In addition to Alex Murdaugh’s conviction, the only other conviction so far related to Murdaugh’s crimes is that of his former banker, Russell Laffitte.
Federal prosecutors indicted Laffitte on six charges, including bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy.
Like Alex, Laffitte pled not guilty. He steadfastly maintained his innocence in a jury trial that started on Monday, November 7th. The trial occurred in federal court in Charleston because these were federal charges. Laffitte’s defense was that he was only carrying out his client’s directions and that he was not knowledgeable or complicit in the financial crimes of Alex.
As they would say in Hampton County, “that dog didn’t hunt” before the jury.
On November 22, 2022, on the last day of the three-week trial, the jury began deliberations at 10:22 am. By 7:43 pm that day, the jury still had not reached a verdict when the judge received several notes from the jurors. The notes discussed a medical issue of one juror and anxiety related to another.
Jurors can communicate to the judge by written notes that are then read on the record in the court to the attorneys before the judge responds to the jury. However, as the judge later wrote, “The receipt of various notes from the jurors in quick succession was highly unusual.”
Based on the assertions in the notes and after discussion with the lawyers, the judge replaced two primary jurors with alternates. The judge instructed the jury to begin its deliberations again with the addition of the two alternate jurors. The judge sent the jury back to the jury room at 8:33 pm.
About 40 minutes later, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts. That was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
The first motion for a new trial
Laffitte’s counsel filed a motion for a new trial on December 6, 2022, asserting that the trial judge had improperly replaced the two jurors.
Several weeks later, a new legal team for Laffitte made an appearance in the case. The new counsel filed a supplemental motion for a new trial. In that motion, the new legal team again asserted that the judge had erred in making the juror replacements and further claimed ineffective assistance of the original legal team.
The judge's denial order and footnotes full of wisdom
On Monday, March 6, 2023, the trial judge denied those motions in a 42-page order. The judge had a lot to say on the claim that the original trial team was ineffective.
He stated: “[T]here was not the slightest suggestion of ineffectiveness.” He noted that the new defense team “prepared their brief six weeks after the verdict in the calm confines of their office and came to their considered judgment that the Defendant’s trial team was ineffective.” The judge concluded by stating that the claims that the original team was ineffective were “wholly without merit."
In a footnote, the judge added: “The Court is reminded of a ditty favored by President Kennedy: ‘Bullfight critics ranked in rows crowd the enormous plaza full; but only one is there who knows and he’s the man who fights the bull.’”
That quote reminded me a lot of a famous quote by another president - President Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote.
In another footnote, the judge stated: “Representing a criminal defendant is not like tag team wrestling, where a new member of the team comes into the ring after the first member of the team suffers reverses and needs relief . . . . Defendant does not get a ‘do over’ by replacing the first trial team with a new set of lawyers when he was not able to obtain the results he desired."
On Thursday, March 9th, the original legal team filed a motion to withdraw as counsel due to Laffitte’s “substantial failure to fulfill his financial obligations to counsel for representation at trial and for post-trial relief.” In other words, not only had Laffitte brought in a new legal team because of his dissatisfaction with the verdict, but he was not paying his original team’s bills.
Even more eye-opening, the new legal team filed yet another motion for a new trial on that same day based on claims of "new evidence." That motion is still pending.
I’ll discuss that renewed motion for a new trial in my next post and give you my prediction and analysis.