Judge Newman recuses himself from Mardo murder appeals, but remains in office for financial crimes
South Carolina Judge Clifton Newmanwho presided over the six-week double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh earlier this year, has recused himself from future proceedings and appeals in the murder case.
At the same time, Newman will remain as presiding judge in the upcoming trial involving some of Murdaugh’s many financial crimes.
These two important edicts were in a terse, one-page order issued by the Supreme Court on Thursday:
“Judge Newman requested that a new judge be appointed to handle post-trial motions related to the murder charges,” said the order, signed by all five Supreme Court justices.
Likewise, the justices rejected a request by Murdoch’s lawyers to halt or postpone the trial scheduled for November 27, and to remove Newman from that case as well.
“The trial, scheduled for November 27, 2023, must proceed as planned,” the judges wrote.
The order did not give any reason for Newman to recuse himself in the murder cases. Newman is scheduled to retire at the end of December. The financial crimes prosecution is not expected to continue into the new year.
Last March 2, a Colleton County jury convicted Murdaugh of killing his wife, Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at their Colleton County home in June 2021. The next day, Newman sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences.
Thursday’s order was in response to the suggestions foot In the Supreme Court, Murdaugh’s lawyers asked for Newman to be removed from hearing motions in the murder cases because he was involved in some of the events that form the basis of their requests for a new trial. The justices said that because Newman recused himself from the case, the case was now moot or irrelevant.
A financial crimes pretrial hearing is scheduled for Friday, November 17 at 10 a.m. in Beaufort County Court. Newman is expected to preside.
The topic of that session was not announced.
But on Thursday, Murdoch’s attorneys filed a motion in Beaufort County asking for the trial to be delayed until 2024 and for Newman to be removed from that case. Murdoch’s lawyers said the widespread negative publicity for Murdoch’s trial would make it impossible for him to get a fair and impartial jury. They also seek a change of place.
The lawsuit said Newman violated judicial ethics rules because he expressed his personal opinions in various forums, including the NBC Today show, that Murdaugh killed his wife and son. The motion cited an affidavit from University of South Carolina School of Law professor emeritus Gregory Adams that says Newman is biased against Murdaugh.
Prosecutors doubted Newman was biased.
Judges are not supposed to express their opinions on ongoing cases.
The Nov. 27 trial, if held, will focus on a host of charges involving the theft of $4 million in inheritance insurance proceeds in 2018-19 resulting from the death of the Murdoch family’s longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died in February 2018 after a fall at the Murdoch family home, and Murdoch pleaded guilty in federal court to orchestrating a scheme to divert money from Satterfield’s heirs into his own pocket.
State prosecutors are moving forward with separate criminal proceedings against Murdoch in state court because they say Murdoch’s victims deserve their day in court. State prosecutors brought Satterfield’s charges against Murdaugh in the fall of 2021, more than a year before federal prosecutors brought financial crimes charges against Murdaugh.