Attorney wants Newell trial moved

February 27, 1998


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The man accused of bludgeoning his 7-year-old niece to death is scheduled for a July trial in Berkeley County Circuit Court, but his attorney hopes to move the case to a different county.

Public defender Aaron Amore, citing the community's outrage over the slaying and the heavy media coverage it has drawn, said he will file a motion for a change of venue early next week.

On Friday, Michael Newell, 39, of 2105 Winchester Ave., pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping and felony murder charges in the death of Jessica Newell, whose body was found in the woods two days after she disappeared from a Martinsburg bowling alley.


"Any time a child dies in an unnatural way it inflames people more than if an adult were to die in a similar circumstance," Amore said. "The community as a whole is fairly prejudiced (against Newell.) I don't know if he'd be able to get a fair trial."

Jessica's death received widespread media coverage and the community grieved for the little girl. More than 300 people attended Jessica's funeral and hundreds more lined the streets to watch the funeral procession with bowed heads.

When Michael Newell was arrested and led out of his home by police, an angry crowd yelled obscenities.

Amore also said his client has been in protective custody at the Eastern Regional Jail in Berkeley County because of alleged threats to his life.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she will fight the change of venue.

"He's going to get as fair a trial here as he is anyplace else in the state," Games-Neely said.

Newell was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month. At the time, 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.

Prosecutors believe Jessica may have fought her molester or threatened to tell, Games-Neely said.

Jessica Newell's body was found in the North Mountain area on Sept. 20, her skull crushed. She had been reported missing from Pikeside Bowling Alley on Sept. 18, some 20 miles away.

Witnesses said Jessica was last seen at the front entrance when her uncle showed up to give her baseball cards, according to court documents.

Michael Newell told police he had given Jessica the baseball cards and spent the rest of the night gambling at Charles Town Races in Jefferson County.

When police reviewed tapes from the race track's surveillance equipment, Newell was nowhere to be seen, court records said.

In the same area where Jessica was found, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a plastic bag with one of Jessica's shoes, a washcloth, a pack of cigarettes and a child's bed sheet.

Michael Newell's fingerprints were found on the cigarettes, and a matching sheet and a pillowcase were found at his home, court records said.

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