CHARLESTON, S.C. — A lawyer for convicted double murderer Alex Murdaugh signaled Wednesday that his client would likely plead guilty to a sweeping series of federal financial crimes.
Murdaugh, 55, entered a formal plea of not guilty Wednesday in a federal arraignment hearing in Charleston.
But his lawyer Jim Griffin told the Magistrate Judge Molly Cherry that he intends to change his plea of not guilty at an unspecified date in the future.
Left undetermined was how many counts of a 22-count federal indictment Murdaugh would plead guilty to.
Murdaugh’s indictment last week includes his highly publicized alleged theft of $4.3 million from his dead housekeeper’s estate, his alleged unlawful collusion with former Hampton banker Russell Laffitte and his alleged serial embezzlement of millions of dollars belonging to former clients.
In all, the 28-page federal indictment alleges Murdaugh, a former lawyer, stole some $7 million from 2011 to 2021 from former clients and others.
Wednesday was Murdaugh’s first appearance in a South Carolina public courtroom since March 3, when state Judge Clifton Newman sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul, after a roughly six-week trial.
Unlike that court event, viewed by thousands of people on national television, Wednesday’s appearance was confined to a small courtroom audience of lawyers, law enforcement officers and reporters. Cameras are not allowed in federal court.
Murdaugh was dressed in an orange prison jump suit and his head was shaved.
Earlier Wednesday, he was transported from an undisclosed state prison where he is being held in protective custody, away from other inmates, to the downtown Charleston federal courtroom at 85 Broad St.
Murdaugh has already been indicted by a state grand jury for most, if not all, of the alleged illegal circumstances, that the federal grand jury indicted him on. However, while the state grand jury alleged violations of state law, the federal grand jury named violations of federal law, including national laws regulating banks, their deposits and transfers of money by wires.
No schedules for trying the parallel state and federal prosecutions have been announced.
But if Murdaugh pleads guilty to the federal financial crimes, there will be no federal trial.
Although the state grand jury issued its first financial crimes indictments in the fall of 2021, almost two years ago, state law enforcement officials have not tried him yet.