CLEVELAND, O.H. (WCBD) – Judge Clifton Newman, who became a household name presiding over the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial, reflected on the high-profile case during a panel at Cleveland State University.
Newman said that the trial went on far longer than expected, but not much else surprised him.
When asked if he expected such a quick verdict from the jury, Newman said that the jurors had been listening to weeks of testimony and were ready for the trial to be over. He said that the roughly three hours of deliberation seemed like a standard amount of time.
Newman was somewhat surprised by how quickly the prosecution and defense were ready for sentencing. Typically, he said that parties may take more time to prepare victim impact statements, but both sides were ready to go at 9:00 a.m. the next day. Newman said he attributes that to the lengthy trial as well.
During sentencing, Newman spoke directly to Murdaugh, breaking with the usual impartiality of a judge and addressing the former lawyer who had just been convicted of murdering his wife and son. Newman admonished Murdaugh for the shame he brought to their shared profession, their small community, and Murdaugh’s family.
When asked if his personal connection to Murdaugh impacted his sentencing, Newman said it did not. He said that he and Murdaugh were not friends, but they knew each other. There was probably not a single judge in the entire state that didn’t know of Murdaugh, according to Newman, but he was confident in his ability to remain impartial.
Newman said that he believes Maggie and Paul will haunt Murdaugh for the rest of his life. He said that to Murdaugh during the sentencing, but elaborated on his beliefs during the discussion. Newman told the audience that whether its a spiritual belief or karma or something else, he believes that when a man murders someone, the victim will stay with them forever.
“In my mind, no doubt he loved his family,” Newman said of Murdaugh. “I don’t believe that he hated his wife, and certainly I do 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.”
When an audience member asked Newman what he took away from the case, Newman said “humanity is a difficult thing.” He said it is hard to predict what people will do, especially when drugs are involved.
Another audience member asked Newman about his controversial decision to let in evidence about Murdaugh’s financial crimes. Newman agreed the decision was controversial and would be the subject of an appeal. “No case is final until there is a final ruling on the appellate issue,” Newman said. He explained that initially, the evidence was supposed to be limited to things related to what happened the day of the murders, however, defense opened the door to other evidence during their cross-examination of witnesses. Newman said what really allowed extensive evidence in was Murdaugh taking the stand. “Once a defendant takes the stand and testifies, almost everything is fair game.” He said he is waiting to see how the appeals process plays out.
Ending on a lighter note, Newman said that he has “no idea” if he will write a book about his experience in the Murdaugh trial. He said that all of the recognition is new to him, and he is taking things “as they come.” One thing he was sure of though, was that Morgan Freeman is “too old” to play him in the movie. He was more partial to someone like Denzel Washington.