Accused Westboro Baptist Church Stalker Released; Wounded War Vet Must Report to Hospital

Ryan Newell (WIBW)
Retired War Vet Accused of Stalking Kan. Baptist Church Group Is Released
Ryan Newell (WIBW)

WICHITA, Kan. (CBS/WIBW/AP) A wounded war veteran, who is accused of stalking members of a Kansas church that made headlines for their controversial protests at soldiers' funerals, was released from Sedgewick County Jail in Wichita Tuesday afternoon.

Retired Sgt. Ryan Newell, of Marion, had been held on $500,000 bond since his arrest Nov. 30 after officers said they witnessed him following members of Westboro Baptist Church in his white, Ford SUV after the members left their protest at Mulvane High School, according to CBS affiliate WIBW.

The 26-year-old double-amputee was allegedly carrying an M4 rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a .38 Smith and Wesson pistol in his vehicle at the time of his arrest.

Newell, who lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan, faces a felony charge of conspiracy and several misdemeanor charges, reports WIBW.

On Tuesday, Judge Ben Burgess allowed Newell to leave jail on his own recognizance, on the condition that he report to a VA hospital. Boyd McPherson, Newell's attorney, declined to comment on the specific treatment that his client must receive.

The church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., is known for its protests across the nation with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA" to demonstrate their view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's retribution for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Newell, who is married with four children, appeared in good spirits as he walked out of jail with his attorney, according to KSNW-TV.

"Being out of custody has made Ryan - it put a smile on his face that I haven't seen in a week. That's probably the most important part of my day," his attorney told CNN.

Many veterans groups around the country have rallied to support Newell. According to McPherson, a soldier at Fort Bragg, North Carolina raised $3,500 since Thursday to aide in Newell's defense fund, reports CNN. His lawyer said he has also received about 100 e-mails from supporters, and phone calls from Canada and Europe, according to CNN.

Newell's trial is tentatively set for Dec. 12.