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Judge tells Alex Murdaugh his legal dynasty sent people to die for less before sentencing him to prison forever

Judge Clifton Newman talks to Alex Murdaugh during a sentencing hearing

Judge Clifton Newman sentences Alex Murdaugh to life in prison at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro on Friday, March 3, 2023 after he was found guilty on all four counts. (Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Pool)

The judge who oversaw Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial had often harsh but occasionally contemplative words for the lawyer-turned-convicted killer in a series of speeches during the sentencing hearing on Friday morning.

Judge Clifton Newman, who is one year away from forced retirement, opined that the crimes for which the defendant was convicted qualify for the death penalty in the state of South Carolina. But, he said, he did not question the state’s judgment not to seek capital punishment for the well-bred attorney who slaughtered his wife and youngest son.

Still, the juxtaposition was enough for the judge to pointedly comment in light of Alex Murdaugh’s spectacular fall from grace.

“As I sit here in this courtroom and look around the many portraits of judges and other court officials and reflect on the fact that over the past century, your family–including you–have been prosecuting people here in this courtroom, and many have received the death penalty,” Newman mused. “Probably for lesser conduct.”

Jurors found that on June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh brutally murdered his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, with several shots fired by an AR-style rifle, and their youngest son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, with two shotgun blasts, in the dog kennels at the expansive hunting lodge known as Moselle.

The judge suggested the convicted murderer would remain haunted for killing the people he loved.

“Within your own soul you have to deal with that,” he said. “I know 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.”

The defendant interjected: “All day and every night.”

“I’m sure,” the judge said again. “And they will continue to do so. And reflect on the last time they looked you in the eyes.”

No victim impact statements were given. The state also had little to say, largely hewing to the formal by requesting the sentence that was finally handed down.

The defendant’s sister could be seen shaking her head at the upbraiding of her brother, however. She attended every day of the trial.

SEE ALSO: Carpenter who sealed Alex Murdaugh’s fate breaks silence, reveals just how quickly holdout jurors changed their minds—and why

“I’m innocent,” the condemned man said in a terse address. “I would never hurt my wife, Maggie, and I would never hurt my son, Paul Paul.”

The judge remarked that he was surprised the disgraced lawyer didn’t have more to say for himself. Alex Murdaugh spoke up again at that prompting by repeating his claims of innocence.

“I’ll tell you again,” he said. “I respect this court, but I’m innocent. I would never, under any circumstances, hurt my wife, Maggie. And I would never, under any circumstances, hurt my son, Paul Paul.”

The judge then offered his interpretation of the grisly slayings.

“And it might not have been you,” Newman said as the defendant stared. “It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person. I’ve seen that before. The person standing before me is not the same person who committed the crime–though it is the same individual.”

Notably, in his courtroom testimony, Murdaugh emphasized that he would never intentionally harm his wife and son.

At sentencing, the court returned again and again to the apparent incongruity of the Lowcountry’s foremost legal dynasty and the way it collapsed.

“We have a wife who has been killed, murdered, a son savagely murdered, a lawyer–a person from a respected family who has controlled justice in this community for over a century,” Newman said. “A person whose grandfather’s portrait hangs at the back of the courthouse that I had to have ordered removed in order to ensure that a fair trial was had by both the state and the defense.”

“As a member of the legal community, and a well-known member of the legal community, you’ve practiced law before me, and we’ve seen each other at various occasions throughout the years,” the judge added. “And it was especially heartbreaking for me to see you go in the media from being a grieving father who lost their wife and a son to being a person indicted and convicted of killing them.”

Watch all of Judge Newman’s courtroom remarks here:

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