WALTERBORO, S.C. — Jurors in Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial got a late start Friday, as Judge Clifton Newman considered whether testimony about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes should be heard by the jury.
Instead of resuming Murdaugh’s two-week murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse, Newman heard testimony from Palmetto State Bank CEO Jan Malinowski about questionable financial transactions into Murdaugh’s account that were approved by former CEO and Murdaugh childhood friend Russell Laffitte.
Bank documents introduced Friday indicate Murdaugh was $4.2 million in debt to Palmetto State Bank by August 2021. Nevertheless, that month Laffitte approved a transfer of $400,000 into Murdaugh’s checking account, despite the fact Murdaugh was almost $350,000 overdrawn.
Laffitte’s handling of Murdaugh’s finances, often taking actions without approval of the bank’s board, later led to this firing from the small-town bank. In November 2022, Laffitte was convicted in federal court on bank fraud and conspiracy charges for assisting Murdaugh in stealing millions from his own clients, many of them children injured in accidents who had settlement money stored in Laffitte’s bank.
Malinowski is just the latest witness to testify to financial misbehavior by Murdaugh, for now all out of the hearing of the jurors considering whether Murdaugh shot and killed his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in June 2021.
Defense attorney Jim Griffin disputed the inappropriateness of Palmetto State Bank’s actions, saying Murdaugh was a longstanding customer who had not previously defaulted on a loan from Palmetto State Bank. He argued the disputed loan had been signed off on by two other bank executives. Those executives were the former Chairman Charlie Laffitte, Laffitte’s father, and Vice President Gray Laffitte Henderson, Laffitte’s sister.
Money stolen from housekeeper’s family
The son of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper testified Friday that the disgraced South Carolina attorney stole millions of dollars from his family after presenting that Murdaugh could help them after his mother’s death.
Michael Satterfield told the court his mother, Gloria Satterfield, worked for the Murdaughs for more than 20 years before she died in February 2018 after a fall at the Murdaugh’s home.
Murdaugh told Gloria Satterfield’s two sons that he would take care of them, and a $3.5 million insurance payout was ultimately issued in the case. But Satterfield said he and his brother were never told about the money, which they allege was instead misappropriated by Murdaugh.
Michael Satterfield testified that he spoke to Murdaugh well after Murdaugh had received the insurance money, but Murdaugh assured him they were “still making progress” on it. He said he contacted Murdaugh again in June 2021 after seeing reporting about his mother’s death, but under cross-examination by Griffin said he was unsure if that conversation happened before or after Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s murders.
The State Law Enforcement Division reopened an investigation of Gloria Satterfield’s death after her sons filed a lawsuit against Murdaugh and others in September 2021, and the theft of their settlement is one of the outstanding charges Murdaugh still faces.
Will financial evidence be admitted to murder trial?
On Thursday, the prosecution scored a win when Newman said Murdaugh’s defense team opened the door to the state introducing a possible financial motivation for the crime. But prosecutor Creighton Waters is still having to call individual witnesses away from the jury as Newman weighs what evidence to admit — a potentially lengthy delay to completing the trial in front of the jury.
On Thursday, the jury was dismissed for the morning as attorneys questioned Jeanne Seckinger, the CFO of Murdaugh’s former law firm who confronted Murdaugh about missing money the day of the murders.
Seckinger’s testimony in part led to the conviction of Laffitte, who is also her brother-in-law.
Later in the day, the jury went home early while the judge heard testimony from Chris Wilson, an attorney and former friend of the defendant who accused Murdaugh of swindling him out of nearly $200,000, and said Murdaugh confessed to him that he had been stealing money because of an opioid addiction.
The defense team has argued accusations of financial crimes by Murdaugh is irrelevant to the charges he murdered his wife and son on June 7, 2021, and are inappropriate because Murdaugh has yet to be convicted on the multiple financial-related charges against him.
Griffin argued Thursday that the additional witnesses the state wants to call — many of whom will have to testify twice if Newman allows the jury to hear their testimony — could add several more weeks to the Murdaugh trial, which was originally meant to wrap up next week.
“We’ll be here until the end of February or March,” Griffin said.
Newman has yet to admit any of the testimony he has heard so far. More witnesses are expected to be called to testify to Murdaugh’s alleged financial misdeeds away from the jury.