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Newell indicted in niece's murder

February 17, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

Newell indicted in niece's murder

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The uncle of 7-year-old Jessica Newell, found dead in the woods two days after she disappeared from a Martinsburg bowling alley, was indicted by a grand jury on first-degree murder, kidnapping and felony murder charges.

Michael A. Newell, 39, of 2105 Winchester Ave., will be arraigned Feb. 27 in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said a motive for the child's abduction and murder has not been firmly established, but prosecutors believe it was an attempted molestation gone awry.

"We believe what happened is this was set up to be some kind of romantic encounter," Games-Neely said.

She theorized Jessica Newell may have struggled or threatened to tell her parents, David and Deborah Newell, and was killed by a blow to the head from a blunt object.

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Her body was found two days later in the North Mountain area.

Autopsy reports show Jessica Newell's skull was crushed by several blows. There is no indication of molestation, but Games-Neely said that could be due to the deterioration of the body.

According to court documents, Jessica was reported missing from the Pikeside Bowl on Sept. 18. Witnesses said she was last seen at the front entrance when her uncle showed up to give her baseball cards.

When interviewed by police, Michael Newell said he had given Jessica the baseball cards, watched her return to the bowling alley's entrance and left to gamble at Charles Town Races.

A subsequent review of the racetrack's surveillance equipment showed 115 people entered the track that night. Michael Newell was not seen on the tapes, police said.

About 1.2 miles from where Jessica's body was found, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a plastic bag containing one of Jessica's shoes, a washcloth, a pack of cigarettes and a child's bed sheet.

A matching sheet and pillowcase were found at Michael Newell's house after a search warrant was executed, according to court documents.

The FBI also checked fingerprints found on the cigarette pack. They matched Michael Newell's, according to police reports.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Michael Newell would face life in prison. West Virginia has no death penalty.

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