Judge sentences Rowland to life in prison for murdering UofSC student Samantha Josephson
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The judge has sentenced Nathaniel Rowland to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murdering University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson in March 2019.
The trial immediately moved to the sentencing phase after the jury announced its decision to find Rowland guilty on all three charges: murder, kidnapping and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour before making their unanimous decision.
EMOTIONS RUN HIGH DURING SENTENCING
During the sentencing phase, the victim’s family gave powerful impact statements, asking the judge to sentence Rowland to life in prison.
Josephson’s father tearfully told the courtroom he had contemplated suicide several times over the past year, as he struggled to cope with the loss of his daughter.
The following video includes the jury’s verdict, as well as the entire sentencing phase. Story continues below.
The convict’s family begged for the minimum sentence, as his mother said she did not believe he was guilty.
Rowland himself maintained his innocence to the judge during the sentencing phase.
The judge, however, said there was an “avalanche of evidence” against Rowland.
He added that this case -- one where the suspect stabbed Josephson more than 100 times -- was the most gruesome he had ever presided over in his decades on the bench.
CASE BACKGROUND | Trial of man accused in UofSC student’s kidnapping, death set to begin
After sentencing, the prosecutorial team addressed the media.
They took questions about the case and tried to clear up some rumors.
Prosecutors said there was no evidence Rowland and Josephson knew each other, saying it was a random act of violence.
The team also said they are satisfied -- and Josephson’s family is satisfied -- that Rowland will “spend the rest of his natural life in prison.”
Here’s what happened earlier in the day in court.
Closing arguments took place Tuesday morning after both the state and defense rested their case Monday night.
The prosecution went first.
STATE REVIEWS EVIDENCE IN CLOSING ARGUMENTS
As the state urged jurors to find Rowland guilty of murder, they made several emotional pleas, starting by saying 21-year-old Josephson did not deserve her fate.
She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, and a future law student. She was someone who had her whole life in front of her. There for the taking. Taken in the prime of her life.
Her body was found with more than 100 stab wounds on her face, ear, head, neck, arm, back, leg, and feet.
Prosecuting attorney Daniel Goldberg said she was dragged into the woods and left alone to rot. He went on to state there was a footprint inside the Impala from Josephson that was her clue to us that she tried to get away.
The lead prosecutor wrote down: “clothing, body dump, video, Impala, mountain brook, forensic analysis” as the team went through all of the evidence they presented.
Goldberg started with video from the night Josephson was abducted, which showed the black Chevy Impala driving around for 10 minutes before it pulled in front of Josephson and she got inside.
The state pointed out the evidence of both of Rowland’s and Josephson’s phones tracking together at the same time from Five Points to Montgomery Avenue.
Then Goldberg showed ATM video of a person wearing the same clothes found in Rowland’s car trying to use Josephson’s ATM card, unsuccessfully, on the morning of March 29 -- the day she was last seen.
The state went back through Rowland’s ex-girlfriend’s testimony, when she said Rowland arrived home the morning of March 29 without her work visor.
Maria Howard said she asked Rowland where her visor was and she said he said, “It’s in the country with blood on it.”
When she asked why, she said he told her: “Mind your own business.”
Howard also testified that on the way to work in the Impala, she saw blood in the car and a sheet over the blood. The prosecution said it was the sheet later found in Howard’s trash with Josephson’s blood on it.
Goldberg also said Rowland didn’t think anything would tie him to Howard’s home, but there was an envelope found in the glove box that had her address on it.
Inside Howard’s home in her trash, they found a bloody murder weapon with Josephson’s DNA, along with Rowland’s.
Goldberg also told jurors that upon Rowland’s arrest, they found his clothes with her blood on it -- including a mask he was wearing in the ATM video.
After recapping all of the evidence, Goldberg said the only reasonable conclusion was to find Rowland guilty.
The prosecutor said Josephson could have been “anything she wanted to be,” but Rowland “took her life” and “tried to erase her.”
Goldberg asked the jury to find Rowland guilty on all three charges.
But the defense said the evidence did not stack up to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Rowland killed Josephson.
DEFENSE TEAM MAKES CLOSING ARGUMENTS
Defense attorney Tracy Pinnock said everyone jumped to conclusions March 30 -- the day Rowland was arrested.
In reference to the video of Rowland running from police trying to arrest him, the defense said the officers yelled at him and another officer lunged at him, and that’s why he ran.
Pinnock said the lack of Rowland’s DNA under Josephson’s nails was important. She said two unidentified males’ DNA were found under Josephson’s fingernails.
“Because (Rowland’s DNA is) not there they want to tell you it doesn’t matter,” Pinnock said to jurors.
According to the defense, if Rowland’s DNA was under her nails, the state would have brought that to the jury’s attention.
Pinnock argued it seemed implausible that Josephson put up a fight, but Rowland didn’t have a mark on him, as investigators testified.
The defense also said Rowland is accused of dragging Josephson through the woods -- so they asked how is it there was not one scratch on him from that?
Pinnock also said there’s no way Howard watched Rowland cleaning a murder weapon in the front seat of the car in downtown Columbia, like she claimed in her testimony.
The defense ended by saying making poor choices -- like riding in a bloody car -- doesn’t make you a murderer. If that were the case, the defense said Howard would be a murderer.
“Y’all hold (prosecutors) to their burden,” Pinnock said. “Just because you do things that seem completely irrational… doesn’t mean you are guilty of murder. They’ve created a narrative and he is the villain in their narrative… in this case it is the wrong answer.”
The public defender told the jurors not to let emotions get in the way of their decision, and asked them to find Rowland not guilty.
JUDGE GIVES FINAL WORD TO JURY
The judge instructed jurors that they must believe the evidence has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Rowland killed Josephson.
He reminded the jury that the burden of proof is on the prosecution, meaning the state must prove he did it, while the defense does not have to prove Rowland’s innocence.
The judge said Rowland acting suspiciously was not enough to convict him of murder.
Jurors are charged to decide his fate on the following charges: murder, kidnapping, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
As soon as the jury returns a verdict, this story will be updated.
In the meantime, watch the closing arguments in the following video or catch up on previous days of the trial in the links below.
PREVIOUS ROWLAND TRIAL COVERAGE
- DAY 1 | His DNA not found on Samantha Josephson, but someone else’s was, defense says
- DAY 2 | Suspect’s ex-girlfriend says she saw him scrubbing car with bleach
- DAY 3 | Gruesome evidence presented from night Samantha Josephson died
- DAY 4 | Her DNA was found under his fingernails, DNA expert says
- DAY 5 | State and defense rest, closing arguments Tuesday
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