Alex Murdaugh’s accomplice in financial crimes seeks new trial based on killer’s testimony in murder case
Alex Murdaugh’s accomplice in his financial crimes is seeking a new trial based on the now-convicted killer’s dramatic courtroom testimony in his murder case.
Russell Laffitte, Murdaugh’s associate and the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, filed a motion on 9 March requesting a second trial as he continues to claim his innocence after being convicted of a string of financial fraud charges.
“On February 23, 2023, Mr Murdaugh explicitly stated, for the first time in sworn testimony, that he did not participate in a conspiracy with Mr Laffitte because Mr Laffitte did not participate in the financial crimes,” the motion states.
“Mr Murdaugh took full responsibility for his own actions and testified that Mr Laffitte did nothing wrong and did not have any knowledge of Mr Murdaugh’s criminal activity.”
Laffitte was convicted in November of financial fraud charges in connection to Murdaugh’s alleged white collar fraud schemes.
His conviction came on the basis that he was Murdaugh’s co-defendant in his sprawling multi-million-dollar – and decade-long – schemes.
During Murdaugh’s murder trial, the disgraced attorney took the witness stand and confessed to stealing millions of dollars from his law firm PMPED and its clients.
But he defended his former associate Laffitte, insisting that he had no involvement in his own vast fraud schemes.
“Russell Laffitte never conspired with me to do anything, whatever was done was done by me,” said Murdaugh.
“This is stuff that I did. I did these things wrong. Russell Laffitte didn’t do anything… You keep talking about stuff I did with Russell Laffitte, but what I want to let you know is that I did this and I am the one that took people’s money that I shouldn’t have taken and that Russell Laffitte was not involved in helping me do that knowingly…
“If he did it, he did it without knowing it.”
Laffitte’s attorneys pointed to this testimony as “newly discovered evidence” in the case as they argue that the disgraced bank CEO should be tried a second time.
This new motion – his second – was filed just three days after a judge tossed an earlier request for a new trial.
US District Judge Richard Gergel denied Laffitte’s first motion for a new trial on 6 March – just four days after Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife Maggie and son Paul in a brutal double murder which prosecutors said was motivated by his efforts to cover up his financial crimes.
That motion was based on the chaotic end to Laffitte’s trial which saw two jurors replaced in the 11th hour.
The two female jurors were excused and replaced with alternates after the panel had spent nine hours deliberating the verdict.
One of the jurors needed to stand down because she needed to take her time-sensitive medication while the second was experiencing severe anxiety and was unable to continue performing her duties.
Following his conviction, Laffitte fired his legal team and filed a motion arguing that these two jurors were holding out against reaching a unanimous guilty verdict and – when dismissed – the panel convicted him in less than an hour.
The legal team also requested a new trial on four other grounds including the validity of the guilty verdict and that Laffitte’s attorneys were ineffective.
But the request was denied by Judge Gergel who, in the ruling, called the claims “wholly without merit”.
The judge also denied motions for an acquittal and an evidentiary hearing.
It remains to be seen whether the judge will also dismiss this second motion. Prosecutors have up until 20 March to file a response.
The disgraced banker is currently awaiting sentencing after he was convicted of six federal charges including bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy back in November. He is facing up to 30 years in prison on the charges.
During his trial, Laffitte admitted that he had played a part in Murdaugh’s vast financial fraud schemes – but claimed that he was an unwilling participant who was conned by his friend.
Prosecutors – and the jury – disagreed, saying that Laffitte acted as Murdaugh’s personal banker and as a custodian or conservator for some of his law firm clients.
Laffitte then conspired to defraud those clients, with the two men diverting the money to themselves.
Among the victims were two children – Alaynia and Hannah Plyler – whose family members were killed in a tragic car crash.
Laffitte – whose family launched Palmetto State Bank in 1907 and who like Murdaugh came from a prominent family in the Lowcountry – was fired from the bank as details of the alleged scheme came to light.
While Murdaugh claimed Laffitte’s innocence at his murder trial, he confessed that he himself had stolen millions from his legal clients going back a decade.
He is facing 99 charges from at least 19 indictments for stealing at least $8.7m in settlements from dozens of legal clients.
Among the slew of charges are counts of: fraud, attempted tax evasion, money laundering, embezzlement, obtaining signature or property by false pretenses, forgery, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
In total, he faces up to 700 years in prison on these charges.
Even without the financial charges, Murdaugh will already spend the remainder of his life in prison after he was found guilty on 2 March of murdering Maggie and Paul on the family’s Moselle property back on 7 June 2021.
Murdaugh, 54, was sentenced to life in prison the day after the verdict.
Murdaugh’s conviction has now shone a spotlight on some other mystery deaths tied to the South Carolina legal dynasty.
Days on from the murders, an investigation was reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County.
The openly gay 19-year-old had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But Smith’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.
An investigation was also reopened into another mystery death connected to the Murdaugh family – that of their longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.
She died in 2018 in a mystery trip and fall accident at the family home. Murdaugh then allegedly stole around $4m in a wrongful death settlement from her sons.