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Murdaugh Murders: Former Chief Justice Tapped To Replace Clifton Newman

Jean Toal to preside over convicted killer’s bid for a new trial …

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South Carolina chief justice Donald Beatty has appointed his predecessor – retired chief justice Jean Hoefer Toal – to oversee convicted killer Alex Murdaugh‘s high profile bid for a new trial.

In an order filed on Tuesday afternoon (December 19, 2023), Beatty granted Toal exclusive jurisdiction for the limited purpose of presiding over Murdaugh’s motion for a new trial. According to the order (.pdf), Toal will preside over all matters pertaining to the Murdaugh case, “including motions to appoint and relieve counsel,” a curious reference that could presage another seismic ripple in this ongoing saga.

The veteran judge will also “retain jurisdiction over these cases regardless of where she may be assigned to hold court and may schedule such hearings as may be necessary at any time without regard as to whether there is a term of court scheduled.”

That includes the scheduling of a highly anticipated evidentiary hearing on allegations of jury tampering against embattled Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill, whose office managed Murdaugh’s six-week murder trial in Walterboro, S.C. earlier this year.

Hill’s credibility has come under withering scrutiny in recent weeks as she and her supporters have responded poorly to these allegations – as well as allegations that she violated state ethics law during the trial by leveraging her office for personal gain.

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The court’s appointment of Toal followed the voluntary recusal of retiring S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman (.pdf) on November 16, 2023 – a move which was first called for by our founding editor, Will Folks.

Newman is expected to be a witness at the evidentiary hearing … but the language of the order appointing his replacement has many wondering who else may be called as a witness?

Could lead prosecutor Creighton Waters or other members of his team be on that list? Why else would the order reference “motions to appoint and relieve counsel?”

Could an effort be underway to take Waters and his team off of this case?

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 – who presided over the trial – sentenced Murdaugh to consecutive life terms in prison for those crimes. Murdaugh has since 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 motion for a new trial.

Toal’s name has been making its way through the legal community since Newman’s recusal as a possible replacement to oversee the ongoing legal drama, but many argued her ties to Murdaugh and his former law firm were too strong. In 1988, Toal became the first woman appointed to serve on the supreme court. She was re-elected in February of 1996 and was installed as chief justice on March 23, 2000 and served in that role until her retirement on December 31, 2015.

FITSNews contacted Murdaugh’s lead attorneys – Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – as well as the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, which prosecuted Murdaugh.

Neither side was commenting at this time …

Count on this news outlet to keep our audience in the loop on the latest developments in the ongoing Murdaugh saga …

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THE ORDER …

(Via: S.C. Supreme Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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11 comments

J Doe December 19, 2023 at 5:01 pm

This is bad for the State. She has always been cozy with plaintiffs’ lawyers in SC, of which Murdaugh was one.

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OOld Crooks Always Find Work December 19, 2023 at 5:08 pm

Maybe Murdaugh can give the one-time Queen Of Corruption in SC a case of liquor for her consideration in his behalf.

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Ronald Gay Top fan December 19, 2023 at 5:47 pm

If Judge Newman is a witness, Waters and even Dick and Jim could be considered witnesses as well. They were all in chambers during the questioning. Could they all be relieved from the case?

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The Colonel Top fan December 19, 2023 at 6:22 pm

Oh lawd, is she still alive!?! I wonder if there will be “nap breaks” instead of “stand and stretch breaks” like Newman allowed?

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VERITAS Top fan December 19, 2023 at 6:31 pm

Let the AleX Murderer circus begin.

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Ann Orton Top fan December 20, 2023 at 8:26 am

Once again a story filled with speculation and innuendo.

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Goody3 Top fan December 20, 2023 at 9:51 am

That language “to appoint or relieve” counsel is VERY intriguing …..as always, time will tell.

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Jackie December 20, 2023 at 10:49 am

When did she sober up?

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J Monday Top fan December 20, 2023 at 11:13 am

Lots of speculation & innuendo here. And judging from the comments of those who know of this retired judge, could be bad news for all except maybe Alex, Dick & Jim. Bad news also for those fighting to remedy corruption & good old boys (and girls) system in SC. Time will tell…

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J Monday Top fan December 20, 2023 at 11:17 am

One more observation-Judge Newman had to retire at 72 & this woman is 80!!!!! What is wrong with this picture?

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Anonymous December 20, 2023 at 6:52 pm

Retired SC Chief Justice Jean Toal DID retire from FULL TIME service at age 72, or more accurately, in December of the year she turned 72, as would SC Circuit Judge Clifton Newman this December.
Judge Clifton Newman shall, God willing, continue PART TIME at least for the next 6 months as has Jurist Jean Toal for the past 6 or so years.
The main difference is that Jurist Toal had previously served ONLY on SC’s Supreme Court and now serves as a part time judge of a court LOWER THAN the one she had sat on full time. Most other active/retired judges serve on their same court level.
Did that help?

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