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Judge denies prominent South Carolina attorney's request to reduce $7M bail

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A judge refused on Tuesday to lower the $7 million bail for prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is charged with stealing millions of dollars from vulnerable clients.

Murdaugh's lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that the high amount was like no bail at all, saying their client was so broke he was unable even to pay his phone bill.

Circuit Judge Alison Renee Lee's one-page decision said little other than that she had reviewed all the information presented at last week's virtual hearing and determined Murdaugh "remains a flight risk and potential danger to himself and his community."

Lee originally set Murdaugh's bail at $7 million at a hearing in December.

Murdaugh has been in jail for three months since a different judge initially denied him bond on an increasing number of charges that he stole settlement money from clients in injury or wrongful death cases as well as accusations that he attempted to arrange his own death so his son could collect a $10 million insurance policy.

Remaining unsolved for more than seven months are the shooting deaths of Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, and his adult son Paul at their home in Colleton County.

Alex Murdaugh's lawyers have adamantly denied he had anything to do with the deaths. But the investigation into the killings started to unravel other parts of his life for an attorney whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were local prosecutors and whose family law firm grew into a behemoth with dozens of lawyers winning a number of multimillion dollar verdicts in tiny Hampton County.

At Murdaugh's most recent bond hearing, his lawyers said Murdaugh's accounts were frozen by a different judge to make sure victims in a number of lawsuits wouldn't lose their chance to collect settlements. The lawyers said Murdaugh couldn't even buy new underwear at the jail or pay his phone bill.

Two court-appointed receivers also testified at that hearing, saying Murdaugh has substantial assets including three bank accounts totaling $10,000; a retirement account with more than $2 million; and partial ownership of an Edisto Island beach house, the family's sprawling Colleton County estate, four parcels of land in Berkeley County and some small islands in and around Beaufort County.

But receiver John Lay said last week that those assets should be set aside for victims, not bail.

Murdaugh's bail is even higher than what prosecutors requested — $6.2 million to match the total investigators said Murdaugh faces charges of stealing. His victims range from family friends and a state trooper to an immigrant living in the country illegally and a person injured in a car crash, prosecutors have said.

Since 2015, Murdaugh has moved more than $3.7 million out of personal bank accounts, and investigators haven't been able to account for much of that money, prosecutors said.

Murdaugh's lawyers have tried several times to get his bail reduced. An attempt to get the state Supreme Court involved earlier this month also failed.

All the charges against Murdaugh are felonies and he could face more than 500 years in prison if convicted of all of them.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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