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Newell guilty of killing niece

October 30, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Only a handful of people were in the Berkeley County Circuit Courtroom at 9:20 a.m. Thursday, when the buzzer sounded indicating jurors had reached a verdict in the trial of Michael Newell for the murder of his 7-year-old niece, Jessica Newell.

By the time the verdict - guilty of felony murder without recommendation of mercy - was read just before 10 a.m., the courtroom was close to full, with more than a dozen police officers posted around the spectator area.

Newell, 40, closed his eyes for a moment but otherwise didn't show emotion as the clerk of court read the verdict, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Jessica's mother, Deborah Newell, was crying softly as the jury filed in to the courtroom just before 10 a.m. for the reading of its verdict.

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The white sweatshirts she and her husband, David Newell, had been wearing inside out earlier that morning were now turned to show photographs of Jessica on the fronts.

Several jurors appeared to be crying as the decision was read.

Deborah Newell started sobbing loudly and hugged her husband, Jessica's father and Michael Newell's younger brother.

Family members filling the seats and behind them on the prosecution's side also cried and hugged each other.

Michael Newell's parents, Wilfred and Janice Newell, and younger brother Timothy Newell, who supported him throughout the murder investigation and trial, were not in the courtroom.

Because the verdict carries a mandatory sentence, the prosecution and defense agreed to sentence Newell after a short recess.

Before the recess, Deborah Newell took advantage of her right to address her brother-in-law in open court before his sentencing.

Sitting next to Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely with her husband standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders, she held up a picture of Jessica.

"Michael, this is the only thing we have left. We won't be hearing, 'Mommy, here's my Christmas list. Daddy, did the tooth fairy come? Where will I have my next birthday party?' It's all gone," she said.

She held up a framed picture of Jessica's red hand prints she said the girl made for a Father's Day present.

"This is your brother. You ripped his heart out," she said, crying. "She loved you. She trusted you. And you killed her."

Then she held up a small yellow T-shirt she said Jessica had been wearing the day before she was taken.

She said she takes it to bed with her every night.

"I hold it to me. I smell it. It's all we have left. It's all we have left," Deborah Newell said.

"I hope you rot in hell for what you did to her," she said as she began crying hysterically and was comforted by her husband, who appeared to be crying.

Michael Newell, who had turned away from her and sat staring ahead, looked down.

Defense attorneys Aaron Amore and Barbara Feudale said Newell said nothing in response to the verdict.

"Obviously, he was shocked. It was clear from his demeanor," Amore said.

He had no comment on the decision.

"Of course we'll seek an appeal," said Amore, who said one issue is the judge's prohibition of him asking about the mercy issue during jury selection.

There are also a significant number of trial errors and pretrial rulings at issue, he said.

Games-Neely contended Newell killed Jessica because she struggled against his attempt to molest her on Sept. 18, 1997, after he lured her from a Martinsburg bowling alley with baseball cards.

Her body was found on North Mountain two days later.

Games-Neely said she had been concerned about the length of deliberations - roughly 11 hours over three days - in regard to the question of recommendation of mercy.

If the jury had recommended mercy, Newell could have been considered for parole after serving 15 years.

Considering the nature of the case, Games-Neely said she and everyone else involved wanted to make sure they got the right person and that they did everything right to get a conviction.

"You don't mess with our kids. All of us felt deeply about it ... For someone to do this was just unconscionable to us," said Games-Neely, who said she has a daughter Jessica's age.

Outside the courtroom, Deborah and David Newell said they were relieved that justice was served for their daughter's sake.

"I haven't been sleeping, but with her little shirt next to me and this verdict, I can rest," Deborah Newell said.

Other family members and friends said they were relieved the trial was over and Michael Newell convicted.

"I'm so glad. I prayed to God all morning for justice to be done," said Deborah Newell's mother, Beatrice Stream, who came from Point of Rocks, Md., daily during the nine-day trial.

Jessica's half-sister Kellie Cline, 23, said she was glad the waiting was over and that the jury's was a no-mercy verdict.

"He gave her no mercy, so he deserves the same thing," Cline said.

Jurors waiting at the Hampton Inn in Martinsburg for their ride back to Morgantown, W.Va., didn't want to talk about the decision, according to the bailiff charged with taking care of their needs.

He said they were "drained."




related stories:

Newell jury treated well while sequestered

Newell jury undecided

Jury weighs Newell case

Defense calls witnesses in Newell trial

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