Thursday he hasn’t done in the two years since his life of privilege and power started to unravel — plead guilty to a crime.
Murdaugh admitted in federal court to 22 counts of financial fraud and money laundering.
Murdaugh, 55, is serving life without parole in a South Carolina prison for shooting his wife and son. He has denied any role in the killings since their deaths in June 2021 and insisted he was innocent in two days of testimony earlier this year before he was convicted of two counts of murder.
The federal guilty plea likely locks in years if not decades in prison for the disbarred lawyer, even if his murder conviction and sentence in state court are overturned on appeal.
Murdaugh told the judge he wanted to be held accountable for stealing from his clients and do right by his surviving son.
“I want to take responsibility. I want my son to see me take responsibility. It’s my hope that by taking responsibility that the people I’ve hurt can begin to heal,” said Murdaugh, standing in his orange South Carolina prison jumpsuit.
He will be sentenced at a later date.
The deal for pleading guilty in federal court is straightforward. Prosecutors will ask that any federal sentence Murdaugh gets run at the same time as any prison term he serves from a state court. They won’t give him credit defendants typically receive for pleading guilty.
In exchange, authorities get a requirement placed in almost every plea deal, which is especially significant in this case: “The Defendant agrees to be fully truthful and forthright with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies by providing full, complete and truthful information about all criminal activities about which he/she has knowledge,” reads the standard language included in Murdaugh’s deal.
That could be a broad range of wrongdoing. The federal charges against the disgraced attorney, whose family were both prosecutors and founders of a heavy-hitting law firm that no longer carries the Murdaugh name in tiny Hampton County, deal with stealing money from a few clients and others, and creating fraudulent bank accounts.
Murdaugh still faces about 100 different charges in state court. Authorities said he committed insurance fraud by trying to have someone kill him so his surviving son could get $10 million in life insurance, but the shot only grazed Murdaugh’s head. Investigators said Murdaugh also failed to pay taxes on the money he stole, took settlement money from several clients and his family’s law firm, and ran a drug and money laundering ring.
He is scheduled to face trial on at least some of those charges at the end of November. State prosecutors have insisted they want him to face justice for each one.
In federal court in Charleston, Murdaugh’s lawyers said he will plead guilty to 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Each charge carries a maximum of at least 20 years in prison. Some have a maximum 30-year sentence. Murdaugh will be sentenced at a later date.
Other requirements of the plea deal include that Murdaugh pay back $9 million he is accused of stealing and take a lie detector test if asked.
Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.