Judge orders disgraced S.C. lawyer Alex Murdaugh to undergo psychiatric evaluation

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Alex Murdaugh, the embattled South Carolina lawyer accused of plotting his own killing as part of a life insurance scheme, was denied bond Tuesday after facing new charges tied to the embezzling of millions of dollars related to the death of his housekeeper.

Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman ordered Murdaugh to undergo a psychiatric evaluation following concerns he presents a potential danger to himself and the community. Murdaugh had already been out on another $20,000 personal recognizance bond in September and was allowed to continue treatment at an out-of-state drug detox center for opioid addiction.

Authorities arrested him in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday and charged him with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Murdaugh, 53, masked and wearing a jail jumpsuit, did not speak during the hearing.

Alex Murdaugh arrives at his bond hearing in Richland County, South Carolina on Oct. 19, 2021. (Joshua Boucher/The State / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Alex Murdaugh arrives at his bond hearing in Richland County, South Carolina on Oct. 19, 2021. (Joshua Boucher/The State / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

"This is the tip of the iceberg," state prosecutor Creighton Waters said, explaining to Newman how Murdaugh enriched himself. "I think there's going to be far more that we reveal when we review these records."

The Murdaughs' longtime housekeeper and nanny, Gloria Satterfield, died in February 2018 in what was initially described as an accidental fall. Attorneys for her adult sons, Michael "Tony" Satterfield and Brian Harriott, claim they received none of the proceeds from a $4.3 million settlement they said was orchestrated in secret by Murdaugh, according to a lawsuit filed against their mother's employer and others. State investigators allege about $3.4 million was stolen after legal fees were paid.

Waters said Murdaugh had promised to help Satterfield's sons financially after her death by paying them financial proceeds from a life insurance policy. But instead, Murdaugh set up the sons with another attorney, Cory Fleming, a close friend and former college roommate, to represent the family's estate, Waters said. The sons maintain they were unaware of the pair's friendship.

Waters said Fleming helped to divert millions of dollars to an account set up by Murdaugh for a sham company called Forge, which was named after a legitimate financial consulting company unaffiliated with the case.

"This account was nothing more than illusion, a fabrication, to create the illusion that these checks were going to a legitimate financial consultant, when in reality it went to an account that he controlled," Waters said.

He added that Murdaugh used the money to pay off credit card debts and write checks to himself and his father, and that there may be another $118,000 stolen.

"Not a dime goes to this family," said Waters, pointing to Satterfield's family sitting behind him.

During the bond hearing, an official with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said the agency agreed with the prosecution's findings.

Fleming's law license was suspended this month in the wake of the allegations. He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Satterfield was 57 when she died from injuries sustained from a fall in the Murdaugh home, where she was an employee for more than two decades, prosecutors said. The estate's lawyers said Murdaugh had told others that the family dogs had caused her to trip and fall down the stairs. Satterfield was in a coma for three weeks before she died.

The Hampton County coroner recently requested her case be reopened because no autopsy was performed at the time of her death and "on the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled 'natural,' which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident."

From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh. (via Facebook)
From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh. (via Facebook)

A lawyer for Murdaugh, Richard "Dick" Harpootlian, denied his client had any involvement in Satterfield's death.

Following the bond hearing, Harpootlian said he would provide the judge with Murdaugh's mental health evaluations conducted at the drug rehabilitation facilities that show he has a "relatively clean bill of health." He hopes his client can get a new bond hearing.

"His mental status is good," Harpootlian told reporters, adding that Murdaugh needs to continue his treatment.

"He seems much more clear headed today than I've seen him," he added.

Murdaugh's personal struggles and financial dealings have come under intense scrutiny since June, when he found his wife, Margaret, and son, Paul, fatally shot on the family's rural estate in South Carolina's Lowcountry. Their deaths remain unsolved.

Murdaugh's attorneys revealed last week that authorities were looking at him as a person of interest, but insisted he has an alibi: visiting his mother, who has dementia, and her caregiver on the night his wife and son were slain.

The investigation prompted state authorities to look into other actions by Murdaugh — set off by an alleged plan to arrange having someone kill him over Labor Day weekend in a roadside shooting so that another son, Buster, would receive money from a $10 million life insurance policy.

Murdaugh's lawyers said he was depressed over the deaths of his wife and son and was spiraling from a 20-year drug addiction to opioids when he decided that he wanted to die.

Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Another man, Curtis Edward Smith, was charged in connection with the plot, but has denied he knew about the plan beforehand.

The funds in the Satterfield settlement aren't the only finances under scrutiny.

Murdaugh has also been accused by his former law firm of pocketing potentially millions of dollars, which led his law license to be indefinitely suspended in September.

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