Marion gearing for Westboro protest

Less than one week after misdemeanor charges were filed against a Marion man allegedly stalking Westboro Church members in Sedgwick County, the group has planned a protest at Marion?s Catholic church this Sunday.

The apparent motive for choosing the city of Marion as one of the group?s protest sites is the recent arrest Ryan J. Newell, 26, a severely injured military veteran, who was arrested for alleged crimes against the Topeka-based church led by Fred Phelps.

The church?s Web site stated, ?No wonder ther (sic) perverse veterans of Marion believe the proper reaction to Gospel preaching is violence. They?ve only ever been lied to about the Lord?s word from any pulpit in Marion, KS!?

Marion veteran arrested

Newell was arrested Nov. 30 in Wichita and charged with one count of stalking, three counts of criminal use of weapons and one count of false impersonation, according to Georgia Cole, communications director, Sedgwick County District Attorney?s office.

All five counts are misdemeanors and, if convicted, Newell could face up to three years in the Sedgwick County Jail and/or pay fines of up to $6,500.

Cole explained the major differences between misdemeanor and felony charges.

?When someone is convicted on misdemeanor charges, they are sentenced to the county jail,? Cole said. ?When someone is convicted on felony charges, they are sentenced to the state prison system.?

According to information in the Wichita Eagle, and provided by Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw, Newell was first noticed early Tuesday morning when a sheriff?s detective became suspicious of how close he was following a vehicle carrying Westboro Baptist Church members following a protest at Mulvane High School.

The protest, one church member said, concerned the immoral behavior of youths.

According to Hinshaw, the detective stopped Newell on Kansas Highway 15. Newell was alleged to have told the detective he was with the group and was allowed to leave.

Later Tuesday morning, the detective contacted members of the Westboro group, who were at Wichita City Hall to meet with police officials. They told the detective that Newell was not part of their group.

Based on the information from church members, the detective stopped Newell a second time. Newell then showed identification indicating he was a reserve law enforcement officer in another county.

When detectives checked the validity of Newell?s explanation, they discovered Newell was driving on a revoked license and was not a reserve officer.

As a result of that discovery, the original detective and two other detectives went across the street to city hall where Newell was parked.

In his vehicle, authorities found two handguns, a rifle and more than 90 rounds of ammunition.

He was arrested and bail was set at $500,000. As of press time, Newell was still in jail, but according to unofficial sources, was expected to have sufficient bail for his release this week.

At his arraignment Thursday Dec. 2 in the 18th Judicial District Court, Newell was formally charged.

A bench trial is scheduled for Dec. 16, which is a standard procedure in misdemeanor cases, Cole said.

Military service

Newell lost both of his legs while in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device in January 2009.

For the next several months, he was in rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

While convalescing, Newell was approached by members of ?Homes for Our Troops,? a group that builds houses for severely injured service members.

In late June, Newell and his family moved into their newly-built home in Marion.

What is WBC?

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are known for their attendance outside funerals of U.S. soldiers.

According to information about the group, members claim these soldiers? deaths are God?s way of punishing the U.S. for immorality and tolerating abortion and homosexuality.

The WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations.

Protest in Marion

The WBC stated it chose Marion as a picket site because of its veterans and the false teaching at Holy Family Catholic Church.

The group contacted Marion City Police Chief Josh Whitwell requesting to protest Sunday between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. at the church located at 415 N. Cedar St.

Appeal by commissioner

Marion County Commis?sioner Dan Holub is appealing to residents in the Marion area to be wary of debating or arguing with members of the WBC.

?They are professional antagonizers,? he said, ?and if our residents start a fight with them, we are doing exactly what they wanted.?

According to Holub, the group wants only to generate publicity and try to get good citizens in trouble.

?It?s a no-win situation to debate with members of this group,? he said. ?Ignore them.?

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