State fights appeal for convicted Lowcountry banker allegedly linked to Murdaugh

Prosecutors have filed a response to a second motion for a new trial filed by a former Lowcountry banker who was convicted on multiple charges.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 4:11 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:54 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Prosecutors have filed a response to a second motion for a new trial filed by a former Lowcountry banker who was convicted on multiple charges.

A federal jury convicted Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank whom prosecutors accused of conspiring with convicted killer Alex Murdaugh on six charges in November.

Those charges involved one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud/bank fraud, one count of bank fraud and aiding and abetting bank fraud, and one count of wire fraud and aiding and abetting wire fraud, and three counts of misapplication of bank funds.

In a second appeal filed on March 9, attorneys for Laffitte argued that during the Murdaugh trial, Murdaugh himself testified in his own defense. During that testimony on Feb. 23, Murdaugh admitted to his own role in certain financial crimes for which he was separately indicted along with Laffitte, court documents state.

“On February 23, 2023, Mr. Murdaugh explicitly stated, for the first time in sworn testimony, that he did not participate in a conspiracy with Mr. Laffitte because Mr. Laffitte did not participate in the financial crimes,” the defense’s motion states. “Mr. Murdaugh took full responsibility for his own actions and testified that Mr. Laffitte did nothing wrong and did not have any knowledge of Mr. Murdaugh’s criminal activity.”

The filing also includes this quote from Murdaugh’s testimony:

Russell Laffitte never conspired with me to do anything, whatever was done was done by me. This is stuff that I did. I did these things wrong. Russell Laffitte didn’t do anything… You keep talking about stuff I did with Russell Laffitte, but what I want to let you know is that I did this and I am the one that took people’s money that I shouldn’t have taken and that Russell Laffitte was not involved in helping me do that knowingly… If he did it, he did it without knowing it.

The defense argued that a new trial should be granted because there is “newly discovered evidence” that came to light after the end of Laffitte’s trial.

“The evidence is not merely cumulative and it is material to the elements of the charges against Mr. Laffitte,” the defense motion states. “Indeed, such evidence, if introduced at a new trial, would likely produce an acquittal because it goes directly to the elements of the offenses of which Mr. Laffitte was charged.”

But in response to the defense motion, the state countered that Murdaugh’s testimony was not “newly-discovered evidence.” It also argued it is not probable that Murdaugh’s testimony would produce an acquittal, citing the court case United States v. Bynum, stating “courts are justifiably leery of post-trial statements by [coconspirators purporting to exonerate a cohort” and that the question of whether any “new” evidence would produce an acquittal “requires the district court to make a credibility determination.”

“First, it is difficult to imagine the Defendant relying on a less credible witness to support his claim for a new trial. Over two days of testimony during his murder trial, Murdaugh admitted to lying to his clients and stealing money from them for years,” prosecutors argued. “Second, Murdaugh’s testimony is clearly not credible when weighed against the evidence introduced at trial. To find an acquittal probable, the Court would have to believe a jury would disregard the mountain of testimony and documentary evidence introduced at trial establishing the Defendant’s guilt and instead credit Murdaugh’s testimony. His testimony does not establish a probability of acquittal on any of the charged counts.”

The state also argued that Murdaugh’s testimony was not relevant to the three counts of misappropriation of bank funds and “cannot outweigh the overwhelming evidence the government introduced at trial showing the defendant has sufficient intent to be convicted on all three counts.”

Judge Richard Gergel denied Laffitte’s first request for a new trial just days before the second motion was filed. Laffitte filed that motion on five separate grounds: the replacement of two jurors after deliberations began, an error in one of the indictments, Laffitte’s right to question board members from the bank, court rulings denying Laffitte’s testimony about Bank of America checks related to Alex Murdaugh’s theft of client funds and the court not charging an advice of counsel defense.

A motion for an acquittal was also denied after the court said Laffitte failed to meet his burden for an acquittal.