FBI experts say evidence is linked to Newell

October 23, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Michael Newell's fingerprints, hair like his and fibers matching his car's carpet were found on items inside the same garbage bag as his niece's missing sneaker and a blood-stained sheet, FBI laboratory analysis experts testified Thursday in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

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FBI fingerprint specialist Kenneth L. Dunn Jr., who testified that he found Newell's fingerprints on both a cigarette package and a small plastic bag inside the garbage bag, was the last witness to take the stand before the state rested its case, a day earlier than expected.

Michael Newell, 40, of 2105 Winchester Ave., is charged with kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Jessica Newell, who disappeared Sept. 18, 1997, from a bowling alley near his home.

She was found dead two days later by a couple out driving in a wooded area off Tuscarora Pike on North Mountain.


Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely has depicted the crime as an attempted molestation gone awry when Jessica either screamed or threatened to tell her parents.

She contends Newell used the promise of baseball cards to lure his niece away from Pikeside Bowl, where her father was bowling with his league.

Michael Newell claims the girl was alive and well when he left her in the bowling alley parking lot after handing her some baseball cards from his car.

After the state rested its case shortly before 2 p.m., lead defense attorney Aaron Amore asked Berkeley County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. for a judgment of acquittal on grounds the prosecution had not proven its case.

The prosecution can't show Jessica ever got into her uncle's car, Amore said.

The only alleged witness to the act called to the stand by the prosecution was 7-year-old Tiffany Mays, whose testimony lacked credibility and weight, he said.

"The little girl can't remember anything," Amore said.

FBI lab results indicate Jessica wasn't in Michael Newell's car around the time she disappeared, he said.

None of her hair was found in the car, Amore said.

Blue fibers

If she had been in the car for a 20- to 30-minute trip up North Mountain, her one-piece outfit and underpants likely would have picked up fibers from a car seat cushion like those found on her sock and sneaker, he said.

In his cross-examination of the FBI's fiber analyst, Amore suggested Jessica picked up blue cotton fibers from the cushion when she kicked her foot on his clothing while the two were sitting together in a booth at the bowling alley.

Games-Neely argued she had made cases for both the kidnapping and murder charges.

Tiffany Mays' testimony is valid, she said.

You expect the memory of a child that age to change from day to day, Games-Neely said.

The Virginia girl told family members who questioned her shortly after it was discovered that Jessica was missing that Jessica had gone with her uncle, she said.

The cushion fibers on Jessica's shoe are evidence she was in Michael Newell's car, Games-Neely said.

The fact that fibers from the car's carpet were found on Jessica's pubic area place her in the car that night, because it's not possible they remained from the trip she took with her uncle to Frederick, Md., two weeks before, she said.

Jessica's mother testified she bathed the child every night, and an FBI expert testified fibers are quickly shed as people walk around, Games-Neely said.

Steptoe ruled the prosecution had presented enough pertinent evidence for the trial to continue.

Games-Neely announced she would pursue a felony murder charge, which links the first-degree murder and kidnapping charges, rather than separate first-degree murder and kidnapping charges.

Newell was indicted by a Berkeley County grand jury on all three charges.

Expert testimony

The trial's abbreviated fourth day was packed with expert testimony related to dozens of prosecution exhibits entered earlier in the week.

A garbage bag FBI agents discovered Sept. 21 in a makeshift dumping area not far from where Jessica's body was found yielded evidence linking Michael Newell to the crime, experts from the FBI's laboratory in Washington, D.C., testified.

DNA tests showed blood stains on the jungle-print bed sheet found in the bag matched Jessica's DNA type, the FBI's nuclear DNA expert testified.

Results of DNA tests on other blood found on the sheet were less certain, proving only that Michael Newell "couldn't be excluded" as the source, he said.

Cary T. Oien, of the FBI lab's trace evidence unit, testified that he found blonde to brown Caucasian head hairs with the "same microscopic characteristics" as the sample taken from Michael Newell in scrapings from the sheet.

Although hair can't be used for personal identification, Oien said it's rare for him not to be able to distinguish between two people's hairs.

The sheet scrapings also contained fibers matching fiber samples taken from Newell's car carpet, he said.

Debris found on Jessica's pubic area and another part of her body also contained fibers matching the carpet fiber, Oien testified.

Blue fibers from a flag-print cushion seized from Michael Newell's car matched fibers found on one of Jessica's socks and sneakers, he said.

A jungle-print sheet similar to the one found in the garbage bag was found in a laundry basket in Michael Newell's bedroom during a search on Sept. 22, FBI agents testified Wednesday.

Early recess

The trial recessed a little after 2 p.m. because Amore didn't have his witnesses ready to testify.

Amore apologized, telling Steptoe he hadn't expected the state to rest its case until Friday.

Later, Games-Neely said she predicted her witnesses would run through Friday because she anticipated more cross-examination.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today.

It will break for the week after the morning session so that the jury, chosen in Monongalia County and being sequestered for the length of the trial, can be taken home for the weekend.

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