Student killed after taking car she mistook for Uber was victim of ‘heinous’ acts, prosecutor says

A college student suffered “heinous, cruel and malicious acts” as she was kidnapped and murdered two years ago by a man she mistook for her Uber driver, a South Carolina prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

The woman, Samantha Josephson, was out with her friends, just months short of graduating from the University of South Carolina, before she was killed on March 29, 2019, authorities said.

Authorities said Josephson, 21, a native of Robbinsville, New Jersey, was in Columbia’s Five Points entertainment district when she got into Nathaniel Rowland’s black Chevrolet Impala, believing it was her ride home.

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson told jurors that they would be shown security video, cellphone tracking data, the murder weapon and other incriminating evidence that would lead to a finding of guilty.

“It’s those intentional deliberate, heinous, cruel and malicious acts that Nathaniel David Rowland has been indicted for kidnapping Samantha Josephson. He’s been indicted for murdering Samantha Josephson,” Gipson said.

“And he’s been indicted for possession of a weapon from the commission of a violent crime. And at the appropriate time, we’ll ask that you return verdicts on guilty on each one of those counts,” Gipson said.

Gipson painted an alternately bright and sinister picture of the scene — of Josephson celebrating the end of school and of her killer lying in wait.

Gipson said of the victim and her friends: “They had their eyes firmly fixed on their futures and their eyes firmly fixed on their love for one another.

“But what they didn’t realize, what they could never realize, is that the defendant, Nathaniel David Rowland, had his eyes firmly fixed on Samantha Josephson. He had his eyes on Ms. Josephson as she walked outside the Bird Dog Lounge in Five Points alone, as she walked outside, as she had ordered an Uber ride, alone.”

And once she got inside the car, there was no way out, as the child locks were activated and the doors could be opened only from the outside, Gipson said.

Samantha Josephson.Columbia Police Department via AP

Josephson’s blood and cellphone were found in Rowland’s vehicle after her body was discovered in woods off a dirt road in Clarendon County about 65 miles away, officials said. She had wounds to her head, neck, face, upper body, leg and foot.

Defense attorney Tracy Pinnock urged jurors Tuesday to keep open minds and promised to show that an army of crime-scene investigators didn’t find any DNA evidence linking Rowland to the slaying.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to hear this number again, and that is zero,” Pinnock said. “That’s the amount of DNA on Samantha Josephson’s body that matches Nathaniel Rowland. Zero. It’s not on her clothing. It’s not under her ripped and torn fingernails. It’s not on her ankles.”

Josephson was scheduled to graduate in May 2019 before going to law school.

If he is convicted, Rowland could face up to life in prison without parole. He has been held in the Richland County jail since his arrest in 2019.

Josephson’s death drew national attention to ride-sharing safety and spurred changes within the industry, including more prominent displays of drivers’ license plates and a requirement that drivers say the names of their passengers before they travel.

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