Cup of Justice co-host, Eric Bland, discusses Alex Murdaugh’s long awaited federal sentence as well as Judge Gergel’s decision to not let lawyers speak in the courtroom. Eric also defines writ of certiorari and 3553 A, a rule specifically mentioned by Judge Gergel in court.


Hey there Premium Members, EB here. This was a big, big week. I know you’ve heard me say that before but in terms of Alex Murdaugh, you know, very rarely in a lawyer’s career do you work on a matter and that you really see it play out into conclusion. And Monday was one of those days. It was a little bit surreal, a lot of indication, a lot apprehension, you know, as we were going into Monday, you know that we were concerned about the words concurrency with the sentence being imposed, being served from a federal level at the same time as the state level. That’s not what we wanted. Remember, we’re looking for that backstop. We were looking to make sure that if these two murder convictions of Alex Murdaugh were reversed and remanded for a new trial and God forbid he was found not guilty, because I do believe he was guilty after hearing the evidence and knowing what I know, we wanted to make sure these financial crimes both on the state level, and on the federal level, were going to be enough to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. 

So going into Monday, we had some concerns because as you recall, in September of 2023, Alex Murdaugh pled guilty in front of Judge Gergel, and there was a word, “concurrent,” buried in his plea agreement, which said essentially that any federal sentence that he would get would run concurrently or at the same time with his state sentence. Well, at that time, no one knew what his state sentence for the financial crimes were going to be because the trials had not been scheduled. The Satterfield trial was not scheduled until early November for late November 2023 and we didn’t know if he was going to plead guilty to the Satterfield case and a lot of other counts. Remember, he had over 90, he ended up pleading guilty in both state and federal in the low 20s to these counts, but, so in September 23, Alex pled guilty to 24 federal counts, but there was no notice that there was gonna be a state plea and what if Judge Newman took a plea on the state case, and it was five years? Well, any sentence that he would have gotten on the federal level was going to run concurrently with that five years, so that was a real unknown at the time. Well, we felt a little more secure in November when push came to shove, and it was time for the trial of the Satterfields, he wasn’t willing to go before a jury on that case where he stole $4.3 million. So he pled guilty to the Satterfield charges and a whole bunch of others and you remember, I argued for his sentence, and Judge Newman, in Beaufort, in November, gave him a 27 year sentence, which means he would have to serve a total of 23 years; 23 years, day for day, no parole, and that’s assuming of the 27 years that he had good behavior and there were no infractions, yada, yada, yada. 

So we still were concerned, because on the state level, if even post-sentence, while you’re serving your time in prison, you decide to give up evidence or give up information that is very useful to the state, the prosecutors, the AG, could come together and agree to even lower your sentence if a judge would agree from that 23 years that would have day to day, no parole. So even though it says day to day, no parole, there is an escape hatch. And so we always felt, oh Harpootlian’s got something up his sleeve and the so we said the backstop is Judge Richard Gergel. Now we had some concerns about Judge Gergel’s sentencing, because he had only given Cory Fleming, when he pled guilty in front of him, four years. And he was a lawyer who assisted Alex Murdaugh to steal $4.3 million from the Satterfields. And we know in the Russell Laffitte case, Russell Laffitte went to trial and Judge Gergel only gave him eight years. So we felt that there was a possibility that Judge Gergel would give a modest sentence. And we were worried, and I was going to argue that there shouldn’t be concurrency because he didn’t plead guilty in the federal court to the same conduct that he did in the state court. And that was the escape hatch. And that plea agreement said it was only going to be concurrency if he pled guilty to the same conduct. 

So we go to Judge Gergel on Monday, it’s in federal court. In federal court, it was in the old courtroom in the Charleston County federal court. Alex came in, it was you know, he was guarded by SWAT officers, federal marshals. It was surreal. He looked around again, there was no one in the courtroom from his family or friends. And there was no cameras in the courtroom because that’s federal court. That is a real problem, I think, in our system. I think is we pay for our courts, we pay for federal judges, we pay for the Supreme Court. And I think that the public should see a set a sentence take place, should see how justice is done. It shouldn’t be done and only reported on by reporters, reporters can take cameras in there. They can’t take recording devices, they can only do it the old fashioned way and transcribe. There was only probably 10 rows, each side of this courtroom, so there couldn’t be a lot of people. Alex looked around, he was disappointed. And then the lawyers and the prosecution came in because they were talking with Judge Gergel in chambers, back in his office before the hearing, working things out. Because as we had heard before the hearing, Judge Gergel had given notice that he was going to give consideration to upwardly increase or upwardly enhance Alex Murdaugh’s sentence, whatever the guidelines and there’s sentencing guidelines that I’m going to talk about when we move to the Law Library. But whatever the guidelines say, he was going to consider moving that sentence to a greater amount and we were still concerned because it was going to be a concurrency so even if he gave him 80 years we were worried that it was going to run at the same time. And then the prosecution of course gave notice that Alex had failed his polygraph because that was a condition, one of the conditions, of the plea agreement that he signed in September 2023, that he had to pass a polygraph exam and they contended that he failed it because they asked him questions because they believed that there was $6 million that’s unaccounted for, and that he failed those questions or that they were inconclusive in his answer. They also asked them questions about some unknown lawyer. They wouldn’t name the lawyer to the public, but they certainly gave him the name. And the questions that Alex answered about that lawyer, where they contended to be untrue or evasive or inconclusive. And so we had that backdrop. 

So the lawyers walk in, and there’s a noticeable, glaring failure of one lawyer to show up and that was Dick Harpootlian. Can you imagine, at the sentence of your client, in front of a federal judge, what is more important than showing up for that sentence, especially when you have a lifelong friendship with that federal judge? When you were instrumental, especially in 2010, in getting Judge Gergel appointed to the federal bench by Barack Obama and got given consent by the United States Senate. Dick Harpootlian was an advocate of Judge Richard Gergel, who then was an attorney being appointed as a federal judge and Dick Harpootlian was not there. We are starting to hear rumors that maybe there’l maybe be a different attorney on the appeals. 

So Jim Griffin was there with Philip Barber to argue on behalf of Alex Murdaugh. Emily Limehouse and Winston holiday and their associates were there with the FBI and chief Kiel was there from SLED. Adair Ford Boroughs, she is the head US Attorney for South Carolina, she was there. So this is a very important important day. When we walked up there were probably 50 cameras present. Tony Satterfield, his pastor, Justin Bamberg and Mrs. Pinckney, Mark Tinsley came the bank, Jan mana kowski from Palmetto State Bank, and his Attorney Greg Harris, where they are Jim May, who represents PMPED, Ronnie Crosby was there and Lee Pope, as well as Danny Henderson. So this was, you know, a serious day. 

The judge announced that back in chambers, they had agreed that there was going to be a deviation from the plea agreement, that they weren’t going to get into the failure or not failure of a polygraph exam. And that they were going to agree that the terms of the plea agreement were breached. They agreed on a monetary amount, I think it was about $9 million, there was a dispute on whether it was 8 million or 10 million or 11 million, and some other agreements. And so all the pre kind of sentencing argument fights that we were going to think we were going to have about a polygraph, whether it’s admissible or whatever, all that was worked out was amazing. And I got to believe if Harpootlian was there, I’m not so sure it was going to be worked out like that. But Judge Gergel, swore Alex Murdaugh in. He gave him an opportunity to speak and Alex gave his usual, narcissistic speech. 

He talked about how he was clean now for over 900 days, which is admirable, but he’s clean because he’s in prison and you can’t get the kind of drugs I guess, opioids that he was on. He talked about that he was sorry, and that he loved his victims and that one day he wanted to be able to meet with his victims. And I gotta tell you, nobody wants to meet with him, except maybe Jordan Jenks. He talked about that he wants to be a better person. He talked about how he let everybody down. He thinks he can be redeemed. And Judge Gergel kept interrupting him and would say things that’s a distinction, you know, without consequence, or that’s a distinction that I don’t think you can make or isn’t it ironic? I heard Jim Griffin say and Judge Gergel said there’s tons of ironies in this manner. And so Jim Griffin made the mistake when he got up, and he argued that he compared Alex’s crimes, financial crimes, to Bernie Madoff, to Elizabeth Holmes, to Sam Backman Fried, the cryptocurrency who did guide that just got sentenced to 25 years. Jim said, you know, he stole a billion dollars and Bernie Madoff stole billions of dollars. And he got this life sentence that he got, you know, only like 25 years and Judge Gergel said, well, you know, he was 73 at the time he lived, you know, 12 years in prison or whatever and then died. And Judge Gergel spoke and said, this is a different kind of crime. This is a crime where the defendant Alex Murdaugh stole money from his clients, stole money from them not in a way that the people who invested money lost their investment in these Wall Street schemes. And he talked about that he didn’t believe that Alex Murdaugh was a changed man. He believed that if he got out that he would continue to do these things, he didn’t believe that the drugs were the sole course of what Alex Murdaugh pled guilty to and all the crimes that he did. He said that these were complex crimes, the way that he did these and the way that he said he groomed Cory Fleming and Russell Laffitte the banker and other people to help him that he was the most kind of dangerous man. And he said, look, I don’t even care that you say he failed a lie detector test. Mr. Griffin, he said, look, I represented SLED in my career and I represented a lot of polygraphers. And he said, in a nice kind of way, eh it’s not really pure science. And so I don’t admit them in my court for any purpose. So he said, I am not going to take it into consideration. And after Emily Limehouse spoke, we got up and I was ready, loaded for bear. You know, two years in the making. I mean, I had all and everything I was going to say. And Judge Gergel looked at me and said I will not hear from lawyers. And I was, I was fit to be tied to be honest with you. I think it’s it’s the right of the lawyers for victims or victims to have their lawyers speak for them. Remember, I represent the Plylers, I represent not only the Satterfields, I represent Gloria’s sister Sandra Manning was was a victim, I represent Melvin Edwards, the father of Hakeem Pinckney. I represent Jordan Jenks, my partner and I represent Blake Hodge. So we were there to speak on their behalf. Because the Plyler sisters were not there, Alania submitted a letter to the court but Hannah couldn’t make it. And so he denied me and denied everybody else, but he was staring at me, and I thought quickly on my feet, and I said Judge Gergel I understand that you will not hear from me, he said that’s right, Mr. Bland. And I said, notwithstanding I would like to, and you could tell he was about the lurch, and I said thank the court for your persistence and dedication to these cases. For not only Alex Murdaugh but for Russell Laffitte and for Cory Fleming and I turned around and I thanked Emily Limehouse and Winston Holiday and the US Attorney’s Office for their dogged pursuit of justice, not only in Alex’s cases, but the other cases and I thanked the FBI. And I turned around and he was fit to be tied but he couldn’t say anything. 

Tony Satterfield got up and he asked Judge Gergel can I turn the microphone to talk to Alex? He said, sure. And all he said is that I forgive you. I hope that you will, you know, pray every day. I hope that you will ask for your soul to be redeemed. And that’s all he said. And it was kind of shocking, because we thought he was going to say more, but it was with such grace. Justin Bamberg then got up, je couldn’t say anything. And Mrs. Pinckney turned to Alex Murdaugh and said, I forgive you, too. I believe that you do love me. And I love you. It was an incredible amount of grace for a victim to have lost her son, who was a quadriplegic, and then had  Alex Murdaugh steal money from her, and ultimately from Hakeem her son.

And with that said, Judge Gergel laid out and laid the woods and took Alex to the woodshed. And he went over these standards, 3553 A, which we’ll talk about in a second. And, to the surprise of everyone, he gave Alex Murdaugh 40 years. Jim Griffin was asking for only like 10 to 15. The prosecution, under the guidelines, it was anywhere from 19 to 25 years. He gave 40 years and he said some of it will run concurrently or at the same time but the other 17 years above what he serves in state prison will run consecutively, which means separately and after. So that means now that Alex Murdaugh, whatever he serves in state prison, and we’re hopeful that it’s going to be 23 years, he will walk out of that prison, now remember, he’s 55 years old. He was they were asking for some credit for the time he’s already been in since 2021. And Judge Gergel said that’s not my decision. He could take that up with the Bureau of Prisons, but assuming he doesn’t get any credit for time served, he will be 78 years old. Now he’s got to get through the gauntlet because maximum security prison, the food’s horrible, the health care’s it’s minimal. And then you gotta fight for your life every day, because you’re in there with some really bad people. 78 years old. he walks out, he’s got to go serve 17 years in a federal penitentiary. With good behavior, it’s 85 percent of your time. So let’s say it comes down to 13, 14 years, he’ll be 92. That’s assuming, that’s assuming that the double murder case, double murder convictions get reversed. 

And so we walked out of that courtroom feeling vindicated. We felt comforted. We felt secure. We felt like that this man, this monster, this modern day monster, this narcissist can never hurt us again, he may try. And you’ll hear what I said when we got out to the press conference. But he can’t get out. He can’t hurt us. He can scheme all he wants. But he is going to spend the rest of his life behind bars unless he lives well into his 90s, which is virtually virtually impossible in both state and federal prison when you’re serving in a maximum security state institution. So we left, we walked downstairs, there was all the press there, probably 30 or 40 press. And so I started off and I said it is just a golden day for justice. We waited for this for two years. Judge Gergel gave him a full cup of justice. I said that Alex Murdaugh is a rat in a trap, who will knaw his leg off to try to scheme and escape. And we wanted to make sure that there were sentences both on the state level by Judge Newman and on the federal level by Judge Gergel that there’s no amount of scheming that can be done. And I said, the crimes that Alex Murdaugh did, were different than these wall street crimes. And why do I say that? Because those people were investing and trying to make money. Our clients, these victims, they weren’t investing money, they needed that money, they needed it to get on with their lives, they lost a loved one, a spouse, or a breadwinner. They needed it for medical treatment, or they needed it because their injuries were so severe and permanent that they weren’t going to be able to make a living. And they knew Alex and they trusted Alex. And he stole right in front of them. And he stole all of their money, not just part of it sometimes, but all of it. And I said that the grace that these victims showed in forgiving Alex was amazing. I said that it seemed like that Jim Griffin and Alex wanted absolution for Alex. And I said, but you don’t get that on a Monday afternoon. You don’t get it in a courtroom, you get that in church on Sunday. And I said, I’m not giving absolution to Alex, I’m not forgiving Alex, I’m not forgetting Alex. I’m still full of rage, I said, because he’s tarnished our profession in a way that it’s going to take a long time to recover. Look, you know, historically and from the beginning of time, you know, the legal profession is not held in the highest regard. And what Alex did to our profession, our judicial system and our state was horrific. Mrs. Pinckney got up, she said the same thing: I forgive Alex. You know, the grace that these victims showed. And so that was the conclusion. 

And I went on some television shows and I was asked, you know, do you think we’ve seen the last of Alex Murdaugh? the answer’s no. You know, he’s like kudzu, you know, comes back every spring and summer. It’s the birds Capistrano, they fly back once a year. The everyday reporting on Alex has ended. It’s not going to happen much more, you know, he’s going to go and he’s going to sit there. But now he’s going to let wait for these appeals to go through. And if he wins the state will appeal to the higher court if he loses, he’ll have to appeal to a higher court. And these appeals take years and years and years. I mean, the transcript from the trial is probably not done yet. And so Alex will probably appeal the sentence above the the concurrency, the same sentence that he got in state court of 23 years, that extra 17. I don’t think he’s going to get anywhere. Judge Gergel laid out these reasons that I’m going to speak about in a second. And he’ll probably have different lawyers, I’m sure Dick Harpootlian’s going to probably retire before any of these things are permanently resolved on the appeals from the double murder case, in connection with some of the rulings Judge Newman made, plus the denial of his new trial from Justice Toal because of what allegedly Becky Hill did. So he’ll have new lawyers. It takes years and years and years. So I think we’ve heard the last of the daily onslaught of Alex Myrdal. Now, if he decides he’s going to speak, and start naming other lawyers and businessmen and judges and politicians, and yada yada, he could come back up. 

So with that said, we’re going to move to the Law Library. And we’re going to talk a couple terms. The first term we’re going to get into is called writ of certiorari and what that is, a writ is a petition that you can give to a lower court or an appellate court. A writ of certiorari is where you ask the appellate court or the Supreme Court of your state, or the Supreme Court of the United States to take the case. Under normal appellate grounds, they may not take the case, they may have decided that it’s not ripe, or that the Intermediate Court made a decision that they don’t want to disturb or analyze. And so a writ of certiorari is nothing more than you make a writ and a petition to a court above you or a court that you’re in, to hear a matter. And it’s usually done on the Supreme Court level, on the state level or on the federal level. 

The next is what I want to talk about is you hear, we’ve heard on the federal level, all the time, if you have been listening to our podcast or you’ve been reading in the newspaper by reporters, they talk about the 3553 A standards. That’s the standards of how a judge is going to sentence a defendant. And you heard Judge Gergel, if you were in there, use the magic words, I am going to give you a sentence that is sufficient, but not greater than necessary for the purposes of giving justice and deterrence to the crimes charged. A sentence that’s sufficient, but not greater than necessary. Not so punitive or excessive; trying to thread the needle and balance it. And when you give that sentence you take into consideration the following: the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant. Well, under that standard, Judge Gergel said your offense is repugnant to me. You were a lawyer. He said, a lawyer’s license is a license to do good and you used your law license to steal. He said, I go around the country and I speak to law students and young lawyers and I tell them that a law license is a privilege. So your crimes that you’re accused of are so unique, because you’re stealing from needy clients, not economically successful clients, not clients that have millions and millions of dollars but clients that are vulnerable, clients that are hurt. Young women like the Plyler sisters, he said. So the circumstances of your friends are the worst. The characteristics, you have the worst characteristics, you lied. I’ve already determined you’re a serial liar. You’re a thief. You can’t be trusted. We don’t know when you’re telling the truth. 

The second thing he said is the sentence that I need to impose must promote respect for the law and to provide adequate punishment for the defense. So we must give a sense that people won’t ridicule the law and say, wow, the law is letting Alex go but they wouldn’t let this person go. We want to make a sentence that the public would say, our court system got it right. He said, and to punish the offenses given and he said you pled guilty to 24 offenses, and contrary to what your lawyer said, $8 to $9 million is a lot of money. And it’s a lot of money anywhere. Two he said, to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct. And he said, I haven’t heard anybody in the courtroom talk about deterrence. Deterrence means I’m going to punish A, so B will not commit that crime. Retribution is I will punish you so you will not commit the crime again. But deterrence says, I’m going to punish you, Alex Murdaugh, so no other lawyer ever again will try to do these crimes. And so deterrence was so important to Judge Gergel and that’s why he said I gave 40 years because I think everybody’s going to pause, every lawyer before they dip into that trust account, or steal, or tell you that they settled a case for $50,000, when they really settle in for 100,000. And they steal not only their fee, but the other $50,000 will think twice. And then C is that retribution to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant. And that’s when Judge Gergel said, if I let you out too early, I think you would commit these crimes again. So I’m going to protect the public and not let you out. And then D, to provide the defendant with educational or vocational training, medical care or other treatment in the most effective manner to rehabilitate you. And he said, I’m sure you’re going to get adequate programming in prison. So those are the 3553 A standards, and writ of certiorari. 

I apologize I went on for so long. But it was really, really an important day on Monday and the consequences of that. And with that said, EB out.

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