How the Murdaugh dynasty has impacted Hampton County

The Murdaugh family is a dynasty in Hampton County.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:14 PM EST
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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Hampton County, South Carolina is made up of 18,000 people. It’s a county that typically is forgotten, but in recent years it has been thrust into the national spotlight because of the Murdaugh family.

“If you appreciate who he is, or who he was at that time, the name Murdaugh is law in Hampton County,” says attorney Ronnie Richter.

The Murdaugh family is a dynasty in Hampton County. The family has a longtime connection to the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office – which serves Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties. And with that comes privilege and power.

“I think in Hampton County we had a family or we had a group that sort of controlled the destiny of people,” says Hampton County native Ben Fennell.

Fennell agrees that whatever the Murdaugh family wanted, the Murdaugh family tended to get.

“This community senses that something’s broken,” Fennell says. “Not only with the on the national level with, you know being regarded as in a crisis, but on a local level we have people that are so in bed for lack of better word with powers to be that they’re not discharging their duties and that is sad . The other part about this is when you wonder for how long has the county been under this influence.”

Fennell says, for the most part, there are no career opportunities in the county nor quality of life like parks or bowling alleys. He says the influential people in the county could have changed that.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

Local attorneys agree saying the Murdaugh’s were the law of the land.

“They are kings,” Richter says. “They are benevolent kings in Hampton County. They do wonderful things for the community. They’re loved. But they’re also feared. Because they are the law and as a king – even as a benevolent king – they have the power to smite you.”

And for that reason, according to community members, is typically why no one ever speaks up… Until now.

“A jury has said enough of the sense of abuse of power, of arrogance that makes you think it’s okay somehow to use the privilege that you’ve been born into to take advantage of others who didn’t have the same opportunity,” Richter says.

The jury Richter is referring to is regarding the case where a federal jury convicted Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank whom prosecutors accused of conspiring with Alex Murdaugh, on all six charges against him.

Community members say while the Murdaugh family lately has put Hampton County under a dark cloud, they are hopeful some light will start shining and changes will be made for the betterment of the community.

“We don’t know how bad it is,” Fennell says. “We don’t know how broken we really are because we don’t know to what level this has affected our justice system.”

“We have to rebuild the trust in our justice system in our state,” attorney Eric Bland adds. “We’re doing that. We have to let people know there aren’t two cups of justice that the wealthy and privileged drink from one and the rank and file drink from another.”

Murdaugh’s murder trial gets under way Jan. 23. He is charged with two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

When the trial begins in Colleton County, prosecutors are expected to argue that he murdered his wife and son to distract from the millions of dollars he stole from friends, family, clients and his former law firm.

Releases and documents from the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office detail the list of 19 indictments and 99 charges — from tax evasion, money laundering, and forgery, to fraud and beyond — all related to alleged financial crimes dating back years. Those crimes amount to more than $8.7 million swindled from his victims, prosecutors say.