Alex Murdaugh accused of stealing $4m payout from housekeeper’s family as prosecutor questions mystery death
Alex Murdaugh was accused of stealing a $4m settlement from his late housekeeper’s family at his murder trial on Friday, where prosecutors also raised questions about her mystery death.
Tony Satterfield, the son of Gloria Satterfield, took the witness stand in Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Friday where Mr Murdaugh is currently on trial for the June 2021 murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.
Satterfield worked as the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper and nanny for more than 20 years, before she died in a mysterious trip and fall at the family home.
On 2 February 2018, she was found at the bottom of some stairs at the property. She never resumed consciousness and died from her injuries around three weeks later. She was 57.
Questions have been raised about her death with an investigation reopened in the aftermath of the 2021 murders of Maggie and Paul and Mr Murdaugh is now charged with stealing settlement money intended for Satterfield’s two sons.
In a shadow trial on Friday, Mr Satterfield told the court how his mother “fell and hit her head” at the Murdaugh house along Moselle Road in Islandton.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters hinted at the ongoing uncertainty about the nature of her death, asking whether she had been able to tell her sons what happened in the weeks between the fall and her death.
“Was she able to say how she fell?” he asked.
“No she was not,” Mr Satterfield replied.
At the time, Satterfield’s death was regarded as an accidental fall – however her death certificate cited her manner of death as “natural”.
In September 2021 – three months on from the murders and days after Mr Murdaugh was charged over an alleged botched hitman plot and his alleged financial crimes had come to light – SLED announced that it was reopening an investigation into her death.
The Hampton County coroner Angela Topper asked law enforcment to reopen the investigation, writing: “The decedent’s death was not reported to the Coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed.
“On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled ‘Natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident.”
In early 2022, officials announced plans to exhume her body.
The investigation is still ongoing and her body is yet to be exhumed.
Satterfield’s son told the court on Friday how Mr Murdaugh allegedly swindled almost $4m in a wrongful death lawsuit payout from the family in the aftermath of her death.
Mr Satterfield testified that Mr Murdaugh told him and his brother to file a wrongful death lawsuit against him to help them pay for medical bills and other costs from their mother’s death.
He said that Mr Murdaugh was his lawyer in the case but that his friend and alleged co-conspirator Corey Fleming would sue him because he said he could not sue himself.
Even after that, Mr Satterfield said that he believed Mr Murdaugh was his attorney “all the time”. Mr Fleming has also been charged with a string of financial crimes connected to Mr Murdaugh.
Mr Murdaugh claimed that he had a $100,000 insurance policy that would provide the Satterfield sons with some money but never mentioned a second $5m policy, he said. He testified that Mr Murdaugh told him that he and his brother would likely receive $100,000 each.
The court was shown evidence of two separate settlements in the wrongful death suit – one for $505,000 and one for $3.8m.
Mr Satterfield testified that Mr Murdaugh did not tell him about the settlements and that he did not receive “one cent” of the money.
“Did he get your permission to steal your money?” the prosecutor asked.
Mr Satterfield responded: “No.”
In June 2021 – the same month that Maggie and Paul were shot dead – there were reports in the media about a settlement and Mr Satterfield said he chased Mr Murdaugh about the progress of the case.
Unbeknown to him, Mr Murdaugh had already allegedly received payouts and pocketed them for himself.
He said that Mr Murdaugh told him the case was still in progress and that he hoped to have something by the end of the year.
Under cross-examination, Mr Satterfield acknowledged that he was not sure if the conversation between him and Mr Murdaugh took place before or after the murders of Maggie and Paul on 7 June 2021 – only that they took place that month.
Four months after the murders of Maggie and Paul in October 2021, Mr Murdaugh was arrested on charges of stealing funds from Satterfield’s family and the family filed a civil lawsuit against him.
Now, Mr Murdaugh is charged with almost 30 counts over the Satterfield settlement – making up around a third of the trove of financial charges he is facing.
Separate from his murder trial, Mr Murdaugh is currently facing a slew of around 100 charges from multiple indictments for embezzling millions of dollars from clients at PMPED.
In total, he is accused of stealing almost $8.5m from clients in fraud schemes dating back around a decade to 2011.
Like the Satterfields, the attorney, who has since been disbarred, represented the clients in wrongful death lawsuits before allegedly pocketing the settlement money for himself.
Prosecutors are arguing that Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes are key to proving the motive in his murder case, claiming that he killed Maggie and Paul to hide his other crimes and scandals which were catching up with him.
At the time of the murders, Mr Murdaugh’s law firm PMPED was closing in on his alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme with a colleague confronting him about it on the morning of the killings.
His finances were also coming under intense scrutiny in a lawsuit brought by the family of Mallory Beach – a 19-year-old woman who died in a 2019 crash in the Murdaugh family boat.
Paul was allegedly drunk driving the boat at the time and crashed it, throwing Beach overboard. Her body washed ashore a week later. Paul was charged with multiple felonies over the boat wreck and was facing 25 years in prison at the time of his murder.
A hearing for the boat crash lawsuit was also scheduled for the week of the murders. It was postponed following Maggie and Paul’s murders.
Meanwhile, the defence is asking the judge to throw evidence of Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes out of the murder trial.
Judge Newman said he would hear testimony about the alleged financial crimes in the absence of the jury to determine what evidence – if any – will be allowed.
Jan Malinowski, the vice president of Palmetto State Bank, also testified without the jury present that Mr Murdaugh owed $4.2m in loans to the bank in the summer of 2021.
Mr Malinowski is successor to Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte who was convicted in November of a slew of financial fraud crimes connected to Mr Murdaugh.
He told the court how the bank’s board of directors began asking questions about Mr Murdaugh’s finances with the bank around July 2021.
In early August, they held a board meeting where it was discussed. At that time, Mr Murdaugh’s account was overdrawn by $346,000. Mr Laffitte suddenly made a $400,000 transfer to the account.
The court heard how this was part of an undocumented $750,000 loan to Mr Murdaugh.
Mr Laffitte was convicted over this loan at his trial. Mr Murdaugh – who was named as a co-conspirator in Mr Laffitte’s crimes – had his trial postponed until after the murder trial.
Another of Mr Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirators also cropped up in the trial for the first time during testimony from forensic accountant Carson Burney.
Mr Burney testified that he had analysed Mr Murdaugh’s bank accounts, finding the money flowing to an account fraudulently called Forge Consulting – in fact Mr Murdaugh’s account.
Other payments were sent to Curtis Edward Smith – the man who allegedly conspired with Mr Murdaugh in a botched hitman plot.
Three months on from the murders – on 4 September 2021 – Mr Murdaugh was shot on the side of a road in what he initially claimed was a drive-by shooting.
But his story quickly unravelled and he confessed to orchestrating the plot with his alleged co-conspirator, drug dealer, former client and cousin Mr Smith so that his surviving son Buster could get a $10m life insurance windfall.
It emerged that one day before the shooting, Mr Murdaugh’s law firm partners had confronted him about the fraud allegations and forced him to resign. Mr Smith and Mr Murdaugh are now also charged with a drug and $2.4m money laundering ring.
During testimony with the jury present, the court heard testimony from SLED fingerprint examiner Thomas Darnell.
Mr Darnell testified that he tested guns, ammunition and Paul’s cellphone for prints but did not find any. He said that this is not unusual as prints are usually left by moisture.
Mr Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the murders of his wife and son, claiming he found them shot dead at the kennels on the family’s estate.
Their deaths brought to light a sprawling saga surrounding Mr Murdaugh – the son of a once-powerful legal dynasty who was in the grips of a 20-year opioid addiction and accused of stealing millions of dollars.
As well as the death of Satterfield and Beach, the shootings of Paul and Maggie also raised questions about the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County, South Carolina.
The openly gay teenager, 19, had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.
An investigation was also reopened into his death just days after Maggie and Paul’s murders on 22 June 2021.