Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers say FBI agent’s mention of Joran van der Sloot led to failed polygraph test

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Lawyers for Alex Murdaugh said an FBI agent conducting a polygraph test that the agency said the convicted killer flunked asked odd questions and confided he had just examined the notorious Dutch killer of an Alabama teen, throwing the results off.

The name-check of Joran van der Sloot in court papers Thursday is just the latest strange twist in the case of Murdaugh, the disbarred lawyer who is serving a life sentence for murder in the deaths of his wife and son. Murdaugh adamantly denies killing them, while admitting he stole millions from clients and his law firm because of a crippling drug addiction.

The disagreement over the polygraph is taking place in dueling court filings before Murdaugh is scheduled to be sentenced Monday for the thefts in federal court.

Prosecutors said in court papers filed Tuesday that their plea deal to have Murdaugh serve any federal sentence at the same time as his state sentence should be revoked because the polygraph showed Murdaugh wasn’t truthful about where more than $6 million he stole ended up and whether another attorney not yet identified helped him steal from clients and his law firm.

In their response, Murdaugh’s lawyers included court documents from state prosecutors in his murder case who fought against having the defense use polygraph results that said a Murdaugh friend failed his own test when asked if he was involved in killing Murdaugh’s wife and son.

The Murdaugh results were made unreliable by the FBI examiner who just before the exam asked Murdaugh if he could keep a secret, then told him he had just come from Alabama where he tested van der Sloot, who admitted to killing Natalee Holloway in 2005 in Aruba, defense lawyers said.

The examiner also told Murdaugh he believed he didn’t kill his wife and son and asked him a confusing question about hidden assets, the defense said.

“There are legitimate questions as to whether the Government intentionally manipulated the results to void the plea agreement and achieve the prosecutors’ stated desire to ‘ensure that he’s never a free man again’,'” defense lawyers Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian wrote.

Murdaugh’s lawyers said they might have more objections to the polygraph but they only learned about the prosecution’s allegations Tuesday and hadn’t had time to get their expert to review the results. They are asking the sentencing judge on Monday to ignore the results.

A pre-sentencing motion filed by prosecutors after the Murdaugh’s brief did not answer the defense’s arguments. The matter will likely be taken up at Monday’s sentencing.

The pre-sentencing report recommends a 17 1/2 to nearly 22-year prison sentence for Murdaugh on the federal charges.

Murdaugh, 55, is already serving life without parole in state prison after a jury found him guilty of murder in the shootings of his wife and younger son. He later pleaded guilty to stealing money from clients and his law firm in state court and was sentenced to 27 years, which South Carolina prosecutors said is an insurance policy to keep him behind bars in case his murder conviction was ever overturned.

The federal case was supposed to be even more insurance, with Murdaugh agreeing to a plea deal so his federal sentence would run at the same time as his state sentences.

Prosecutors now want Murdaugh to face the stiffest sentence possible since the plea agreement was breached and serve his federal sentence at the end of any state sentences.

Each of the 22 counts Murdaugh pleaded guilty to in federal court carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Some carry a 30-year maximum.

Prosecutors also want to keep secret four statements, including the polygraph, the Murdaugh gave the FBI.

Investigators think Murdaugh is trying to protect an attorney who helped him steal and that his assertion that more than $6 million in the stolen money went to his drug habit is not true. Releasing the statements could damage an ongoing investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Murdaugh’s attorneys want the statements released with agents blacking out any information they don’t want to make public while leaving the bulk of the statements available so people can judge the allegations themselves.

State prosecutors estimated Murdaugh stole more than $12 million from clients by diverting settlement money into his own accounts or stealing from his family law firm.

Investigators said that as Murdaugh’s financial schemes were about to be exposed in June 2021, he decided to kill his wife and son in hopes it would make him a sympathetic figure and draw attention away from the missing money. Paul Murdaugh was shot several times with a shotgun and Maggie Murdaugh was shot several times with a rifle outside the family’s home in Colleton County.

Murdaugh has adamantly denied killing them, even testifying in his own defense against his lawyers’ advice.

Federal prosecutors said Murdaugh did appear to tell the truth about the roles banker Russell Laffitte and attorney and old college friend Cory Fleming played in helping him steal.

Laffitte was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, while Fleming is serving nearly four years behind bars after pleading guilty.

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