Who is Clifton Newman? Meet the judge presiding over Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial

Joshua Boucher/AP

The judge overseeing the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh has served on the bench for more than two decades and has presided over a number of high-profile trials, including that of a man posing to be an Uber driver who killed a University of South Carolina student and that of a White North Charleston police officer who shot a Black man in the back as he was running away.

Soft-spoken yet firm in his courtroom oversight, Judge Clifton Newman was first assigned by S.C. Chief Justice Donald Beatty to handle the plethora of charges of financial crimes leveled against Murdaugh. When the murder charges were filed, he took on that case, too.

A resident of Columbia, Newman, as an at-large judge of the South Carolina Circuit Courts can preside in any jurisdiction. The General Assembly elected him to the judgeship in May 2000 and reelected in 2021 to a term that expires in 2027.

Newman grew up in Greeleyville, where he attended segregated schools. He has told numerous interviewers his interest in the law began when he played an attorney in play while a student at Williamsburg County Training School about Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that found school desegregation unconstitutional.

A graduate of Cleveland State University in Ohio, he received his law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1976.

He started a private practice in Cleveland, and returned to South Carolina in 1982 to avoid having his children bused across town when the schools integrated, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

Newman started a private law practice in Columbia and Manning. He also served as assistant solicitor for Williamsburg County.

He says on his state courts biography his most cherished accomplishment in serving as patriarch of the Miles Newman Family succeeding his uncles, the late Sen. I. DeQuincey Newman and Bishop Ernest Newman. Noted civil rights leader DeQuincy Newman was the first Black state senator elected in South Carolina since Reconstruction.

In 2016, Newman presided over the case of Michael Slager who was charged with shooting Walter Scott. The case, centered on cellphone video of the shooting taken by a bystander, was so racially charged Newman needed protection from the State Law Enforcement Division. The trial ended in a hung jury, but Slater was convicted later in federal court..

In 2019, he presided over the case of Nathaniel David Rowland, 27, who was convicted of murdering Samantha Josephson, 21.

Josephson was picked up in the Five Points district by Rowland, who Josephson thought was an Uber driver. Testimony showed he stabbed her about 120 times in the vehicle, and dumped her body near his family home, authorities said.

In that trial, Newman upbraided Rowland’s mother after her son was found guilty for claiming he was innocent.

“I am not going to hear any claim of what he did or didn’t do,” Newman said. “He is guilty of murder. He is guilty of kidnapping. He is guilty of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. And if you had any testimony that you wanted to give for the jury to consider, the trial was the time to do that. I’m not listening to any claim of what he did not do. You are not a witness.”