Caroline County Circuit Judge Jonathan Newell, 50, had been on a leave of absence since July after becoming ensnared in an investigation over allegations that he had a hidden camera that captured naked images of boys in his bathroom. When FBI agents showed up at his door Friday morning to arrest him on a federal criminal complaint, they found him “suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Friday. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 a.m.
“Maryland State Police will lead the investigation into the apparent suicide,” prosecutors said in a news release on Friday afternoon.
On Friday, Newell’s neighbor, Kimberly Keith, posted pictures to Facebook that appeared to show FBI agents stationed outside of the judge’s house demanding over a speaker for him to come out. She wrote that she heard sounds that she believed were gunshots, followed not long after by an ambulance.
The suicide came as Newell was set to be taken into custody on federal charges of sexual exploitation of a child, prosecutors said. He had been on leave from his work at the courts since police first raided his home July 24 and had extended that leave until later this month, the Baltimore Sun reported.
According to a copy of the criminal complaint unsealed Friday, Maryland State Police investigators in July had responded to a call about a minor who found a video camera in the bathroom of Newell’s cabin in Fishing Creek, Maryland.
Investigators interviewed two boys, both minors, who said that they had “spent the night,” with Newell on July 22, when they allegedly discovered a hidden camera.
One of the boys told investigators that after undressing in the bathroom he found a camera that was on and facing the shower inside a small black crate on a shelf in the corner of the bathroom
After telling the other boy about the camera he had discovered, the two boys went on Newell’s boat and both told their parents about the camera in the bathroom, the documents state. Their parents subsequently contacted law enforcement.
The boy who discovered the camera also said that another adult man and four boys had stayed overnight at the cabin and left earlier that morning.
When confronted by law enforcement, Newell denied placing a camera in the bathroom or noticing the presence of a camera, saying: “Like I said, there was six other people here.”
While being interviewed by investigators, Newell allegedly chewed and swallowed a camera memory card, after asking to charge his phone and then appearing to reach under his bed and take an object in his fist that he then put in his mouth. A CT scan later showed he’d ingested a foreign, possibly metallic object, according to the complaint.
During their investigation, authorities interviewed seven other teens, born between 2002 and 2007, about their relationship with Newell. According to the complaint, most of the teens told investigators that they had known Newell for years, some since elementary school. The teens described showering at Newell’s home or cabin and nearly all of them said that “while in the bathroom, Newell checked their bodies for ticks,” according to the complaint.
“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 said.
Authorities executed state search warrants of Newell’s cabin, and home in Henderson, Maryland, as well as his truck, boat, and office where they uncovered and seized various digital devices, the complaint states.
During their search, authorities discovered a hard drive containing multiple videos of young men showering that appear to date back to September 2014, according to titles for some of the videos. Newell is also captured on some of the footage arranging the camera. According to the complaint, Newell can also be seen in one video touching the naked body of a young man and spreading his buttocks.
According to the Sun, before his Facebook page was deactivated following the police raid, a series of posts about mentoring boys included pictures from the campaign trail, the hunting cabin, and wrestling matches.
The Sun noted that in one post from March 2020, Newell discussed an interaction with a 13-year-old neighbor during the pandemic and his belief that boys “especially need physical contact.”
“Ordinarily to cheer him up I would have teased him, gave him a pat on the shoulder, mussed up his sweaty hair, maybe even sent him on his way with a little swat on the butt,” Newell wrote per the Sun. “I think boys especially need physical contact: picking, poking, plucking—its part of how they communicate with one another and show affection, even if it occasionally leads to a fight.”
In 2016, Newell, a Republican, was appointed as a judge to Caroline County’s only circuit court by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. He held onto that role in 2018 and was serving a 15-year term before taking his life.