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Archive for Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Veteran accused of stalking Westboro Baptist Church members released from jail

December 8, 2010

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— After spending a week in the Sedgwick County Jail, charged with stalking and conspiring to harm members of a controversial Topeka church, Ryan Newell was released Tuesday.

Newell, an Army veteran who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, was released from jail shortly after 2 p.m., Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said, with the stipulation that he report to the Veterans Affairs hospital for treatment. His attorney picked him up at the jail, Hinshaw said.

Although Newell will still have to report back to court and face the charges, he was overjoyed at leaving the jail, his defense lawyer, Boyd McPherson, said Tuesday night.

“It was very emotional for him,” McPherson said.

“He wasn’t aware that it was going to happen, and it happened very quickly, and it is probably still soaking in.”

As far as he knows, McPherson said, Newell had never been held in jail before. “To my knowledge he has no criminal history whatsoever.”

People across the nation are “happy for Ryan that he’s released,” McPherson said.

A protective order prohibiting Newell from having contact with Westboro Baptist Church members remains in effect.

Newell faces charges that he conspired to harm Westboro members. The Topeka church has been widely condemned because of its protests at soldiers’ funerals across the nation.

Meanwhile, area police officials are planning for more protests by Westboro beginning Sunday.

Asked about Newell’s release, Westboro spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said, “I don’t care what they do with this guy. ... These matters are not in my hands.”

Newell, 26, of Marion, is charged in Sedgwick County District Court with conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, a felony. He also has been charged with five misdemeanors: stalking, three counts of criminal use of weapons and false impersonation.

According to a court document filed Tuesday, Newell’s bond remains at $500,000, but he has been released on his own recognizance. That means he would be responsible for the bond if he failed to appear in court.

His next scheduled court appearance is a Dec. 16 preliminary hearing.

On Nov. 30, Sedgwick County sheriff’s detectives arrested Newell after his vehicle was found backed into a parking place outside Wichita City Hall while five Westboro members met inside with police officials about security concerns at the church’s protests. He had a high-powered rifle, two handguns and more than 90 rounds of ammunition, sources have said.

That day, a sheriff’s detective who was monitoring a protest by Westboro outside Mulvane High School saw Newell follow church members on their trip from Mulvane to downtown Wichita, Hinshaw has said. Earlier that morning, Newell approached a Mulvane police officer near the protest, asked about the police presence there and said he was an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mulvane Public Safety Director Dave Williams has said.

Westboro says it is headed back to Mulvane next Tuesday to protest outside the Police Department and the American Legion.

Williams said area law enforcement agencies will send officers to help him keep the peace at the upcoming protests.

He expects to have 25 to 30 officers in uniform to monitor the event and control the crowd.

“We’re going to guarantee the safety of everybody who’s going to be there ... that’s our job,” Williams said.

“We may not like the message (of the Westboro protesters), but we’re going to do everything we can to protect life and property,” he said.

Westboro contends that soldiers are dying because God is punishing the nation for immorality.

“Obviously, I think the best response is to just ignore them,” Williams said. “But I can’t keep people ... from coming out.

“I would be tickled pink if nobody would show up.”

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