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Newell preliminary delayed

September 25, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Originally scheduled to take place at the same time as the funeral of Jessica Newell today, the preliminary hearing for the uncle charged with her kidnapping and murder has been postponed until Monday.

Berkeley County Magistrate Gene Darlington said Thursday he rescheduled the hearing due to the conflict. Michael Newell's preliminary hearing on the charges was scheduled for 11 a.m. today, with the funeral taking place at the same time just a few blocks away.

"There was no way I was bringing the father down during the funeral," Darlington said of David Newell, the father of the 7-year-old Baker Heights girl and the brother of the accused.

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"When I scheduled the hearing I had no idea the funeral was at 11 o'clock," Darlington said.

"An unconscionable act," was how Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely characterized a decision by Public Defender Aaron Amore to proceed with the hearing as scheduled. Before Darlington made his decision, she said she would have to issue subpoenas for witnesses at the hearing, including the father.

"I think he needs to be burying his daughter," she said of David Newell.

"I was put in the position, if I waived it, I had no guarantee I was going to have a preliminary hearing," Amore said Thursday. He said he had originally agreed with the prosecution to postpone the hearing until Monday or Tuesday.

Amore then found out Darlington's office was not open Monday and he had to prepare for a trial on Tuesday. According to Amore, agreeing to a postponement might have delayed a hearing for weeks, or led to Michael Newell being indicted directly by the state.

Darlington said he is on night call Monday, but decided to reschedule the hearing for that afternoon. He said that falls within the 10-day period during in which a preliminary hearing is supposed to be held after charges have been filed.

"I guaranteed him he would have his preliminary before indictment, specifically because of DNA," Games-Neely said. The prosecutor said she has no intention of sending the case to a grand jury until February, although a grand jury will meet in October.

"DNA is a very necessary part of this case," she said, adding that DNA testing by the FBI will not be completed before the middle of next month.

Asked whether there was any evidence of sexual assault in the case, Games-Neely replied, "forensic evidence is being amassed in this case that could generate additional charges. Until I can confirm it I can't bring a charge."

Games-Neely was visibly angered when she learned, before Darlington's change in plans, that the hearing might proceed today. "It's about time the victims started having rights," she said.

"If he wants a media circus, he's got one," Games-Neely added.

Amore was appointed by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Steptoe on Wednesday to represent Newell, who is being held without bond in the Eastern Regional Jail east of Martinsburg.

Newell was charged Monday with the murder of Jessica Newell. She disappeared the night of Sept. 18 from Pikeside Bowl, where she had gone with her father. Her body was discovered Saturday evening in the North Mountain area.

Michael Newell lives a short distance away from the bowling alley and was reportedly the last person seen with Jessica. Security videotapes at Charles Town Races refuted his alibi that he had gone there to play slot machines after leaving the bowling alley.

Police also claim to have physical evidence connecting Michael Newell to the crime scene.

Games-Neely said Newell has denied any wrongdoing.

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