Maryland judge about to be arrested for child exploitation dies in apparent suicide

A Maryland Eastern Shore judge who was about to be arrested for the sexual exploitation of a child allegedly took his own life Friday, according to federal and local officials.

FBI agents went to the residence of Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Newell in Henderson, Maryland, early Friday to arrest him.

Acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner and other officials said in a statement that after entering the residence, agents found Newell suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m.

Newell, 50, was being investigated for taking illicit images of children — specifically of boys disrobing and showering at Newell’s cabin.

While the allegations, which were first reported by the Baltimore Sun, stem from a recent incident involving two boys this summer, the investigation has uncovered potentially seven additional victims.

New details uncovered

Judge Jonathan Newell is seen in this photo by the Caroline County Circuit Court.

According to the criminal complaint unsealed Friday, a teenage boy (roughly 15 years old), along with another boy (whose age not specified), were staying with Newell at his cabin in Fishing Creek, Maryland, on July 22.

When the boy went to use the bathroom on the morning of July 23, he found a camera on a shelf in the corner of the bathroom, inside a small black utility crate. The lens of the camera was facing the shower.

The boy took photos of the camera and left. He told the other boy and they both called their parents. In between, the boys said they observed Newell entering the bathroom and leaving with some items. When they returned to the bathroom, the camera was gone.

Law enforcement arrived that same day and questioned Newell, who denied knowing anything about the camera and said that 10 people had access to the cabin. After the interview, Newell was allowed to go to his bedroom to charge his phone and make calls.

According to the criminal complaint, investigators observed Newell reaching under the bed while his phone was charging. Then, while Newell was talking on his phone, an investigator noticed his right fist was closed.

Shortly afterward, the complaint says, “Newell placed his right fist to his mouth and covered the bottom of his phone and mouth and began talking quietly. A few minutes later, the investigator heard a loud, distinguishable, ‘crunch,’ sound from the area of Newells mouth. After another minute or two, the investigator heard the same crunch’ again from Newells mouth, followed by Newell immediately reaching for and drinking from a cup located on his dresser.”

Investigators then found a black box with a camera lens under the bed with the SD card slot empty. Newell was taken to the hospital for a CT scan, which revealed an “18 mm linear possibly metallic foreign body within the small bowel.”

Investigators have since interviewed seven other possible victims, all born between 2002 and 2007. Some have known Newell since elementary school. All reported staying at Newell’s home or cabin. Nearly all also said Newell would check their bodies for ticks. Two said they were naked at the time.

Search warrants have since turned up various digital devices, including an external hard drive with numerous videos of boys showering and disrobing. In some of the videos, Newell is seen setting up the camera in the bathroom.

Newell had been a circuit court judge since 2016. Before that, he was the state’s attorney for Caroline County for 13 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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