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About to be arrested for child exploitation, Maryland judge found dead

The 50-year-old Republican had been on leave for nearly two months after the parents of an underage teen told police that their son found a hidden camera in the judge's bathroom.

(CN) — With a warrant in hand to conduct a raid on a Maryland judge suspected of secretly recording minor boys in his shower, FBI agents found the man dead in his Henderson home Friday from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot.

Jonathan Newell, 50, was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m., according to a statement from federal prosecutors, who simultaneously unsealed a complaint they had been prepared to serve, charging Caroline County's only judge with sexual exploitation of a child.

Before he was appointed to his judgeship by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in 2016, and re-elected two years later, Newell was Caroline County’s top prosecutor for more than a decade.

In an affidavit dated Thursday attached to the complaint, FBI Special Agent Rachel Corn says the judge had invited six underage minors to spend the night at his cabin in Fishing Creek with himself and another male adult on July 22. The following morning, one of the boys, age 15 approximately, began undressing in the bathroom across from the judge's bedroom where he found a camera hidden in a black utility crate and positioned to record the shower. The blinking green light of the camera suggested it was actively recording, according to the complaint.

After taking pictures of the camera with his cellphone, the boy left the bathroom to get one of the other underage males. Newell entered the bathroom before the boys could return together, however, and the device was gone when they looked for it again. The other adult male had left the cabin at this point, as had the other four boys.

Authorities arrived at the cabin later that day because the 15-year-old and the other remaining boy, age 14 approximately, had called their parents, who called the police.

The complaint says Newell was present when the investigators arrived, waived his Miranda rights and claimed that 10 "members" of the cabin were coming and going at any point, suggesting any one of them could have set up the camera.

Shortly after the interview, police noticed Newell reach under the bed while making a phone call in his room and swallow something that they now suspect was the SD card from the bathroom camera.

The officers found the camera, seen in the picture taken by one of the minors, under Newell’s bed. Because it was missing an SD card, officers took Newell to a nearby hospital the next day with a warrant to obtain CT scans of his chest and digestive system. The scans revealed a “18 mm linear possibly metallic foreign body within the small bowel,” the complaint says. 

The officers later interviewed seven other males, born between 2002 and 2007, about their longstanding relationships with Newell and their time at his cabin. During these interviews, all said they had showered as minors at Newell’s cabin and almost all of them said he had checked them for ticks before they’d showered.

“At least two of the males stated they were naked when Newell checked them for ticks — one stated that he moved his own genitalia for Newell to look for ticks, and the other initially did not recall if Newell touched his genitalia, but later stated that Newell once or twice moved the minor’s genitalia to look for ticks,” the complaint says.

After obtaining state search warrants, the police pulled numerous other digital devices from Newell’s home, cabin, truck, boat and office — one of which, a Toshiba external hard drive, held video files of minor boys showering labeled with their respective initials. In some of these videos, Newell himself could be seen setting up the camera in the bathroom. In one video taken at Newell’s home, the judge is captured on film spreading a naked minor boy’s butt cheeks, and telling him to “lift up” his genitals and feeling the boy’s legs after running his hands through the boy’s hair before he gets into a shower. 

The FBI found the videos of this incident were enough to find probable cause to arrest Newell sexually exploiting a child. In the intervening weeks, Newell had been on a paid administrative leave that was extended just this week to run through Sept. 23. As the only circuit judge in Caroline County, pop. 33,000, Newell's cases were reassigned to other jurisdictions for the past month and a half.

A report from the Caroline Circle says Newell is the father of two children with an ex-wife from whom he had been divorced since last year. The judgeship came with an annual salary of $174,433.

Prior to his positions as a judge and top county prosecutor, Newell's law career started in 1999 as a public defender. He did that job for two years before becoming the deputy state’s attorney for Kent County for another two.

The Maryland Judiciary said in a statement following the judge’s death that it was aware of Newell’s demise and "is unable to provide further comment."

Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner and other officials announced that the State Police will lead the investigation into Newell's apparent suicide.

Follow Alexandra Jones on Twitter.

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