Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Eastern Shore judge found dead after attempt to arrest him on sexual exploitation charges

Jonathan Newell

Judge Jonathan Newell

A Caroline County Circuit Court judge killed himself Friday morning as he was about to be arrested on charges of sexual exploitation of a child.

FBI agents attempted to arrest Judge Jonathan Newell at his Caroline County home early Friday. Newell, who had been on paid leave since July, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.

Newell’s death was also confirmed in a brief email Friday from the Maryland Judiciary. That statement declined to provide any details on the death.

Newell’s defense attorneys, Andrew V.  Jezic and Thomas C. Morrow, said in a statement Friday that “our hearts bleed for Judge Newell’s family, especially his two sons with whom he was very close.” Jezic and Morrow are with Jezic & Moyse in Wheaton.

Newell and his former wife separated in August 2020 and were divorced two months later, according to electronic filings in the Circuit Court for Allegany County.

Newell had been under investigation since July 23 after two teen boys not related to Newell reported finding a camera hidden in the bathroom of Newell’s cabin, according to a federal complaint unsealed Friday.

During that investigation by Maryland State Police, Newell allegedly attempted to destroy a camera memory card by eating it, the complaint said.

Click this image to see the federal complaint.

Newell took the unidentified teen boys to the cabin the day before. The next morning, one of the boys said he found a camera hidden in a black crate in a bathroom adjacent to Newell’s bedroom. The lens was pointed at the shower.

The boy told police he took photos of the camera with his cellphone. He saw a green blinking green light on the camera and put it back on the shelf and left the bathroom, according to the complaint.

The first boy showed the second the object before the two departed for a trip on Newell’s boat. During that trip, police said, the boys contacted their parents to tell them about the camera. The parents called police.

Police arrived at Newell’s cabin the same day. The judge waived his rights and agreed to an interview.

During that interview, investigators showed Newell a picture of the camera. He denied knowledge of the camera. He also told police that a number of other people had access to the cabin, according to the federal complaint.

The complaint noted that the camera was not present during the police interview with the judge.

But during that interview, Newell was allowed to sit in his room and plug in his cellphone. One officer noticed that Newell was repeatedly reaching under the bed. At first it was thought he was to hold the charger to the outlet, the complaint said.

The home of Judge Jonathan Newell in the Eastern Shore town of Henderson is shown Friday morning, several hours after federal agents attempted to arrest him there. Workers could be seen replacing the front door of the house.

The home of Judge Jonathan Newell in the Eastern Shore town of Henderson is shown Friday morning, several hours after federal agents attempted to arrest him there. Workers could be seen replacing the front door of the house. (Bryan Sears/The Daily Record)

But investigators said they observed Newell put his hand to his mouth and then heard loud crunching sounds followed by Newell drinking from a cup on his dresser.

Police ordered Newell to leave the bedroom.

Newell asked if he could retrieve his cellphone. While in the bedroom, he pulled a small black box from under the bed and handed it to the investigator saying “something similar to; This is what you’re looking for,'” according to the complaint.

The box was a camera with an empty memory card slot. It was like the camera photographed by the teen boy, according to the complaint.

Investigators said they obtained a warrant and took Newell to a nearby hospital. There, a CT scan revealed a metallic object inside his small bowel.

During the investigation, police found additional hard drives with videos.

Some of the videos show teen boys showering. Others contained videos of what some victims described as “tick checks” performed by Newell, the complaint said.

In the videos Newell can be seen checking nude teen boys for ticks, in one kneeling in front of a boy and directing him to lift his genitalia. Newell is also seen spreading the buttocks of at least one boy during these checks, according to the complaint.

In all, police interviewed seven boys ranging in age between 14 and 18-years old. Most said they had known Newell since elementary school. Nearly all of the boys told investigators about the tick checks.

Newell has been absent from the bench since the search of the cabin.

During that time, a spokesman for the state Judiciary would only say that Newell was on paid leave even as word of the investigation spread. Earlier this week, that spokesman said Newell had extended that leave for another two weeks.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s office confirmed the investigation in late July when Newell first went on leave.

Newell previously served as Caroline County state’s attorney for 13 years before Hogan named him to the bench in July 2016.

Following the July search of his cabin, Newell deactivated his Facebook account. Prior to that, his page contained numerous posts of Newell involved in little league groups and other civic activities involving young boys.

That investigation came to a head this week as FBI agents filed the federal complaint that was initially sealed.

Shortly after 6 a.m. Friday, FBI agents, state police and the Carroll County Sheriff’s office surrounded Newell’s home, located in a quiet cul de sac of ranch-style homes, according to the Easton Star-Democrat.

The publication reported that neighbors heard police demand that Newell leave the house. Later loud bangs could be heard. An ambulance was seen at the house around 7 a.m.

A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Newell’s body was found by police entering the home. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m.

Daily Record legal affairs reporter Steve Lash contributed to this story.