As Alex Murdaugh’s legal team pushes for a new murder trial, they have a bold request for the South Carolina Supreme Court: ban Judge Clifton Newman from having anything to do with the case.
In a Wednesday filing, defense lawyers argued that Newman should be removed from future hearings related to Murdaugh’s double homicide case, claiming that the judge who presided over the murder trial cannot be impartial.
The 256-page motion is the latest legal filing in defense lawyers’ fight for a new trial over claims that Colleton County clerk of court Rebecca Hill tampered with the 12-person jury. After the six-week trial, it took jurors only three hours to convict Murdaugh of murdering his wife and son at their home in June 2021. He was handed two life sentences, and still faces over 100 separate pending charges for other crimes.
“Judge Newman has personal knowledge about the Clerk of Court’s conduct which will undoubtedly be disputed at an evidence hearing on the motion for a new trial,” the motion says.
It also claims Newman has already publicly expressed his opinion about the case. Those statements, which include a Today show appearance, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct that requires impartiality, defense lawyers allege. “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…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,” the motion says.
Murdaugh’s lawyers insist that Newman should not be allowed to preside over any other matters related to the murder trial. The motion also asks the Supreme Court to issue a stay on all of Murdaugh’s criminal trials until it decides on the petition to remove Newman.
“Mr. Murdaugh’s right to have his appeal heard by an impartial judge will be violated if Judge Newman proceeds to hear his motion for a new trial,” the motion says.
The push to remove Newman comes just days after Murdaugh’s attorneys formally filed a motion in state court seeking a new murder trial. The South Carolina Attorney’s Office previously brushed off the allegations, responding in a motion that they asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate the defense’s claims and found “significant factual disputes.”
Despite the prosecution’s pushback, the South Carolina Court of Appeals granted the hearing, but a judge or court has not yet been announced. Normally, it would be Newman who would take over the hearing, given his history with the case. In 2021, the Supreme Court appointed Newman to handle all state criminal trials for Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirators.
If the Supreme Court grants the defense team’s motion to ban Newman, it may impact the judge’s ability to preside over Murdaugh’s financial trial, set to begin at the end of the month. The state case is Murdaugh’s first white-collar crime trial, though he has previously admitted in open court that he stole millions from his clients and law firm for years.
Murdaugh still denies that he murdered his family in a twisted attempt to shift public attention away from his financial crimes. Newman did not mince his words when he sentenced Murdaugh on March 3, describing the disgraced former lawyer as a “monster” whose conduct was worse than that of offenders who face the death penalty.
“I don’t question at all the decision of the state not to pursue the death penalty,” Newman said at the sentencing. “But as I sit here in this courtroom and look around the many portraits of judges and other court officials, and reflect on the fact that over the past century, your family, including you, have been prosecuting people here in this courtroom, and many have received the death penalty, probably for lesser conduct.”