Vet pleads guilty in Westboro church stalking case

Jun 23 2011 - 11:57am

WICHITA, Kan. -- An Army veteran charged with stalking and conspiring to harm members of a controversial Topeka, Kan., church pleaded guilty to lesser charges Thursday morning, his attorney said.

Ryan Newell pleaded guilty in Sedgwick County District Court to two counts of false impersonation of an officer -- each "non-person" misdemeanors. He is receiving a six-month sentence on each count but is being released on a two-year probation, said his attorney, Boyd McPherson.

"We had been working on a resolution for ... six months," McPherson said.

"I think both the District Attorney's Office and I wanted to feel comfortable that the case was at a point where it could be disposed of." Newell, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, had been charged with felony conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and these misdemeanors: stalking, unlawful use of a weapon and false impersonation.

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 Baptist Church 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.

McPherson said Thursday that Newell did have firearms in his vehicle but that there wasn't proof he intended to use them unlawfully.

The Topeka church has been widely condemned because of its protests at soldiers' funerals across the nation.

Newell came to court Thursday morning in a wheelchair and wearing a T-shirt with an Army insignia, McPherson said.

His client was in "very good spirits," McPherson said.

(c) 2011, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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