INMATE 183736 NEWELL STEVEN
On May 23, 2001, Elizabeth Byrd, an 8-year old,
headed to school from her mother's trailer at approximately 8:00 a.m.
Steven Newell approached Elizabeth and began walking
with her. Steven Newell knew Elizabeth because he had dated Elizabeth's
sister, Lori Stone, for several months.
Elizabeth was late for school and told Newell that
she didn't have time to talk to him. Newell persuaded Elizabeth to take
a "short-cut" through a field with irrigation ditches.
After Elizabeth and Newell were isolated and out of
sight from passers-by, Newell sexually assaulted Elizabeth. After the
assault, Newell grabbed a strap from Elizabeth's backpack and strangled
her to death with it.
After Elizabeth was dead, Newell wrapped her body in
a carpet and threw her into a water-filled drainage ditche.
He was arrested approximately two weeks later. In
custody, Newell admitted that he led Elizabeth into the isolated field
and that he "sexually rubbed" up against her.
He also admitted taking the strap from Elizabeth's
purse and wrapping it around her neck, and that he threw her into the
ditch. However, Newell denied murdering Elizabeth.
Forensic testing proved that Newell was the source of
semen found in the panties Elizabeth was wearing at the time of the
Presiding Judge: Hon. Barry C. Schneider
Prosecutor: Cleve Lynch & Patricia Nigro
Defense Counsel: Bruce Peterson & Timothy Agan
Start of Trial: January 20, 2004
Verdict: February 12, 2004
Sentencing: February 25, 2004
Age of victim (under 15 years) (Elizabeth Byrd was 8 years old; born
August 23, 1992).
Especially heinous, cruel or depraved
Previous serious offense (attempted kidnapping)
[Direct Appeal pending before the Arizona Supreme Court]
State of Arizona v. Steven Ray Newell
On Wednesday, May 23, 2001 Elizabeth Byrd
left her home for school. Around 7:40 or 7:45 a.m. that morning
Elizabeth was seen walking to school. Steven Newell, who Elizabeth knew
because he had previously dated her sister, was seen following about
five feet behind Elizabeth on a bicycle. Later that day, Elizabeth’s
mother arrived home to find that Elizabeth was not home from school yet.
However, this was not cause for concern because Elizabeth routinely went
to a friend’s house after school and usually did not return home until
around eight in the evening. When Elizabeth was still not home at eight
worry began to set in. Elizabeth’s sisters went to look for her, but
were told that she had not come to her friend’s house that day. Still
unable to find Elizabeth, the family called the police around 11 p.m.
Two Phoenix Police Officers were
dispatched to respond to the call from Elizabeth’s family. After the
officers spoke with Elizabeth’s mother, they went to speak with two of
Elizabeth’s friends. The officers were told that Elizabeth had not been
in school that day. Based on this information a missing persons report
was called in and the search for Elizabeth intensified.
The morning of May 24, 2001, two other
members of the Phoenix Police Department were dispatched to search a
large field near M.C. Cash Elementary School (“the field”). After ten to
fifteen minutes of searching, the officers discovered a child’s denim
shoe, a black knapsack, and a children’s book. In the knapsack was a
cherub magnet with the name “Elizabeth” across it, a pair of socks and a
drawstring coin purse. Suspecting that they had found important evidence,
the officers secured the area.
The day before, an equipment operator for
the Salt River Project came upon someone, in this same field, whom he
later identified as Newell, in a ditch doing something with some indoor/outdoor
carpeting. As the worker passed by, Newell looked up at him and then ran
off in the other direction. The worker left the indoor/outdoor carpeting
rolled up in the canal, deciding that he would come back to get it later.
After seeing a news story about Elizabeth’s disappearance the equipment
operator contacted the police and told them what he had seen.
In the afternoon of May 24, 2001, members
of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office were
dispatched to the field to search for Elizabeth. Around 4:00 p.m.,
Elizabeth’s body was discovered rolled up in a section of green indoor/outdoor
carpeting lying in the ditch. The Medical Examiner determined that
Elizabeth died from asphyxiation due to ligature strangulation. The
autopsy also revealed bruising, abrasions and evidence of a sexual
assault. A DNA analysis was done on semen found inside of Elizabeth’s
underwear. The DNA profile determined that Newell was the likely source
of the sperm.
Newell was interviewed on three separate
occasions by detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. In
the third interview, which took place through the late evening of June 4
and into the morning of June 5, 2001, Newell confessed to being with
Elizabeth in the field, grabbing her by the legs and the purse strap,
and putting her in the canal covered with the indoor/outdoor carpeting.
This interview was videotaped and shown to the jury at trial.
On June 14, 2001, a Maricopa County grand
jury indicted Appellant on three counts related to the disappearance and
death of Elizabeth Byrd: Count I - first degree murder, either
premeditated or felony murder; Count II - sexual conduct with a minor;
and Count III - kidnapping. On February 12, 2004, the jury returned
guilty verdicts on all three counts against Newell. On February 18,
2004, the jury found that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt
three aggravating factors. On February 25, 2004, the jury reached a
unanimous decision that Newell should be sentenced to death for the
murder of Elizabeth Byrd.
State v. (Steven
Ray) Newell, 212 Ariz. 389, 132 P.3d 833 (2006)
(Death penalty upheld) Jury Trial/Indep.
Newell was convicted in February
2004, in Superior Court (Maricopa), of the kidnapping, sexual assault
and murder of an eight-year-old girl, and the jury sentenced him to
death. This is his direct appeal.
(F)(2) (PRIOR SERIOUS OFFENSE) - UPHELD
This was found to be “undisputed,” as
Newell’s prior conviction for attempted kidnapping established that he
had a serious prior felony conviction.
(F)(6) (ESPECIALLY HEINOUS, CRUEL OR
DEPRAVED – UPHELD
Cruelty – Upheld
Mental and Physical: There was
“substantial evidence” to support this prong, where the victim had
bruising that occurred at or near the time of her death and the
bruises were consistent with grasping the victim’s arms and sexually
assaulting her; and where it normally takes two minutes to die by
asphyxiation and marks indicated that the victim grasped at the
ligature around her neck. “Elizabeth suffered serious physical and
mental anguish before she died. Newell should have known that such
suffering would occur.”
(F)(9) (AGE OF THE VICTIM – victim was
under 15; defendant was an adult) – UPHELD
This was deemed “undisputed,” as the
victim was 8-years-old and Newell was an adult.
The court independently found:
Sexual & physical abuse as a child
Extensive drug use
Not sufficiently substantial. “No
evidence explains how Newell’s drug addiction and unstable childhood led
to the sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Elizabeth.”
JUDGMENT: Death Sentence
Steven Ray Newell