Trial begins for alleged Murdaugh conspirator
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The trial of Former Palmetto State Bank CEO, Russell Lucius Laffitte, began on Tuesday after he was indicted on multiple charges including wire fraud and bank fraud.
Laffitte is accused of helping former attorney Alex Murdaugh and suspended attorney Cory Fleming direct nearly $2 million from clients.
Before opening statements were made, 12 people and four alternate jurors were chosen after 68 candidates were questioned. ‘How much have you heard about the Murdaugh case,’ was one question posed to candidates due to the high media coverage surrounding the case. Around noon, eight men and eight women around the ages of 30 to 50 years-old were selected to serve on the trial.
Opening statements were presented by federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse and Defense attorney Bart Daniel before the trial began. Limehouse began by stating that absolute power corrupts.
“This case is about one of the most powerful men in Hampton County, the defendant, Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of the Palmetto State Bank, and how he conspired with another powerful man, Alex Murdaugh, a former personal injury attorney, and conspired to steal nearly $2 million from Murdaugh’s personal injury clients,” Limehouse said.
She explained to the courtroom that the wired money came from Murdaugh’s personal injury settlements as Laffitte and Murdaugh transferred the funds between multiple individuals.
“We submit that this evidence will show that Laffitte was a knowing and willing participant in this scheme, often making the decisions on exactly what to do with the money,” she said.
Limehouse said that during the summer of 2021, when Murdaugh was defending his son in the death of Mallory Beach, his finances had been under intense scrutiny.
“The law firm was concerned that Murdaugh had been hiding things, and on June seventh a law firm employee confronted Murdaugh about missing fees from one of his cases. That night, his wife and son were murdered on the spot,” she said.
Limehouse wrapped up her opening remarks by asking the jury to focus the trial on Laffitte, and not Murdaugh.
“This trial focuses on Russell Laffitte. The only decision that the court will charge you with is the guilt of the person sitting at that table, and not the guilt of someone who isn’t Russell Laffitte.”
The defense started their opening statement off by reminding the jury that someone is innocent until proven guilty.
“You promised an oath to the judge, to the court, and also promised us that you would give Russell the benefit of any doubt,” Daniel said.
A large section of Daniel’s argument was spent arguing against Murtaugh’s character and said that he ‘made’ Laffitte commit the alleged crimes.
“Alex Murdaugh tricked and took advantage of Russel just the way he did everyone else,” Daniel said. “Alex Murdaugh is a manipulator and world class con man.”
Daniel confirmed that Laffitte will be taking the stand during the trial to tell the courtroom exactly what happened. He said that a team of wild horses would not be able to keep Laffitte off the witness stand.
The first witness called by the prosecution was Norris Laffitte, member of Palmetto State Bank board of directors and Russell’s cousin.
Minutes from the July 2021 Palmetto State Bank meeting were introduced after Norris said he had brought up Murdaugh at the board of directors meeting. No mention of Murdaugh was mentioned in the minutes according to Gray Henderson, Russel’s sister who was keeping minutes.
More witnesses will take the stand and evidence will be introduced to the jury throughout the trial. Murdaugh could be called as a witness by Laffitte’s attorneys but could potentially plead the fifth.
We will continue to follow the trial until Nov. 18.
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