CLEVELAND (WCIV) — Judge Clifton Newman has become a household name after presiding over the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial.
Tuesday, he spoke about the trial as part of a panel at his alma mater, Cleveland State University.
I was simply a judge in a trial doing my job, as I've done repeatedly over the years," he told the audience gathered. "So the chief called and said will, I take it? I'm putting you on it. And I said, OK, bring it on.
With that- yes, Judge Clifton Newman took on what some call the trial of the century. It was a six-week marathon that brought with it national — even international — attention, something Judge Newman says didn't make him nervous.
The interest and notoriety that was taking place all around had no effect on me because I was engaged in the process of what I had to do.
He also talked about the decision to allow the last-minute jury visit to the Murdaugh family property, where the murders of Maggie and Paul took place.
They could ask me if they had any questions then. And they did. They want to see this evidence referred to in that location. And it ended up, I thought, being helpful to the prosecution and not to the defense, though requested by the defense," he said.
When it came to the jury's unanimous guilty verdict after less than three hours, Judge Newman said he wasn't surprised.
But my experience is when jurors have sat and listened to something for six weeks, over 800 exhibits presented, when they go back to deliberate, they don't want to look at those 800 exhibits," he explained. "They don't want to spend their time combing through everything that they have laboriously sat there and listened to for that period of time and, you know, take them three hours. And that's about normal, as far as I'm concerned.
On the panel, many praised his poise and insight as he gave rulings, but this remark during sentencing stuck with so many.
I’m sure you see Paul and Maggie in the nighttime when you’re trying to go to sleep," Newman said to Murdaugh.
During the panel, Newman explained he had no doubt in his mind that Murdaugh loved his family.
I posed that question to him, and 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 that he’ll be able to sleep peacefully, given those facts," Newman said.
Newman told the audience he never expected to be involved in a case that garnered so much notoriety nationwide. He talked about receiving letters from all over the world about the case, which he said is still being written.
The moderator shared a conversation they had earlier about people who could play Newman in a movie — maybe Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, or, as another judge suggested, Newman himself.
To that, Newman said: "I don't know what the future holds as far as movies or anything else. I do know we have mandatory retirement in South Carolina at the age of 72 , and I turn 72 in November. So I'll be looking for something else to do.
Newman received his undergraduate degree from CSU in 1973 before obtaining his degree from CSU|LAW in 1976.
According to the university, Newman began practicing law in Cleveland before returning to his native South Carolina in 1982.
“Honest to God, what you saw on TV is who he is,” said Judge Brendan Sheehan (CSU|LAW ’93), Administrative and Presiding Judge, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. “He’s decisive, he’s firm, he’s caring, he’s got compassion.”
According to CSU, Judge Newman will be inducted into the CSU|LAW School Hall of Fame in November alongside other alumni.