The judge who presided over Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial has spoken out publicly about the case for the first time, saying he has “no doubt” that Murdaugh loved his family despite committing “an unforgivable, unimaginable crime.”
“In my mind, no doubt he loved his family. 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 he’ll be able to sleep peacefully given those facts,” Judge Clifton Newman told a panel at Cleveland State University College of Law on Tuesday.
Murdaugh, 54, was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month for murdering his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22. The six-week trial in South Carolina captured nationwide attention and was the subject of numerous podcasts and TV documentaries due to the Murdaugh family’s legal power in the region.
“All judges, all judges in the state, either knew him or knew of him,” Newman said of Murdaugh, who was a fourth-generation attorney before his disbarment. “It did not affect me as far as rendering the sentence that I did.”
Newman, who was lightheartedly introduced at his former law school as “the best-known judge in the world right now,” said he was surprised by the amount of attention the trial had received.
“I’ve received letters from all over the world about this case. It’s really been, truly been amazing,” he said.
Though Newman said he was still unable to speak freely about the case, and particularly about his opinion of it, he pointed to some interviews that several jurors have given in the days afterward.
Some jurors said that they didn’t see genuine tears from Murdaugh, who dramatically wept on the stand while pleading innocence, and that his testimony showed “that he couldn’t be trusted with anything that he said, or did,” said Newman.
“Genuine remorse is typically impactful,” the judge later said when asked about defendants taking the stand in their own defense.
Murdaugh’s attorneys had advised him not to testify, but Murdaugh felt like he needed to try to explain some questions that arose during the trial, Newman said.
One major bombshell that emerged during Murdaugh’s testimony was his admission on the stand that he had lied to investigators about his whereabouts when his wife and son were shot to death in 2021. Murdaugh had previously claimed he was never at the dog kennels where the two were killed, but later said he had lied about this because he was on drugs and paranoid.
Newman said that one thing from the trial that has continued to resonate with him is how unpredictable people are.
“It’s hard to predict what a human might do, particularly when they’re involved in drugs. That’s just a reality we all have to deal with,” he said.
As for how the case concluded, Newman, who has presided over hundreds of trials, said he wasn’t surprised that the jury reached a verdict in just three hours, saying “that’s about normal, as far as I’m concerned.”
The 12 jurors ― whittled down from an initial pool of 750 potential jurors in just three days ― had been presented with more than 800 pieces of evidence and more than 75 witnesses, Newman explained. After weeks at trial, the judge said, he believes they wouldn’t want or need to review all of the evidence again.
What Newman was surprised by, he said, was how quickly Murdaugh was sentenced, with attorneys for the defense and prosecution saying they’d be ready to go the morning after his conviction. The attorneys also didn’t request to make any statements or present anything before Newman announced his sentence.
All of the lawyers in the case lived elsewhere and had to travel to the trial, so “I think they were all ready to kind of get the case over with,” he said.
With the attorneys not wishing to make statements, Newman said he asked Murdaugh if he had something to say.
“He’s standing before me to be sentenced, having been convicted of a double murder, and basically, he told me he had nothing to say, either, other than, ‘It wasn’t me,’” Newman said.
Murdaugh was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the murders. His lawyers have filed a notice of appeal.