Attorneys for convicted killer Alex Murdaugh asked the South Carolina Supreme Court Wednesday to remove Judge Clifton Newman from his case one week after filing a motion for a new trial.
The judge sentenced Murdaugh, 55, to two life terms in March for the murder of his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul, after a Colleton County jury voted to convict on all counts.
Defense lawyers Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian have argued that Murdaugh deserves a new trial based, in part, on allegations that court clerk Becky Hill pressured jurors to return a guilty verdict to land a book deal.
In the latest filing, the attorneys allege that Newman was a witness in matters that will feature prominently in a hearing for a new trial, and it would be a conflict for him to preside over that proceeding.
In addition, Newman has expressed his opinions about Murdaugh in and outside of court, including in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show and at a televised panel at his alma mater Cleveland State University.
“In my mind, no doubt he loved his family. I don’t believe that he hated his wife and certainly do not believe 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,” he told an auditorium of university students, elaborating on a comment he made at Murdaugh’s March 3 sentencing.
The attorneys argued that the judge’s comments flout the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“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, adding that they are not accusing the jurist of having done “anything improper during the trial.”
Murdaugh was convicted of gunning down his wife and son in June 2021 at the family’s former hunting estate.
The defense team is also asking that the Supreme Court bar Newman from presiding over any cases involving Murdaugh, including an upcoming financial crimes trial in Beaufort County over the theft of more than $4 million.
Murdaugh is accused of pocketing insurance payouts that were supposed to go to the heirs of his late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died after tripping and falling on his property.
The case is supposed to go to trial Nov. 27, but the attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to halt the proceeding until a ruling is made on whether to remove Newman.
Griffin and Harpootlian have repeatedly requested that Newman recuse himself, but he has declined.
Newman, who will turn 72 this month, is expected to retire by the end of the year.
The South Carolina Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Murdaugh, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the lead prosecutor would object to the motion.