Latest Fight in the Alex Murdaugh Case Is Over Who Controls the Convicted Murderer’s Assets

Latest Fight in the Alex Murdaugh Case Is Over Who Controls the Convicted Murderer’s Assets
Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh arrives in court in Beaufort, S.C., on Sept. 14, 2023. (James Pollard/AP Photo)
The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Attorneys for convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh want the federal government to take over whatever is left of the millions of dollars and other assets the convicted murderer stole and earned through his legal work.

The assets have been under state control for nearly two years, but Murdaugh’s attorneys said the federal government won’t charge the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees the people watching over the state’s work have been paid.

“The United States, however, will perform the same function in ancillary proceedings for free,” Murdaugh’s lawyers wrote.

The lawyers handlings the assets for the state, who are called receivers, shot back with demands that Murdaugh’s lawyers reveal how much they have been paid. The receivers have already denied a request from Murdaugh’s attorneys for more money to pay for his appeal of his life sentence without parole for killing his wife and son.

The fight over Murdaugh’s money emerged after his decision last week to plead guilty to 22 financial crimes. Murdaugh is serving life in prison without parole for the killings of his wife and son and is awaiting sentencing in the federal financial crimes case.

Murdaugh was ordered to turn his assets over to the receivers in November 2021 after he was charged with numerous financial crimes but eight months before his murder charges. Judge Daniel Lee agreed with the state, which worried that Murdaugh and his family might try to hide assets and prevent victims from getting their share.

The receivers were assigned to comb through Murdaugh’s property holdings and bank accounts and decide what can be spent on things such as his defense. Those lawyers, and a third who is about to join them, charge hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

“Without the Receivers’ efforts over the last two years, it is very likely there would be nothing left for any of Alex Murdaugh’s victims,” lawyers Peter McCoy and John Lay told The State newspaper in a statement.

Court records haven’t indicated how much Murdaugh’s assets are worth. His lawyers’ filing suggests it is more than $1 million, but it didn’t provide specifics. As part of his plea deal with federal prosecutors, Murdaugh agreed to pay $9 million in restitution.

The receivers said they have performed nearly 3,000 hours of work looking for Murdaugh’s assets and reviewing what he should be allowed to spend money on.

They have been paid more than $641,000, which they said is a discount on the standard hourly rate for this kind of work and well under the “standard contingency rates of 40 percent, which Alex Murdaugh himself used to charge, before expenses,” McCoy and Lay told the newspaper.

Murdaugh’s lawyers have tangled with the state receivers before. When his murder trial lasted twice as long as expected, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin asked for more money in part to pay for his appeal but were denied.

The lawyers for clients and others awaiting money from Murdaugh’s assets aren’t asking the federal government to take over. Attorney Mark Tinsley represents the family of Mallory Beach, a teen killed in a boat crash when Murdaugh’s son Paul was driving the vessel under the influence.

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Tinsley called the move from Murdaugh’s lawyers a “scheme to get Dick and Jim paid some more since the state court wouldn’t.”

Griffin and Harpootlian have said several times that they didn’t defend Murdaugh to become rich and that they took substantially less than they would have in other circumstances.

Several people involved in the Murdaugh saga, including the defense lawyers and a state prosecutor, attended a convention of true crime fans in Florida this month to talk about the case to packed ballrooms.

Harpootlian told a group at the CrimeCon convention that over his five-decade career, he has made much more money than he can spend and that he will represent Murdaugh for free through his appeals if he has to.

“What else am I going to do? Play golf?” Harpootlian said.

By Jeffrey Collins