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Who is Judge Clifton Newman? Alex Murdaugh double homicide trial judge in national spotlight

The upcoming double murder trial against infamous former South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh will be a battle between a trio of criminal justice masterminds expected to captivate a national audience and the state’s best and brightest legal prowess Palmetto will show.

Murdaugh faces more than 100 criminal charges related to a decade of alleged malfeasance and fraud while practicing law at his family’s once-preeminent law firm in Hampton.

But those charges are on the back burner for now, as he must first be charged with murdering his wife, Maggie, with a rifle, and his youngest son, Paul, with a shotgun on the night of June 7, 2021, in their Colleton County home.

The Murdaugh cases have captivated an international audience, and Murdaugh’s highly anticipated murder trial, set to begin Jan. 23 in Walterboro, the county seat of Colleton, is expected to be followed by multitudes of media outlets and streamed live to a cult-like following. around the English speaking world.

But who are the protagonists in this upcoming courtroom drama, and what can we expect from them?

Lowcountry SC in the spotlight:Walterboro, Colleton County, SC braces for ‘unprecedented’ Murdaugh murder trial

Murdaugh double murder case:What you need to know about opening days in Colleton County Court

Creighton Waters has a history of locking up ‘bad guys’

Creighton Waters is the lead attorney for the State Grand Jury Division of the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office and is the lead prosecutor in all criminal cases involving Murdaugh.

AG’s Office spokesmen declined to provide detailed background on Waters’ career there, but the public knows a lot about him as a prosecutor.

Waters, 52, has worked for the Attorney General’s Office for more than 24 years.

Attorney General Creighton Waters is taking the state’s case to court.

Waters has won state grand jury indictments against corrupt law enforcement officials, as well as school district and county officials. His work has led to charges against more than 100 suspects following investigations into drug operations in the state prison system.

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He also worked with other prosecutors on major white-collar cases ranging from allegations of misconduct against former SC Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell of Charleston to the criminal conspiracy of the $9 billion VC Summer nuclear project.

But since 2019, Waters’ primary focus has been on unraveling Murdaugh’s alleged web of financial and drug-related crimes, and leveling charge after charge against the disbarred attorney and several of his alleged accomplices, including former Hampton banker Russell Laffitte.

In December 2022, the AG’s Office announced it would seek life without parole if Murdaugh is convicted.

Waters and his team of prosecutors will face an equally talented and experienced criminal defense team led by Columbia attorneys Richard Harpootlian and Jim Griffin.

More Revealed:New documents reveal more about Alex Murdaugh’s murder and Russell Laffitte’s fraud cases

Not seeking the death penalty:Alex Murdaugh murder trial: SC AG Wilson seeks life without parole, not the death penalty

Richard Harpootlian: a famous lawyer with double experience

Richard “Dick” Harpootlian has more than 30 years of litigation experience on both sides of the courtroom – as a prosecutor, barrister and civil trial attorney, according to his bio at Harpootlian Law.

Harpootlian began his career as a district attorney, deputy attorney, and attorney for the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. As chief homicide prosecutor of the Fifth Circuit, he prosecuted hundreds of murder cases, including 12 death penalty cases, and defended one of those convictions on appeal before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Attorney Dick Harpootlian addresses the media after a hearing for Alex Murdaugh at the Richland County Courthouse on October 19, 2021.

Attorney Dick Harpootlian addresses the media after a hearing for Alex Murdaugh at the Richland County Courthouse on October 19, 2021.

In 1983, Harpootlian received a death sentence in the prosecution of Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins – South Carolina’s most notorious serial killer.

In 1990, Harpootlian was elected a Fifth Circuit Solicitor, where he personally prosecuted and obtained convictions in a number of high-profile murder, drug and public corruption cases. In 1991, he prosecuted and convicted ex-president of the University of South Carolina, Jim Holderman, on charges of public corruption.

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On the civil side of the law, Harpootlian’s private practice has earned him state and national recognition for his efforts on behalf of civil litigants and criminal defendants, including a number of multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements.

Harpootlian achieved celebrity status as a lawyer long before the Murdaugh case. He has appeared on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, ABC Nightly News, NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC, and various CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and Fox News broadcasts. He is also frequently quoted in local, state and national publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and TIME Magazine.

Harpootlian has also been active in South Carolina politics, serving as a member of the Richland County Council, as chairman of the SC Democratic Party, and most recently as a state senator.

Harpootlian is a past president of the Criminal Law Section of the South Carolina Bar Association and a former member of the SC Bar Board of Grievance and Discipline, and is an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Jim Griffin has experience defending fraud and corruption cases

According to the Griffin Davis Law website, Jim Griffin is an experienced trial attorney and health attorney with more than 30 years of experience representing clients in civil and criminal courts, both at the federal and state levels.

In his criminal practice, Griffin has served as the lead trial attorney in a number of cases featured in national and state news publications, magazines and television programs – including a major televised acquittal – and has also obtained multimillion-dollar judgments and settlements for clients in various civil Affairs.

Attorney Jim Griffin, foreground, faces media following an Oct. 19, 2021, hearing for Alex Murdaugh in Richland County.

Attorney Jim Griffin, foreground, faces media following an Oct. 19, 2021, hearing for Alex Murdaugh in Richland County.

He has extensive experience representing clients charged with federal crimes such as mail and wire fraud, healthcare fraud, mortgage and securities fraud, public corruption, government contractor and procurement fraud, and criminal tax charges.

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In his healthcare practice, Griffin has been at the “forefront of legal challenges facing healthcare providers,” according to his company’s website. He has also represented physicians and other healthcare professionals under investigation by federal and state authorities.

In 2018, Griffin was honored as the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the SC Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. He is currently listed as a Premier Healthcare Attorney and “South Carolina Super Lawyers” has recognized him for his civil defense work for five consecutive years.

Dig deeper:Convicted Hampton banker, alleged accomplice of Murdaugh, seeks new trial after jury controversy

Additional Charges:Alex Murdaugh indicted on SC tax evasion, now has over 100 criminal charges

Who will decide justice in the Murdaugh murder case?

This all-star legal lineup is sure to present compelling arguments and evidence on both sides of the courtroom, but before the trial begins and after the arguments conclude, it’s up to the judge and jury to make some key decisions.

Judge Clifton Newman (Kingstree) of the SC Circuit Court is presiding over the case and will have to consider some crucial motions for the trial. One of the most important decisions he will make will be whether or not prosecutors can use evidence from Murdaugh’s many alleged financial crimes as proof of motive in the murder case.

Judge Clifton Newman must make some important decisions on Monday in the Murdaugh murder case.

Judge Clifton Newman must make some important decisions on Monday in the Murdaugh murder case.

Ultimately, the final verdict will be in the hands of 12 residents of Colleton County. Colleton County court clerk Rebecca Hill said her office sent out 900 jury summons just before Christmas break and that jury questionnaires have been prepared to help start the selection process.

Jury selection is expected to begin Jan. 23 at the Colleton County Courthouse and last about two days, with the trial expected to last until about Feb. 10. No trial dates have been scheduled for Murdaugh’s other alleged crimes.

Meanwhile, Murdaugh is imprisoned at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County on $7 million bail.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Alex Murdaugh Trial: Meet SC Lawyers, Judge Takes the Spotlight

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