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The judge who presided over Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial has broken his silence for the first time since he sentenced the killer to life in prison.
Judge Clifton Newman spoke out about the high-profile trial during an event at Cleveland State University College of Law on Tuesday, saying that he still believes the disgraced attorney did “love” his wife Maggie and son Paul – but that he carried out an “unforgiveable” act by gunning them down that fateful night in the summer of 2021.
“I don’t believe that he hated his wife, and certainly I did not believe that he did not love his son, but he committed the unforgivable, unimaginable crime, and there’s no way that he’ll be able to sleep peacefully,” he said.
His comments came after Murdaugh’s dramatic sentencing hearing where the judge gave the killer one last chance to confess to his crimes – a chance Murdaugh declined to take – and told him that he will have to deal with what he did every night when he closes his eyes.
“You have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you. I’m sure,” Judge Newman said back on 3 March in Colleton County Courthouse.
Murdaugh agreed that they do “all day and every night”.
The judge then handed him two life sentences for his wife and son’s brutal murders.
On Tuesday, Judge Newman also said that he stands by some of his key rulings in the trial – including the decision to allow jurors to hear evidence of Murdaugh’s financial crimes.
As well as the murders of his wife and son, Murdaugh is also facing 99 separate charges over a decade-long financial fraud scheme where he allegedly stole more than $8m from his law firm and its clients.
While Murdaugh has not entered a plea for those charges, he confessed to stealing from more than a dozen clients when he took the witness stand in his own defence.
Judge Newman said that “the record speaks for itself” in allowing jurors to hear about those crimes.
“Once a defendant takes the stand and testifies, almost everything is fair game at that point,” he said.
Prosecutors said that Murdaugh had killed his wife and son on the night of 7 June 2021 in order to distract from his slew of financial crimes which were on the brink of being exposed.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh’s defence had fought to keep the financial crimes out of the murder trial.
But – after hearing from multiple witnesses in a shadow trial – Judge Newman sided with the prosecution, paving the way for jurors to hear about the schemes.
Murdaugh’s attorneys have since filed an appeal against his murder conviction – based on the admission of the financial crimes evidence.
During the trial, Judge Newman also ruled in favour of the defence to allow the jurors to visit the Murdaugh’s Moselle estate in Islandton, South Carolina, where the murders took place.
The judge said he now thinks the jury visit was more beneficial to the state’s case.
“It ended up, I thought, being helpful to the prosecution and not to the defence, though requested by the defense,” he said.
Judge Newman added that he didn’t expect the trial to attract as much attention as it did.
“It had the added notoriety because it involved a lawyer who had been accused of stealing over $8m from a number of clients,” he said.
“A lawyer who admittedly was strung out on drugs and more than anything else, a man who’s accused of killing his wife and his son.
“And despite those type of facts that would certainly make folks interested, I believe when I decided to make the entire process open to the public and open to the media and broadcast wherever it needed to be… nationwide and worldwide, I wasn’t experiencing any of that.
He added: “I was simply a judge in a trial doing my job, as I’ve done repeatedly over the years.”
Judge Newman is expected to come face to face with Murdaugh once again as he is set to preside over the killer’s financial crimes cases.
Alex Murdaugh judge breaks silence for first time after sentencing killer to life in prison
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