HENDERSON — Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Newell died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound early Friday morning, Sept. 10 after FBI agents went to his house to arrest him on a federal criminal complaint of alleged child sexual exploitation.
FBI agents arrived at Newell’s house just after 6 a.m. Friday to arrest him following a federal criminal complaint of allegedly sexually exploiting multiple minor boys at a cabin. The federal complaint included an FBI agent saying that Newell swallowed a secure digital (SD) card during an interview about the investigation leading to a subsequent visit to the hospital.
The investigators interviewed nine boys — born between 2002 and 2007 — about their relationships and interactions with Newell, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore late in the day on Sept. 9.
The next morning, Newell did not come out of the house when law enforcement officers and a tactical team arrived. Neighbors described hearing two gunshots and then what they called flash-bang grenades going off as a tactical team entered the house. Another report said there was just one gunshot right after the police arrived and no flash-bangs.
When the agents entered the residence, they found Newell with a self-inflicted gunshot wound — an apparent suicide, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland.
Newell was pronounced dead in his home at 6:43 a.m. Details on the firearm used have not been released. Maryland State Police will lead the death investigation. The Maryland Judiciary issued a brief statement acknowledging the “sudden death” of Newell.
State troopers, later joined by state’s attorneys from Caroline and Dorchester counties, remained on scene until just before 11 a.m. Friday morning.
Prior to his death, Newell retained Maryland-based criminal defense attorneys Andrew Jezic and Thomas Morrow, who said on Friday afternoon that their hearts break for Newell’s family and his two sons.
Newell’s apparent suicide came just a day after the federal criminal complaint was filed by FBI Special Agent Rachel S. Corn in court on Sept. 9. Although agents planned to arrest Newell based on the probable cause listed in the complaint, the document is not a formal finding of guilt — the individual charged is innocent until proven guilty in criminal proceedings.
According to the criminal complaint, investigators from the Maryland State Police responded to Newell’s cabin in Fishing Creek on July 23 regarding a minor male who found a video camera in the bathroom of the cabin.
One boy — identified as “Minor Victim 1” in the complaint — told police that he and another minor male spent the night of July 22 with Newell at the cabin. Another adult man and four minor boys also stayed the night at the cabin, he said. The other man has not been identified by police and prosecutors.
On July 23, Minor Victim 1 told police he went into a bathroom adjacent to Newell’s bedroom to shower. After undressing, he observed what appeared to be a camera with a green blinking light on a shelf, located inside of a small black utility crate. The lens of the camera was facing the shower, he reported.
Minor Victim 1 took photos of the camera and placed it back into its original position before leaving to tell Minor Victim 2 about the camera. After Minor Victim 1 left the bathroom, he saw Newell go in and come out carrying multiple items to his bedroom. When the two victims went back into the bathroom, they didn’t see the camera.
The two then left the cabin and went out on Newell’s boat alone to call their parents about the bathroom camera. The parents contacted law enforcement shortly after.
That same day, Newell waived his Miranda rights and consented to talking with investigators. He told police that 10 “members” had access to the Eastern Shore cabin and they could come and go without logging their presence at the cabin.
Newell denied placing a camera in the bathroom and noticing it in the bathroom, according to the complaint. He also denied ever seeing the camera after being shown a photo by investigators.
After the interview, Newell was allowed to go to his bedroom to charge his phone and make calls. Investigators followed and noticed Newell reaching under the bed with his right hand several times and then holding his hand in a closed fist before bringing his fist to his mouth, according to the complaint.
The investigator reported hearing a “loud, distinguishable ‘crunch’ sound” from Newell’s mouth twice and noticed him drinking from a cup after.
The investigator asked Newell to leave the room and looked under his bed, noticing an object similar to the picture of the camera from the minor victim. Newell came back into the room for his phone charger and handed the investigator a box from under his bed, which had a SD card slot and apparent camera lens.
On July 24, investigators took Newell to a nearby hospital with a warrant to take CT scans of his chest, abdomen and pelvis. The scans showed a “18mm linear possibly metallic” foreign body within his small bowel, earning a diagnosis of foreign body ingestion.
As of Sept. 9, investigators had spoken to nine total males on their relationship with Newell, including the two minors who found the camera in July. According to the complaint, most of the males had known Newell for years — some since elementary school.
All of them described being at Newell’s cabin or home and showering there.
Nearly all of them reported Newell checking their bodies for ticks in the bathroom, and two reported being naked when he checked them.
State search warrants were executed and numerous digital devices were seized, according to the complaint. A forensic examination of the devices is ongoing.
Investigators say they found an especially telling device in a safe in Newell’s home — an external hard drive with videos of minor males showering, some picturing Newell setting up the camera. The drive also contained folders and subfolders for specific minor victims, which included alleged videos of Newell looking at and touching some minors while they were naked.
Now that Newell can’t be prosecuted, Caroline County State’s Attorney Joe Riley said that the focus now is on making sure resources are available for the victims.
Newell was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan as Caroline County’s only Circuit Court judge in August 2016. Before then, he served as state’s attorney in Caroline County for 13 years.
Having grown up in Kent County and receiving his undergraduate degree from Washington College, Newell served as a deputy state’s attorney in Kent County and an assistant public defender in Caroline County.