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Newell found guilty in niece's slaying

October 29, 1998

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A jury this morning found Michael Newell guilty of felony murder without recommendation of mercy in the death of his 7-year-old niece last fall.

Newell, 40, of Martinsburg, faces a mandatory life sentence without parole in the kidnapping and death of Jessica Newell, who disappeared from Pikeside Bowl on Sept. 18, 1997.

Her body was found two days later in a remote area of North Mountain.

The verdict was announced at about 10 a.m. today, the third day of deliberations in the trial at the Berkeley County Court House.

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The jury of nine women and three men deliberated in the circumstantial evidence-based case for three hours Tuesday afternoon before breaking for the night.

Deliberations resumed around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and broke up just before 6 p.m., less than a half-hour after the jury received an answer to its only question of the day, sent out with the bailiff at about 4:40 p.m.

The jury asked for either the footnotes to its instructions regarding its possible verdict of "guilty of felony murder with a recommendation of mercy" or an "expanded definition of mercy" and the process of consideration by the parole board, Berkeley County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. read.

The bailiff announced that the jury said it couldn't continue deliberations without an answer.

Just before 5:30 p.m., the jury received a "cut-and-paste" version of pertinent information from West Virginia statutes put together and agreed upon by the judge, prosecution and defense.

In this case, the jury's verdict also determines Newell's sentence.

If the jury had recommended mercy, the sentence would have been life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 15 years, he said.

The length of deliberations showed the jury was considering every piece of evidence, prosecution and defense, attorneys said.

Relatives of Jessica - including her mother, father, sisters and uncle - spent the better part of the day waiting for a verdict downstairs and on the steps of the Berkeley County Courthouse.

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