Evidence described in W.Va. girl's death

September 30, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Baseball cards and an empty condom box found near the spot where Jessica Lynn Newell's body was found were among the pieces of evidence the prosecution presented Monday during a preliminary hearing for Michael A. Newell.

Newell, 39, was charged on Sept. 22 with kidnapping and murder in the death of his 7-year-old niece, Jessica Newell.

Security was heavy for the hearing in which Magistrate Gene Darlington found probable cause for Newell to be bound over for a grand jury in February. The magistrate building was ringed by West Virginia State Police, Martinsburg city officers, Berkeley County sheriff's deputies and reserve deputies.

Those entering the building passed through a metal detector. As Newell was brought in through a side door, a few of the dozen people gathered outside made negative comments.


Jessica's father, David Newell, testified about the last time he saw his daughter alive at Pikeside Bowl on the night of Sept. 18. "She was standing there by the front door. She said Uncle Mike was waiting to give her some baseball cards," he said.

David Newell said he went back to his lane to bowl, and when he returned two or three minutes later his daughter was gone.

He recalled seeing his younger brother Pat and older brother Mike at the bowling alley before the disappearance. "When I saw him, he was sitting at a restaurant booth with my daughter," he said of Michael Newell.

Michael Newell looked straight ahead during his brother's testimony, not making eye contact with him.

David Newell said his brother collected baseball cards and Jessica has begun collecting them. About two weeks before she disappeared, her father said, "she went to Frederick (Md.) to a ball card shop with him."

FBI agent Steven Viglianco testified that several baseball cards and an empty box for a single condom were among the items in a plastic trash bag found about a mile from the spot where Jessica's body was discovered on Sept. 20 near North Mountain.

Kenneth L. Dunn Jr., an FBI fingerprint expert, testified to finding a latent print of Newell's right middle finger on a cellophane wrapper for Basic Lights cigarettes. The crumpled pack was found in the trash bag and the same brand was found at 2105 Winchester Ave., where Michael Newell lived with his parents.

Assistant Berkeley County Coroner John Stancoven testified about his preliminary examination of the body at the crime scene and at Brown's Funeral Home in Martinsburg. He said one of the girl's shoes was missing. A shoe was later found in the trash bag.

Stancoven said a button from Jessica's dress was missing and her underwear was inside out.

Newell has not been charged with sexually assaulting his niece. Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said last week that DNA testing by the FBI could take several more weeks.

Stancoven said there were no visible signs of injury to the body, but he later detected "cranial cerebral trauma" to the right side of her head, a fracture that surrounded her ear. He said the body appeared to have been in the woods for at least a day.

Stancoven said complete autopsy results had not been released to him. The autopsy was conducted in Morgantown by Medical Examiner Dr. James Frost.

William Whittington III of Martinsburg found Jessica's body when he drove up the fire tower road with his girlfriend.

"I went up to the gate. I got out to use the bathroom and I looked over the mountain" and saw the girl lying in some leaves, Whittington testified.

Viglianco said he and another FBI agent were assigned to search back from where the body was found to Boyds Gap Road. He found the bag about 10 feet off the road, not buried, but partially hidden behind a tree.

Viglianco said he collected other items along the road, including a strand of rope in the branches of a tree and a local newspaper with a story about the girl's disappearance. He said he did not know if those items were connected to the case.

State Trooper John Droppleman said he became suspicious of Newell during their first interview early on the morning of Friday, Sept. 19.

"When we asked him certain questions he became very nervous. His lip started quivering and he wouldn't make eye contact," Droppleman said.

Droppleman said Newell told investigators he went to Charles Town Races on the night of Sept. 18 and played slot machines. Newell did not show up on security camera videotapes, authorities have said.

Droppleman also said Newell told them he gave his last dollar to Jessica before leaving the bowling alley, but then said he spent $20 at the track. The trooper said Newell showed up at a bar in Bunker Hill around 10:15 p.m., about two hours after Jessica was reported missing.

Public Defender Aaron Amore cross-examined witnesses, attempting to point out contradictions or inconsistencies between them. At the end of the hearing he unsuccessfully argued for Darlington to dismiss the kidnapping charge.

"I haven't heard any testimony that she was forced into the vehicle. They've got to show some kind of force or coercion," he said.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely countered that enticing the child into the vehicle would be tantamount to kidnapping.

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