Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced former South Carolina lawyer convicted of murder, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for stealing millions from his clients, law firm, and others close to him.
But before he was handed his prison sentence in Beaufort County Court, Murdaugh delivered a rambling speech in which he denied murdering his wife and son, apologized to his financial victims and his family, cautioned about the perils of drug addiction, and critiqued the online treatment of those closest to him.
“It is so important to me that you know how bothered I am by the things that I did,” a tearful Murdaugh, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, said as he stood next to the defense table.
The apology tour had no impact on Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over the murder trial. After he accepted the 27-year prison sentence previously agreed upon between prosecutors and defense attorneys, he did not hold back from sharing his opinions on the case or Murdaugh.
The judge compared Murdaugh to another man he had sentenced for killing and setting someone on fire, stating that he is just “that empty.”
“You seem empty; I don’t see anything,” Newman, who is retiring in a little over a month, said in court. “Hopefully something will emerge in your spirit, in your soul.”
“I will turn the page and leave you behind.”
Murdaugh, 55, pleaded guilty earlier this month to 22 charges that included money laundering, criminal conspiracy, and fraud. The plea agreement resolved 101 state counts against him and was negotiated just days before Murdaugh was set to stand trial on allegations he stole $4.3 million in insurance money intended for the family of his late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
Prior to Murdaugh’s apology tour, several victims and their attorneys read victim impact statements, slamming the former lawyer for his years-long scheme that permanently altered lives. “This is the unicorn of all thefts. This is someone who has tarnished the legal profession and the state,” Eric Bland, who represents the Satterfield family and other victims, said in court. “He’s on the Mount Rushmore of criminals.”
One of Gloria Satterfield’s sons, Tony, turned at the podium to look directly at Murdaugh to tell him that while he “deceived” Tony Satterfield and his family for years, he would pray for him every day. As Satterfield’s sister emotionally told Murdaugh he was not the person she originally thought, he mouthed, “I understand.”
“I trusted you with everything,” Jordan Jinks, a former longtime friend of Murdaugh who was swindled out of a settlement he received after a car crash, said in court. “What kind of animal are you?”
Murdaugh began his tearful speech by telling each victim who spoke that he “heard them” and admitted that he did “terrible things” while he was hiding “from the reality of the things.” He told each of his victims that he “cared” about them and that despite the fact that he stole money from them, he still has “special recollections” about their time together.
The sentence marks the second time Murdaugh has been handed a lengthy prison sentence—and the latest plunge in the fall of a once prominent legal family in the Lowcountry. In March, Murdaugh was sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole for the 2021 slaying of his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul, at their family’s hunting estate. He is also awaiting sentencing on federal financial charges after pleading guilty in September and is still facing separate state charges.
Murdaugh also took the time to speak directly to his family, including his only surviving son, Buster. Holding back tears, Murdaugh apologized for letting his son down and not being with him “during such hard times.”
“I am so sorry that I did so many things that are so contradictory to every single thing Mom and I ever taught you and Paul,” Murdaugh said. “I am sorry I have caused so much trouble for people that I love so much.”
After directly addressing multiple family members, former law firm colleagues, and former friends, Murdaugh brought up his decades-long addiction to opioids, urging those struggling with drugs to seek help. He then thanked the rehab centers that helped him.
During the Tuesday hearing, prosecutor Creighton Waters outlined a litany of Murdaugh’s crooked schemes that began around 2008, when he ran into financial trouble. To alleviate his mounting debt and “an insatiable need for money,” Waters said, Murdaugh began stealing settlements from his personal injury clients at his family’s law firm, and others close to him.
Murdaugh’s defrauded clients include the family of a deaf man who became a quadriplegic and died after a 2009 car crash, a state trooper who suffered a neck injury after he was hit in his patrol car, and Murdaugh’s own brother.
Waters detailed the influence and fear that Murdaugh and his family wielded in the Hampton area, ensuring his victims’ silence until 2021. He added that Murdaugh used the stolen funds to pay for his lavish lifestyle, which included vacations and his decades-long opioid addiction.
“There was a palpable fear, particularly among those early victims… because of the power,” Waters said. “The wreckage he has left through the legal system, the distrust of the legal system he has caused, deserves a singular accountability more than anyone has ever heard of.”
“To say numbers like that out loud, to detail those involved schemes for this period of time is unique, it is unprecedented. It calls for an unprecedented sentence,” he added.
The prosecutor also detailed Murdaugh’s scheme to deal with the Satterfield family. After Satterfield died from a fall at Murdaugh’s home in 2018, he said, Murdaugh urged her two sons to file a claim against him to collect his hefty homeowner’s insurance policy. Prosecutors say that Murdaugh then conspired with his longtime friend Corey Fleming to divert the funds for his own financial gain. (Murdaugh has since agreed to pay the missing money, which the Satterfield sons did not know about until after the double homicide, and has apologized for the scheme.)
Fleming was sentenced to 46 months in prison on federal charges for his role in the scheme. He was also sentenced to 10 years in state prison for the crime, which will begin after his federal sentence.
While Murdaugh admitted to stealing millions for over a decade, he firmly insists that he is not a murderer and did not receive a fair trial. In September, his legal team asked for a new trial on the murder charges, alleging that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill tampered with the jury that convicted him in March.
Hill denies the allegations, and prosecutors insist there are inconsistencies in the defense’s findings. Newman has already asked the Supreme Court to remove him from all future hearings related to the double homicide after Murdaugh’s team alleged that he cannot be impartial.