CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The federal government responded Wednesday to a motion for a new trial filed by former Palmetto Bank CEO and alleged Alex Murdaugh accomplice Russell Laffitte.
Following a lengthy trial and over 11 hours of deliberation, Laffitte was found guilty of:
- Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud
- Bank fraud
- Wire Fraud
- Misapplication of bank funds (x3)
During deliberations, two jurors were dismissed and replaced with alternates, which Laffitte’s legal team is now using as the basis to request a new trial.
After the alternate jurors were brought in, Laffitte’s defense raised concerns about replacing one of the jurors on the basis of anxiety, arguing that it should have resulted in a hung jury.
They claim the dismissed jurors have filed affidavits detailing “improper influences on jury deliberations, [the juror’s] experience as a juror, and the circumstances surrounding [the juror’s] removal.”
In their 56-page response, prosecutors worked to dismantle point-by-point the defense’s argument, as well as pre-emptively shut down possible counterpoints defense could raise.
The crux of the prosecution’s response is that no new trial should be given because the previous trial was carried out properly and defense did not take action until after the verdict was reached.
Excerpts from the court transcript detailed that Judge Richard Gergel repeatedly sought input from the defense and prosecutors regarding what to do about jurors who were having issues. Defense asked if the jury could come back and deliberate in the morning, but Judge Gergel advised against it given the holiday weekend coming up, even saying that he was trying to protect the defendant by doing so. “I don’t think it’s in your interest to try to force people to come back tomorrow. I don’t like the effect that has on pushing people to a verdict,” Judge Gergel told the defense.
Judge Gergel, prosecutors, and the defense agreed that he would speak to the jurors in question and decide whether they could continue. Regarding one juror who needed antibiotics, the parties agreed that it was better to send her home and replace her. Another juror claimed she couldn’t carry out her duties because of her anxiety, so the parties agreed that Judge Gergel would speak to her alone, with no one other than the court reporter present.
After speaking with the juror, Judge Gergel said it was clear she could not move forward and was, “in [his] estimation, in an emotional meltdown situation.” The alternates were brought in and the jury was sent to further deliberate. After a verdict was reached, defense “raised an objection to replacing the second juror.”
Judge Gergel responded:
“On what basis? Because I asked you what did you want me to do on these? And we agreed I would talk to the juror, who could hardly speak, she was so emotionally upset. And I asked her if she could serve. . . . And she asked me to remove her, as she had written me already and asked me to remove her. So I was doing exactly what we all agreed I would do…. You know, I try to be as transparent as I could. I read everybody everything. I asked you what you wanted me to do. I interviewed the juror, who was plainly incapable of continuing, and she was in an emotional meltdown. And I removed her. And that’s what I understood y’all — we had agreed that I would interview her and I would make a decision. Now you now, after the fact, want to change that.”
The prosecution asserts that “after-the-fact objections to the agreed-upon approach employed by the Court fail to identify or articulate any plausible finding of an abuse of discretion” and that Judge Gergel had “more than sufficient factual support” for replacing the jurors.
In sum, prosecutors argue that Laffitte is unable to prove that any improper action was taken and that sufficient evidence was presented which would have led “a rational trier of fact” to find him guilty on all counts.