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Clarification: The S.C. Attorney General's Office, and state prosecutors, originally reported to The Hampton County Guardian/Greenville News and other media outlets that Cory Fleming was sentenced to 20 years. However, the AG's Office has now clarified Judge Clifton Newman's sentence order, which is for only ten years total time in state prison.
Weeping, standing shackled before a state circuit court judge in blue and gray striped prison garb and facing up to a theoretical 195 years in prison and $8 million in fines, dishonored Beaufort attorney Cory H. Fleming pleaded for leniency.
But Judge Clifton Newman, who is presiding over all of the S.C. State Grand Jury cases involving convicted family murderer and confessed fraudster Alex Murdaugh and his tight ring of co-conspirators, was not sympathetic.
"I believe in justice and mercy," said Newman. "Leniency is not my responsibility."
Newman, who had presided over Murdaugh's six-week double murder trial in Walterboro and dispended double life sentences, held court once more Thursday — this time in Beaufort County — and all of the key players were in the same hall of justice at once: Fleming, Murdaugh, and former banker Russell Laffitte.
After federal prison sentence, Cory Fleming sentenced in state court
For all of Fleming's state grand jury crimes, which he pleaded guilty to after copping a plea to similar federal charges, Newman sentenced him to a total of 10 years in state prison, to be served consecutively after he completes the nearly four years of federal prison time he is currently serving.
This means that after his 46 months in Federal Correctional Institute Jesup in Georgia, Fleming must then serve 10 years in an S.C. state prison, with parole or time off likely for good behavior. Several of his crimes carry a mandatory 85-percent clause, which means he must serve at least 85 percent of that ten years, or 8.5 years, before he can be eligible for early release.
For the multiple crimes of stealing from the family and estate of Gloria Satterfield, along with Murdaugh, Fleming was sentenced to ten years, to be served concurrently with the federal sentence.
For the multiple crimes of stealing, along with Murdaugh, from the family and estate of Hakeem Pinckney, a deaf quadriplegic who later died after a horrific car crash, Fleming was sentenced to another ten years, to be served consecutively after his first state sentence.
"Until I came down to the 14th Judicial Circuit, I had never sentenced a lawyer," said Newman, calling Fleming and Murdaugh's crimes "unprecedented" and "unimaginable."
Newman handed down his sentence after hearing from a courtroom packed with Fleming's family, friends and supporters.
"Everyone was here to tell me about the good, but we are here to deal with the bad, and this is as bad as it gets for a lawyer," said Newman. "This isn't about the good that Cory Fleming has done over time, but what this Cory Fleming has done."
Newman said he would defer discussing the amount of restitution Fleming must pay to these victims until a later date, as the Sept. 14 hearing took most of a day.
Creighton Waters, State of SC come out swinging at Cory Fleming
Waters, the feisty USC Gamecock law school alum who made an international name for himself while prosecuting the Murdaugh murder case, appeared disappointed that he would not get to take Fleming's case to trial, but he came out swinging during the sentencing.
The state and law enforcement had put numerous man-hours into investigating Fleming's connection to Murdaugh and their joint crimes, said Waters, and in the process uncovering other crimes allegedly committed by Fleming. When confronted with his crimes, Fleming originally tried to claim that he was a victim of Murdaugh's and was "recruited" and "duped" by him.
But the state's evidence proved otherwise, added Waters, and prosecutors were not happy that Fleming had pleaded to one criminal count in federal court in August and was rewarded with what they considered a light sentence.
Waters asked the court to give Fleming consecutive sentences for each group of crimes because he pleaded guilty in both state and federal courts only because he got "caught red-handed" and could not deny the evidence or the charges.
Fleming then "thumbed his nose" at the state and went "down the street" to plead guilty to the feds and get a lighter sentence in a more comfortable prison.
"A lawyer [who breaks the law] should not get one stop shopping for victimizing multiple people," argued Waters. "He should not get buy one, get one free... A lawyer should not have a decade of misconduct and have one-stop shopping."
"You don’t get to rob a bank, then run down the road and get caught, and then say, oh, here’s the money," he added. "We cool now, right?"
State prosecutors uncovered that Fleming was stealing checks from his clients going all the way back to 2012. In the Pinckney case, Fleming spent time with the injured family, going to their hospital bedside, then stole their money and went on a private jet jaunt with Murdaugh to the College World Series - only to bill it as a medical expense, said Waters.
“It was a shakedown, plain and simple," he added, and Fleming's claims of innocence or ignorance "defy common sense." "The whole thing stinks to high heaven."
In all, Fleming stole $3.725 million from his victims, the state claims.
Cory Fleming's victims speak out
Tony Satterfield, the son of the late Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh's former household employee whose death sparked Murdaugh's wrongful death insurance scheme, addressed the court and said that this case was a "life lesson for everybody."
He added that he had forgiven Fleming.
Satterfield's sister, Ginger Harriott Hadwin, said that her family had been hurt "tremendously" by Murdaugh, someone whom they considered "like family," and while she also forgave Fleming she felt he should be punished accordingly.
“Gloria did not die in vain – her case brought out a lot of corruption, and things that were done to other people," she added. "Judge, we trust in you and your honor and know that you will make the right decision.”
Attorney Justin Bamberg, who represented the Pinckney victims, said that while it was clear Fleming regretted his actions and getting caught, he did not believe Fleming was truly remorseful.
Fleming tearfully addresses the court, backed by supporters
Several people spoke on Fleming's behalf during the sentencing - family members, friends, former law colleagues, his paralegal, his fellow YMCA volunteers and even his tenants. Many other people from Beaufort County wrote letters and sent emails to the judge.
Some Fleming supporters called him "Uncle Cory" even though he wasn't family. People spoke about his character, work ethic, and devotion to the community and helping others. One person talked about how he represented their family in a criminal case pro bono, another talked about how he helped her when her pipes had frozen on Christmas morning. One woman said that she spent time with Fleming sharing Bible scripture.
"He's a good person who makes very bad decisions," said his attorney, Deborah Barbier, who then pointed to the fact that his victims had expressed forgiveness. "We are all better than our worst decision."
Fleming has voluntarily submitted his resignations to the Georgia and South Carolina bar associations and "will never practice law again," she added.
Barbier also stated that no individual should have to serve separate sentences for the same crimes, and pleaded with the court for a 46-month concurrent sentence that would match the federal sentence.
Then Fleming spoke on his own behalf, and initial sniffles broke into full sobs.
"I made some terrible decisions, and I broke the law. There are no excuses and I place the blame on my own shoulders... I want this court to know my regrets."
To the Satterfields, he said that their mother was a good woman and they deserved a better lawyer who had their best interests at heart. He then apologized to the Pinckneys, his legal peers, and his family.
"I will spend the rest of my life regretting the shame and turmoil I've inflicted on my family. Your honor, I know I deserved to be punished and I take full responsibility for my conduct."
After several references to the federal sentence, Judge Newman responded, "I don't defer to the federal court system in making my decisions."
Attorneys react to Cory Fleming sentencing
Following the sentencing, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a press statement:
“In South Carolina, no one is above the law. We’re pleased with Cory Fleming’s sentencing and hope his victims feel a little relief today. Our office has worked tirelessly on this case, just like the rest of the Murdaugh-related cases, and we are committed to seeing each and everyone through to the end.”
Bamberg and Satterfield attorney Eric Bland held an impromptu press conference after the sentencing. They called it a "robust" presentation by the AG's Office and added that he was "proud of our state" for standing strong and not bowing to the federal government.
Trial date set for Murdaugh's financial crimes
Earlier in the hearing, Newman met with attorneys to set a trial date for Murdaugh's more than 100 financial and drug crimes.
Over the objections of Murdaugh's attorney Richard Harpootlian, Murdaugh's next state criminal trial is set for the week of Nov. 27 in Beaufort County.
However, Murdaugh is set to plead guilty to similar federal charges on Sept. 21 in Charleston, so that trial may not be needed if Murdaugh also decides to plead guilty to the state charges.
Murdaugh, is currently serving two life sentences for the murders of his family, appeared in court only briefly wearing an orange S.C. Detention Center jumpsuit, and then was led out of the room before other cases were heard.
No date set for Murdaugh co-conspirator Russell Laffitte
Citing their busy schedules and a pending federal appeal for convicted banker Russell Laffitte, his attorneys pleaded with the court for more time.
Newman said he would revisit scheduling Laffitte's state trial for another month to six weeks.
Meanwhile, Laffitte, convicted in November 2022 on federal fraud charges, is set to begin serving his seven-year federal sentence at FCI Coleman in Florida on Sept. 21, unless his sentencing appeal is granted.
Hampton County Guardian Editor Michael DeWitt, the Greenville News and USA TODAY Network will continue to follow the ongoing criminal and civil cases surrounding the Murdaugh crime saga. Follow DeWitt on Twitter at @mmdewittjr and support his local and national journalism with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Murdaugh accomplice Fleming sentenced to 10 years in SC prison