South Carolina chief justice Donald Beatty has appointed a judge from outside the Palmetto State’s scandal-scarred fourteenth judicial circuit to handle matters related to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga – a move which raises serious questions about the proximity of multiple judges within the circuit to this rapidly unspooling drama.
As well as their propriety …
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Beatty has chosen veteran S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman to preside over any Murdaugh-related proceedings.
In addition to hearing motions related to charges filed in connection with these ongoing investigations, Newman would also be asked to sign off on search warrants sought by investigators as they continue to probe this far-ranging criminal enterprise – which has become a Hollywood obsession given its riveting twists and turns.
Newman’s appointment by Beatty was made after S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen – a presiding judge in the fourteenth circuit – recused herself from having any further role in the case. Mullen has previously recused herself in connection with criminal cases involving the Murdaugh family, however her purported involvement in several controversial civil matters related to the Murdaughs has raised a number of red flags.
With Newman in place, the state’s lineup for handling this saga is now complete: The S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is leading the various investigations into the family and its associates, the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson is handling the prosecution of any individuals who are charged in connection with those inquiries and Newman will hear any matters attendant to the cases.
All of this news broke exclusively on this media outlet, incidentally …
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Newman’s appointment was viewed as a bad omen for Alex Murdaugh and the lengthy list of likely defendants expected to follow him in the criminal queue.
“Judge Newman is not a good draw for Murdaugh and the others who will be charged,” one veteran South Carolina criminal defense attorney told me. “They are all going to prison.”
A native of Kingstree, South Carolina, Newman has a reputation for being a “tough, but fair” judge. The 70-year-old – whose daughter Jocelyn Newman is also a circuit court judge – is likely to be a familiar face to national audiences, having recently presided over the high-profile “fake Uber” murder trial of Nathaniel Rowland.
As I have previously reported, there are six active criminal cases involving Alex Murdaugh, his family and the influential law firm it founded in Hampton county, S.C.
Here are brief recap of those probes …
The highest-profile investigation of them all, this criminal probe seeks to identify the individual(s) responsible for the savage June 7, 2021 murders of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh claimed to have discovered the bodies of his wife and youngest son on the family’s 1,700-acre “Moselle” hunting property on the Salkehatchie river (on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties). So far, no arrests have been made in connection with the case and no suspects have been named – although Alex Murdaugh was identified very early on in the investigation as a ‘person of interest’ in connection with the investigation.
(Via: S.C. Department of Natural Resources)
Underway for his investigation seeks to determine whether Alex Murdaugh and other members of his family attempted to obstruct justice in the aftermath of a 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh. While inebriated, Paul Murdaugh allegedly slammed his father’s 17-foot center console fishing boat into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019. That crash claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. and injured several others. The boat crash obstruction probe is currently before a statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C.
Launched on September 13, this inquiry purports to determine whether Alex Murdaugh “misappropriated funds in connection to his position as a former lawyer” at the prestigious Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) law firm. In the aftermath of the roadside shooting on September 4, PMPED hastily accused Murdaugh of absconding with more than $10 million from the firm’s coffers. Of interest? PMPED never requested that SLED conduct this investigation – the agency launched it on its own. Sources familiar with the nascent probe have told me it could soon metastasize into a much broader graft and corruption inquiry – one impacting numerous law firms, financial institutions and public officials. Oh, and judges.
Stephen Smith was a 19-year-old young man from Hampton, S.C. whose brutal 2015 murder was initially misclassified as a “vehicular hit and run” – even though information from the crime scene was inconsistent with that conclusion. On June 22, 2021, SLED officially opened a homicide investigation based on new evidence pointing to the possible involvement of members of the Murdaugh family in his death.
As news director Mandy Matney exclusively reported last week, SLED has officially opened a criminal investigation into the suspicious 2018 death of Murdaugh family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield — who died of a “traumatic brain injury” following a purported “trip-and -fall” incident while working at the Murdaugh’s home in Hampton, S.C. According to SLED, the investigation into Satterfield’s death was opened “based upon a request from the Hampton County coroner …as well as information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh.”
As of this writing, this is the only Murdaugh-related criminal inquiry which has produced charges. On September 4, 2021, Alex Murdaugh claimed to have been shot by a passerby while changing a run-flat tire on his late wife’s Mercedes sport utility vehicle. After the evidence started piling up against him, Murdaugh admitted to participating in a plot to stage his murder, ostensibly so his son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. His co-conspirator, 61-year-old Curtis Edward “Eddie” Smith told the media he was “set up” by Murdaugh.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Los Angeles Dodgers’ lid pictured above).
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