As I discussed in the previous post, a jury found Alex Murdaugh’s banker Russell Laffitte guilty on multiple federal charges in November of last year. The trial judge dismissed his initial motion for a new trial in a 42-page order issued on Monday, March 6, 2023.
By Thursday of that week, Laffitte’s original counsel had filed a motion to be relieved. His new counsel had filed yet another motion for a new trial. The basis of this new motion is rather unique.
Murdaugh did not testify at Laffitte’s trial in November of last year. At that time, Murdaugh’s attorney stated he would assert the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In so doing, Murdaugh would not answer any questions in the Laffitte trial.
Months later after Laffitte's conviction, when Murdaugh took the stand in his own trial, that position appears to have changed. He admitted to stealing from and hurting clients he cared about over and over and over. On February 23, Murdaugh testified that “Russell Laffitte never conspired with me to do anything. . . Russell Laffitte didn’t do anything. . . Russell was not involved in helping me . . . . If he did it, he did it without knowing.”
Based on that testimony, the new motion asserts that Laffite did not have the required criminal intent to enter into a conspiracy with Murdaugh. His legal team argues that this is “newly discovered evidence” that the court should consider in granting Laffitte a new trial.
In response to the second Motion for a new trial, the prosecutors stated: “It is difficult to imagine a defendant relying on a less credible witness to support his claim for a new trial.”
That renewed motion for a new trial remains pending.
I can’t imagine the judge granting it. He was pretty straightforward – and direct - in his first order denying a request for a new trial as I discussed in my previous post. It is rare for judges to reverse themselves.
When I worked for Judge Norton as a federal law clerk years ago, he frequently handled motions like this. I remember parties filing motions for new trials. Most courts are unlikely to grant a motion for a new trial without finding an egregious or prejudicial error. Granting that motion takes the case away from the jury. Our system of jurisprudence prefers jury trials. Here, the basis of the motion is new evidence related to Laffitte's intent based on what Murdaugh testified in his own trial.
Judge Norton used to say: “I’m going to be consistent. I am either consistently wrong or consistently right, but I will be consistent.” While these matters are not pending before Judge Norton, this has been my experience with most judges.
The lawyers on both of Laffitte’s legal teams are very good lawyers. However, I agree with the prosecution. Relying on Alex Murdaugh statements as “new evidence” is a stretch. I am not sure anyone would find anything that Murdaugh said in his trial to be credible.
Laffitte faces up to 30 years in prison. If the judge does not grant a new trial, his sentencing will move forward. His next step will be to take his appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
I'm not a criminal defense attorney, but I suspect the federal judge will be consistently right. He will deny the most recent motion for a new trial. Laffitte can then appeal the conviction, but would likely do so from a federal penitentiary.
Back to editing my book . . . .
The next post will be a short discussion of what Judge Norton taught me about priorities. I think you will enjoy it.