Attorneys for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh filed a motion with the South Carolina supreme court on Wednesday asking its five justices to appoint a new judge – and grant that individual authority to oversee all future proceedings tied to his double homicide conviction.
And other Murdaugh-related trials …
Among those proceedings? An upcoming hearing on a recently filed motion submitted by Murdaugh’s attorneys in their bid for a new murder trial for their client. That motion – which was sent to the circuit court last week – is based on seismic jury tampering allegations leveled in early September against Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill, whose office managed Murdaugh’s double homicide trial earlier this year.
Hill has denied the tampering allegations – and early reports indicate there is some substance to her denial.
The filing submitted today (November 1, 2023) by Murdaugh’s attorneys took direct aim at S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman – who is scheduled to retire from the bench in three months. The 71-year-old judge was appointed by S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty in September 2021 to preside over any and all cases tied to the ‘Murdaugh Murders‘ saga.
The primary focus of the filing? Newman’s status as a potential witness as it relates to the jury tampering allegations.
“Judge Newman has personal knowledge about the clerk of court’s conduct which will undoubtedly be disputed at an evidentiary hearing,” Murdaugh’s attorneys noted in a petition (.pdf) for a writ of prohibition filed with the supreme court.
Beyond that, the petition addressed Newman’s comments from the bench – and in the media – in the aftermath of a Colleton County jury finding Murdaugh guilty of the murder of his wife and younger son.
“Judge Newman made numerous statements in violation of the code of judicial conduct that require his disqualification from presiding over further proceedings in this matter,” the attorneys noted. “These statements include congratulating the jury for returning the correct verdict, statements at sentencing evidencing personal bias, and statements in public interviews after the trial (including an interview on a nationally broadcast news program) in which Judge Newman stated his personal opinions regarding Mr. Murdaugh’s guilt, legal issues on appeal and strategic choices by Mr. Murdaugh’s counsel during trial.”
According to the petition, Murdaugh’s “right to have his case heard by an impartial judge will be violated if judge Newman proceeds to hear his motion for a new trial.”
Accompanying the petition was a separate request from Murdaugh’s attorneys asking the court to “stay all trial court proceedings” involving Newman pending its decision on the matter.
“A stay of trial court proceedings would serve the purpose of a temporary injunction to preserve the status quo until the court rules on the merits of Mr. Murdaugh’s petition,” that motion (.pdf) noted.
The Murdaugh trial – which ran from January 23 – March 3, 2023 – resulted in the 55-year-old disbarred attorney and accused/ admitted fraudster from Hampton, S.C. being found guilty of the murders of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, on the family’s hunting property on the evening of June 7, 2021.
The trial garnered international attention given the gruesomeness of the crime – as well as the defendant’s status as a member of the once-powerful “House of Murdaugh,” a family which ran the Palmetto Lowcountry like a fiefdom for nearly a century. Three Murdaughs held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006 – and Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor at the time of the murders.
The maze of associated criminality – and the web of lies spun to sustain it – also enraptured audiences.
Newman emerged as one of the heroes of the trial – and has earned near-universal plaudits for his handling of the various Murdaugh cases. Since the trial ended, though, he has not been shy about voicing his opinions on the case.
(Click to view)
The filings from Murdaugh’s attorneys echoed concerns I raised in an editorial published over the weekend. In that opinion piece, I wrote that Newman’s stated views on the case – delivered from the bench, during an address to his alma mater and in the media – were sufficient to warrant his recusal.
“Given his status as someone who has now clearly articulated his views on the matter – thus creating for himself a stake in the outcome of this hearing – surely Newman must see he can no longer sit impartially in judgment of Murdaugh,” I noted in that column.
To be clear, I was not – and am not – questioning Newman’s integrity.
“Having been in the courtroom for the duration of the six-week double homicide trial – and having covered all of its pre-trial motions and post-trial press conferences and status hearings – my admiration for Newman is widely known (and has been consistently and effusively expressed),” I wrote. “Indeed, I often wrote how his handling of this case was single-handedly restoring the public’s faith and trust in South Carolina’s badly broken system of justice.”
Still, I concluded Newman should refrain from having any further involvement in any Murdaugh-related cases due to his statements.
“He has expressed his bias … stating for the record his lack of objectivity for any future proceedings,” I noted.
Will the supreme court see it that way?
Stay tuned as our news team digs deeper into these filings and prepares a more detailed and expansive report …
THE FILINGS …
(Via: S.C. Supreme Court)
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 (soon to be eight) children.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.