Veteran pleads guilty to lesser charges in stalking Westboro Baptist Church

June 23, 2011|By Chris Durden and Brian Heap | KWCH 12 Eyewitness News

(WICHITA, Kan.) — A disabled Army veteran accused of stalking members of the Westboro Baptist Church pleads guilty to lesser charges.

Ryan Newell appeared in a Wichita courtroom Thursday morning. He pled guilty to two counts of impersonating an officer. Newell will serve two years probation instead of jail time.

Newell — who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan — was originally charged with felony conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and weaons charges.

The Marion man was arrested Nov. 30, 2010 after sheriff's detectives found his vehicle parked outside Wichita City Hall while five Westboro Baptist Church members met with police inside.


"He's admitting that on two occasions on that particular day that he had made a false representation of being a law enforcement officer," said attorney Boyd McPherson, who repsented Newell.

McPherson said his client had three guns in the vehicle with him that day, but didn't intend to harm anyone.   

Westboro members protest military funerals, claiming soldier deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Since his arrest, Newell became a rallying figure for those who oppose the church's protest methods.  Fundraisers and websites were created to help raise money for Newell's defense fund.

"He's a very happy man," said McPherson of his client.

A spokeswoman for Westboro Baptist Church told Eyewitness News church members were pleased with the outcome of the case and hope Newell gets the help he needs.

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