Alex Murdaugh could face harsh sentence after federal prosecutors say he failed polygraph test


CHARLESTON, S.C. — Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh is set to be sentenced in a federal courtroom Monday morning for a string of financial crimes in which he duped his legal clients out of millions of dollars.

But the stakes have been raised in an otherwise routine sentencing hearing after federal prosecutors said in a filing last week that Murdaugh, 55, failed a polygraph test that he agreed to undergo as part of a plea deal. In addition, they said, they identified 11 new financial victims and another $1.3 million in stolen money.

Now, the former personal injury lawyer faces a much harsher sentence that could result in more prison time.

“The scope and pervasiveness of Murdaugh’s deceit is staggering,” prosecutors said in their filing. “He ranks as one of the most prolific fraudsters this state has ever seen. When the house of cards began to fall, Murdaugh murdered his wife and son.”

When Murdaugh pleaded guilty in September to 22 federal financial crime charges, it came with an agreement that he would subject himself to a polygraph. Prosecutors said he could be called to “testify fully and truthfully before any grand juries and at any other trials or other proceedings.”

In return, his federal sentence would run at the same time as the similar financial crime charges brought by state prosecutors. Murdaugh was sentenced in September to 27 years in state prison.

But the federal prosecutors’ latest accusations could unravel that agreement. Each of the various charges in federal court carry a maximum of at least 20 years in prison, the Justice Department said, and the prosecutors are recommending a total term of between 17 and 22 years.

Murdaugh is already serving a life sentence without parole for the murders of his wife, Margaret, 52, and their younger son, Paul, 22, in 2021. He is attempting to appeal the conviction.

Murdaugh’s lawyers have denied the allegation that he breached his plea agreement, and said in a filing that they should be able to respond in documents that can be made public.

“To allow the Government to publicly accuse Murdaugh of breaching his plea agreement while also allowing the Government to hide all purported evidence supporting that accusation from the public would violate the public’s right to the truth,” the filing said.

Federal prosecutors have argued that the details must not be released because of an ongoing grand jury investigation.

Murdaugh last year pleaded guilty to 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud and other charges. Prosecutors said Murdaugh, who worked at the family’s Hampton County law firm, cheated clients out of settlement money and created fraudulent bank accounts.

Among his financial victims was the estate of his family’s longtime housekeeper, who died following a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaughs’ home in 2018.

The sentencing in federal court comes a year after Murdaugh’s high-profile double murder trial, in which he took the stand to deny that he fatally shot his wife and son, but admitted to some financial misconduct.

State prosecutors accused him of murdering them to gain pity and to distract from financial crimes threatening to topple his reputation in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where three generations of family patriarchs had wielded power as the top prosecutors for decades.

Murdaugh said he suffered from a longtime addiction to prescription opioids, which he testified clouded his judgment.

In January, his defense lawyers attempted to get him a new trial after alleging that a court clerk had tampered with the jury and tainted the verdict as she sought to write a book about the case. But while a judge found that Colleton County Clerk of Court Rebecca Hill was not a wholly credible witness, jurors were not persuaded by her actions

Hill, who resigned from her post last month, had denied in her testimony that she tampered with the jury for financial gain or any other reason.

Regardless of what happens with Murdaugh’s murder appeal, he will remain in prison.

Juliette Arcodia reported from Charleston and Erik Ortiz from New York.


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