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Nathaniel Rowland gets life in prison for murdering USC student Samantha Josephson

Nathaniel Rowland was convicted of killing Samantha Josephson in March of 2019.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A judge has sentenced a man to life in prison for killing University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson after kidnapping her in Columbia's Five Points back in 2019.

WLTX has coverage of the proceedings here on WLTX.com, the News19 YouTube page, and on WLTX's Roku and Amazon Fire apps.

Judge Clifton Newman handed down the verdict Tuesday afternoon against Nathaniel Rowland, about 30 minutes after the suspect was found guilty by a jury. In doing so, he gave Rowland the maximum penalty he was able to under law. 

Newman said there was an "avalanche' of evidence against Rowland. "All roads led to you," Newman said. "Every speck of evidence led to you." 

Before sentencing, Rowland told the judge "I know I'm innocent but I guess what I know and what I think really doesn't matter." 

Rowland complained that he thought the state should have done more. But Newman rejected any pleas for mercy. 

"I have dealt with the heartless and you fall into that category, without any remorse whatsoever," Newman said. "A person who is totally emotionless and what the law would call a depraved heart." 

Before sentencing, the family of Josephson had a chance to speak. 

“Her death sliced through my heart,” Marci Josephson, the mother of Samantha Josephson, tearfully said while reading a statement before sentencing. "He is evil, he is a monster… I pray that he feels Samantha’s pain."

Closings arguments took place earlier in the day. Both the prosecution and defense rested their case Monday. The defense did not present any witnesses, including Rowland, who chose not to take the stand in his own defense. 

During the closing arguments, both the prosecution and defense took a little over an hour to summarize their cases. 

THE BASICS: Trial begins of man charged with killing USC student Samantha Josephson

Police and prosecutors said Josephson had been out with friends in Columbia's Five Points district on March 29, 2019 when she decided to call an Uber to go home. Prosecutors say she mistakenly got into a vehicle that was not her Uber. She was found dead hours later in a field in Clarendon County, SC, some 70 miles from Columbia.

Prosecutors said Josephson got into Rowland's car and he killed her, driving her out to that remote area. 

University of South Carolina Interim President Harris Pastides, who was leading the school when Josephson was killed, issued this statement after sentencing:

"Samantha Josephson’s senseless death was a tragedy that forever impacted our entire community," Pastides wrote. "While the pain of her loss will never be forgotten, I hope today’s verdict brings some measure of closure to Samantha’s family and friends and to the Gamecock community. Her legacy lives on through the efforts of her incredible parents, Seymour and Marci, who are working to save lives by increasing awareness about rideshare safety."

Full video: Day 7 of verdict, sentencing in Nathaniel Rowland Trial 

During Monday's testimony, Dr. Thomas Beaver, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, told the jury that Josephson was stabbed over 100 times and had face injuries that looked as if she was dragged.

He said her wounds were parallel, which is unlike a traditional knife, and would have to come from something more unique. He held a multi-tool that has been mentioned throughout the trial and said that was the murder weapon.

Jurors also heard from Justin Martin, a surveillance and video analyst who traced Rowland and Josephson's phones. Martin said they tracked together out of Five Points for a short period of time before hers stopped showing up. According to Justin Martin, Rowland's continued to ping until it went to a remote area of Clarendon County where investigators say Josephson's body was found. 

The defense has keyed in on two major claims during the trial: That Roland's DNA was not found on Josephson's body, and that his DNA also as not found on the handle of the murder weapon. However, a DNA expert testified that Josephson's DNA was found under Rowland's fingernails and her blood was found on the blade. 

Closing arguments

Prosecutor Daniel Goldberg starts out by saying “21-year-old Samantha Josephson did not deserve this. She was literally taken and cut down before the prime of her life with stab wounds from her head to her feet.”

“No one else is responsible for Josephson’s kidnapping and murder… no other credible suspect.”

Goldberg implores the jury to use their common sense and take the evidence in the case to return a guilty verdict.

“It was cold, it was malicious, and it was intentional.”

He reminds the jury that Nathaniel Rowland is charged with murder – the unlawful killing of another with malice and forethought – kidnapping, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.

Going over the evidence, Goldberg reminds the jury that Josephson had over 100 stab wounds and almost every drop of blood was gone from her body.

Although video shows Josephson freely got into the Impala, the prosecution says the moment she began fighting to get out of the car, it became kidnapping. (The Impala had the child safety locks engaged, meaning Josephson could not exit the back seat of the car.)

He asks the jury to not get distracted from the facts of the case and proceeds to give a summary of the case: the video surveillance showing the Impala circling through Five Points before the abduction, Josephson standing alone on the corner at 2:08 a.m. and then approaching a silver vehicle, the Impala behind the silver car and Josephson gets in the Impala and “taken out of Five Points and never seen again.”

Josephson’s phone and Rowland’s phone both track the movement of the Impala through Five Points to Rosewood to near Rowland’s sister’s house. Rowland’s phone is then tracked to near where Josephson’s body was found in New Zion in Clarendon County, near Rowland’s parent’s house.

“No one would go there unless you were local.”

If it hadn’t been for the turkey hunters, it is unlikely that Josephson would have ever been found.

Rowland’s phone tracks to Broad Street in Sumter where, around 5 a.m., Josephson’s debit card is unsuccessfully used at an ATM. Video at the Sumter ATM and an ATM in Columbia show someone in a noticeable bandana attempting to access Josephson’s account.

The phone tracks to Rowland’s girlfriend’s house – Maria Howard -- on Mountain Brook Drive. She had testified that Rowland was not at her home when she woke up to go to work. When he finally arrives, he is wearing the same clothes he had on the day before. She asks him about her visor she needs for work. The visor is later found in the Impala’s trunk with blood on it. The Impala has a white sheet over the driver’s seat and back seat.

She asks about the blood in the car and Rowland told her to “mind your own business.”

She testifies she has seen Rowland with the multi-tool, cleaning it, and finds a rose-gold iPhone in the car. She had repeatedly asked about the blood in the car but depended on Rowland for transportation to her job and worried about her daughter.

Body and dashcam video show that Rowland was pulled over about a block from Five Points and is cooperating with the officer until told his car matches a suspect’s vehicle.

Police find Josephson’s phone and blood in the car, and the Impala’s driver’s seat leaned back as seen in surveillance video.

Goldberg says that Rowland “thought he had gotten rid of the evidence but it comes back to the clothing” that Rowland was wearing – the same hoodie with drawstrings seen on ATM video and surveillance video; gloves seen on video and found at Mountain Brook home; the jacket seen on ATM video and later in his car; the shoes and bandana he wore on ATM footage and at the traffic stop in Five Points.

Josephson’s DNA was found on Rowland’s beanie hat and her blood found on the bandana. He hadn’t got rid of those two items because he did not see the blood on the bandana.

The connection to Rowland and his girlfriend’s home on Mountain Brook was linked by an eviction letter written by his girlfriend to her roommate with the Mountain Brook address. The letter was found in the Impala.

Josephson’s blood was found everywhere in the Impala, on Rowland’s clothes, on the multi-tool and under Rowland’s fingernails.

Rowland’s fingerprints are found on a handwritten list and a roll of duct tape found in the Impala. Josephson’s footprint was found on a window inside the car.

Again, the prosecution asks the jury to take their common sense with deliberating.

Scratches from Josephson were found on Rowland’s jacket. He was wearing long sleeves and gloves so there was less of a chance of a transfer of DNA or scratches on his body.

The Impala was the crime scene.

A clear picture comes into focus when the evidence is taken into consideration and only one reasonable conclusion: Nathaniel Rowland is guilty.

DEFENSE’S CLOSING STATEMENT

Tracy Pinnock gave the defense’s closing argument.

Nathaniel Rowland did not have a mark on him, not a cut or a bruise. DNA evidence matters as does an unidentified male A and male B sample of DNA found during testing that excludes Rowland.

Problems with the case, says Pinnock, began in March 2019 when everybody began jumping to conclusions.

What the police knew at the time: Josephson had gone missing, her body found, Rowland pulled over at traffic stop, no one denied Rowland was driving the car or that Josephson’s blood was found in the car when he was stopped.

Eight days ago, Prosecutor Gipson said the simple answer was the right answer -- but nothing that happened in the courtroom this week is the simple or easy answer. Starting two years ago, law enforcement adopted a narrative and that’s what they presented at trial.

Pinnock will not go over every piece of evidence but will start with “where the narrative is getting skewed.”

Officer Kraft pulled Rowland over near Five Points. The evidence shows Rowland cooperating until Kraft allegedly grabs his arm and another officer lunges at him and he ran.

There was a large amount of blood in the car. Blood transfers easily so there was blood on everything in the car.

Prior to processing the car, the crime scene detectives were in the woods in New Zion. Defense wanted to be specific on how evidence is collected, the crime scene is established and documented. Photos of Josephson’s body in the woods to explain clearly how the body was found and what evidence was on the scene before possible contamination.

Josephson had DNA under her fingernails and her nails were ripped. No photographs of her hands were entered into evidence.

The scene in the woods is important because you couldn’t see it from the road, the body was found amid the brush and bushes. Nothing from the woods – dirt or debris – is on Rowland’s clothing or shoes. Three pairs of shoes in the car had no blood on them. “Someone is not going to commit murder wearing flip flops (or slides).”

Maria Howard’s house was then processed and items collected. Howard’s testimony was that she had been working double shifts and that’s why her daughter was not with her at the time. She testified she was scared of Rowland, but Howard texted her mother later that Rowland tried washing her clothes and left her work shirt wet, “LOL”.

Howard’s DNA was also on the bags containing the bloody clothes.

Howard testified she drives Rowland’s car to pick up her child at daycare while Rowland is in the front seat, wearing gloves, continuing to clean the car and the multitool – but the multitool was found with blood and hair on it in the trash at Howard’s house.

The multitool had Rowland’s DNA in a mixture of DNA – a mix that also had two unidentified males, a major contributor was not Rowland. If the state is going to tell you that Josephson did not have Rowland’s DNA on her because he was wearing gloves but there is his DNA on the tool, that is contradictory.

Of the cell phones gathered in evidence – two were associated with Rowland. One hit on towers in Columbia, Sumter and Clarendon County.

The phone expert testified that where the phone is doesn’t mean the person who owns it is with the phone. The two phones attributed to Rowland show text messages back and forth between each other in 2019, so someone else must have had one of the two phones.

Pinnock says, “The prosecution says ‘it all comes back to the clothes.’ They believe the person wearing the black jacket must be the assailant. They tested the black jacket and Rowland’s DNA is not on the jacket cuffs or neckline of the jacket.”

Five DNA profiles came back on the neckline of the jacket.

The DNA on the beanie belonged to Josephson and Rowland and two other unidentified people.

Pinnock says the state did not give the jury all of the evidence.

Rowland’s DNA is not on the tan shirt found in the garbage bag. Josephson’s and an unidentified DNA sample are. There are 32 times Rowland is excluded or found in a mix of DNA and blood evidence gathered from the car and clothing.

Pinnock says the unknown profiles, the unknown men involved in this case matter. They don’t fit the story the state is trying to present.

As to the multitool being used in the open position to inflict a single stab wound on the assailant, in the dark, in the back seat during a struggle and not get a scratch or wound is unlikely.

Contradictions about testimony on the length of Josephson’s fingernails and whether or not DNA evidence was collected from underneath.

This young woman fought but Rowland had no marks on him when he was arrested a day later. Those photos were not given in evidence during the trial.

There was no DNA evidence of Josephson under Rowland’s fingernails.

Pinnock implores the jury to re-watch the videos presented in court. The video of the wrong turn down Saluda during the traffic stop was taken from one camera only, although it came out in cross examination that there was another camera at that location that law enforcement never asked for. The investigators responsible for collecting the cameras were in the courtroom but not called to the stand and therefore could not be examined under cross.

The evidence must be considered to render a verdict without a doubt. The burden of proof is on the state. Pinnock says riding around in a car that is bloody or not calling the police or doing something irrational does not mean you committed murder. Nothing on the table (the evidence) or in testimony proves Rowland committed murder or kidnapping.

She implore the jury to hold the state to their burden of proof.

What happened to Josephson was tragic and this is an emotional case. You cannot check your emotions, but do not let your emotions dictate your decision when you go to deliberate.

The state has not proven that Nathaniel Rowland kidnapped Samantha Josephson, they did not prove that he killed her or that he had a weapon in his possession.

Pinnock asks the jury to find Rowland not guilty.

Judge Newman charges the jury and explains the law covering the case. He reminds the jury the law makes no distinction between direct evidence (directly proven) and circumstantial evidence (implied set of circumstances that lead to a conclusion), each holds same weight; the jury can believe all, some or none of the testimony of witnesses; the defendant is not required to prove his innocence, and not testifying is his right and nothing should be inferred from not testifying. The defendant is always presumed innocent and it is up to the state to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The verdict must be unanimous.

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