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Wounded vet accused of stalking members of controversial church now faces felony

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 3, 2010, at 1:39 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at 9:07 a.m.

WICHITA — A double-amputee war veteran already accused of misdemeanors against a controversial Topeka church today was charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, a felony.

The felony charge accuses Army veteran Ryan Newell of engaging in a conspiracy in which firearms were obtained and put in his vehicle and taken to a place where church members were located. The charge said the conspiracy involved Newell entering into an agreement with another person. The second person was named in a court document, but didn't appear to have been charged.

Newell's bond remains at $500,000.

Judge Ben Burgess said at a hearing this afternoon that if Newell were to post the bond, there would be a hearing to consider additional conditions for his release. One condition already set is that he have no contact with Westboro Baptist Church members.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Newell and a spokeswoman for Westboro Baptist Church say Newell is the subject of other investigations.

"My goal right now is to get Mr. Newell out of custody," the veteran's lawyer, Boyd McPherson, said before the hearing.

Newell, 26, of Marion, has remained in the Sedgwick County Jail since Tuesday evening. "It's obvious that Mr. Newell has a great outpouring of support, some of whom share our client's view of supporting our country," said McPherson, who along with fellow Wichita lawyer Steve Joseph is representing Newell.

People nationwide are offering to help pay for Newell's bond, McPherson said.

"He's not interested in publicity," McPherson said. "He appreciates all the support that's being offered."

Westboro and its members have been widely condemned for protesting at soldiers' funerals nationwide. Westboro contends that soldiers are dying because God is punishing the nation for immorality.

Newell's next court appaearance is set for Dec. 16. On Thursday, Sedgwick County prosecutors charged him with stalking, three counts of criminal use of weapons and one count of false impersonation of a law enforcement officer.

The stalking charge accuses Newell of actions targeted at Westboro members and putting them in fear for their safety. Sedgwick County sheriff's detectives arrested Newell mid-morning Tuesday outside Wichita City Hall after a sheriff's detective saw him following a Westboro van with five members to City Hall, officials said.

His vehicle was backed into a spot in the City Hall parking lot while Westboro members were inside discussing safety concerns with Wichita police officials, officials have said.

The weapons charges accuse Newell of unlawfully carrying and concealing or possessing with "intent to use" an M4 rifle, .45-caliber Glock handgun and .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun. Besides the weapons, Newell also had more than 90 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle, sources said.

An M4 rifle is a high-powered weapon used in combat; there are variations of the rifle, according to Websites.

Westboro spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said today: "Here is what I expect to happen: This guy is going to be called a hero, he may get a parade."

People "will line up to sing his praises, to pay his legal fees and to get him a lawyer," she said. "Then he will be permitted to plead to some nothing charges."

Phelps-Roper also said, "We've had communication about a federal investigation" involving Newell. "And I don't think I ought to say any more about that."

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said she could neither confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

The Eagle has previously reported that agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went to Newell's home and obtained items including firearms.

McPherson, Newell's lawyer, said, "I'm hearing that there are other investigations that are pending." He declined to elaborate.

McPherson said he is working to make sure that Newell's medical needs are met while he is in jail. McPherson said he thinks Newell has been placed in the jail clinic because of medications associated with his war injuries.

Newell lost his legs in 2008 when an improvised bomb exploded in Afghanistan. Some of his fellow soldiers died in the explosion.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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