South Carolina circuit court judge Clifton Newman has voluntarily recused himself from hearing further motions tied to the double homicide charges against convicted killer Alex Murdaugh. That means another judge will preside over any upcoming evidentiary hearings related to Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial.
Murdaugh was convicted in March of this year of brutally murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, at Moselle – the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties. Newman sentenced him to consecutive life terms in prison for those crimes. Murdaugh has filed an appeal – which centers on the admissibility of financial crimes evidence at his murder trial – but that process is on hold pending the court’s consideration of a recently filed motion for a new trial.
That motion has yet to be heard …
Newman was set to rule on whether Murdaugh should receive a new trial, but that responsibility will now fall to another judge appointed by S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty.
Newman’s decision to stand aside was revealed in an order (.pdf) issued on Thursday (November 16, 2023) by the S.C. supreme court – which earlier this month had been asked by Murdaugh’s attorneys to assign a new judge to handle further motions in all Murdaugh-related cases.
According to that filing, Newman was unable to sit in judgment over those motions for two reasons: First, he is a potential witness to allegations of of jury tampering leveled by Murdaugh’s attorney against Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill. Second, Newman has made multiple extra-judicial comments made in the aftermath of Murdaugh’s guilty verdict.
Based on Newman’s decision to stand down on the murder case, however, the supreme court denied that motion – arguing the request was now “moot.”
“Judge Newman has requested that a new judge be assigned to handle the post-trial motions involving the murder charges,” the court wrote in its order.
Importantly, the court’s order left the door open for Newman to preside over the first Murdaugh financial crimes trial – which is scheduled to commence on Monday, November 27, 2023 in Beaufort County, S.C. However, on the same morning the supreme court issued its ruling Murdaugh’s attorneys filed a separate motion asking Newman to recuse himself from hearing that case.
“Judge Newman should likewise be disqualified from presiding over the trial of this case, or any other proceeding involving Murdaugh,” the defense noted in its new motion (.pdf).
As this media outlet exclusively reported yesterday, Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin were planning to ask Newman on the record for the first time to voluntarily recuse himself from further involvement in Murdaugh-related proceedings.
Do I believe he should do so? Yes.
My media outlet was the first in the state to call on Newman to recuse himself. In a column published on October 28, 2023, I noted the judge had “repeatedly expressed his opinion of this defendant” – thus rendering him incapable of objectively presiding over future matters involving him.
(Click to view)
“He has expressed his bias … stating for the record his lack of objectivity over any future proceedings,” I noted.
“You’ve engaged in such duplicitous conduct – including here in the courtroom and on the witness stand,” Newman rightfully chided Murdaugh during his sentencing hearing on March 3, 2023.
In an especially chilling moment, Newman suggested Murdaugh’s dreams would be haunted by his victims “in the nighttime when you are attempting to go to sleep.”
“I am sure they will come and visit you,” Newman said.
Newman affirmed his belief that Murdaugh’s victims would haunt him during a June 21, 2023 interview with Craig Melvin for NBC’s Today show.
“Oh, I think so,” he said. “It has to be. I cannot imagine him having a peaceful night knowing what he did.”
In the weeks following the trial, Newman traveled to his alma mater, Cleveland State University, where he made additional comments attesting to Murdaugh’s guilt.
“I don’t believe that he hated his wife, and certainly I did not believe that he did not love his son, but he committed an unforgivable, unimaginable crime, and there’s no way that he’ll be able to sleep peacefully given those facts,” the judge said during his remarks at Cleveland State.
While nothing in those statements strikes me as inaccurate, “it is abundantly clear based on these remarks that the judge is not an impartial party, but rather an invested party” in this case, I noted.
Public opinion is split on what Newman’s status should be …
A poll of our audience commissioned at the time of that column revealed a sharp difference of opinion. Asked whether Newman should “recuse himself from further matters involving convicted killer Alex Murdaugh,” 47 percent of respondents said “yes,” 46 percent said “no.” The remainder indicated they were “unsure.”
THE ORDER …
(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.
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