Meridian Star

Local News

September 19, 2013

Weekend escapee leads police on chase

BUTLER, Ala. —     BUTLER, Ala. — A weekend jail break by an inmate awaiting trial on state and federal drug charges gained the man only a few hours of freedom, added several new charges to his list of offenses, and — if convicted — could add years to his sentence.

    Choctaw County Sheriff Tom Abate said that Robert Johnathan Newman, 37, of Butler, Ala., escaped from the jail around 8 p.m. on Saturday evening, Sept. 14.

    Newman had been transported to the local lock-up on Friday for a scheduled appearance in Choctaw County Circuit Court on Monday of this week.

    Newman, who is also known by the alias of “Tattoo Bobby,” was arrested by the Butler Police Department on Feb. 11, 2011 on charges of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance (meth), and unlawful possession of controlled substance (meth).

    Records on file in the Clerk’s Office of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in Mobile show that federal charges — conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance (methamphetamine), conspiracy to possess a controlled substance (pseudoephedrine), and possession of a List I Chemical with intent to manufacture a controlled substance — were filed on July 25 of this year.

    Newman was being held at the Baldwin County Detention Center, in Bay Minette, Ala., pending his federal trial, which is tentatively set for November of this year. Newman has likewise not yet been tried locally on state charges.

    The episode began shortly before 8 p.m. when inmates began yelling to the jailer that a prisoner had a bad headache and they thought he was having a stroke, Abate said.

    “When the jailer went in to check on that inmate, other inmates shielded Newman, allowing him (Newman) to slip past the jailer and get out the door,” Abate said.

    Once outside, Newman scaled a fence and ran to the nearby Church’s Chicken restaurant, where he allegedly stole an older-model white Chevy Blazer from the parking lot. That SUV reportedly had a full tank of gas as well as a .40-caliber handgun in the vehicle.

    Newman drove to near Meridian, where authorities learned later that he abandoned the Blazer on S.L. Wilson Road, just off Highway 19 North near Camp Binachi Road.

    Butler Chief of Police Jimmy Huckeba said the motor and transmission of the vehicle were “really messed up” after being driven by Newman.

    “That vehicle has probably never been driven that hard before,” Huckeba said.

    Newman then hitched a ride into Meridian where he allegedly stole a second vehicle from the parking lot of Chili’s Restaurant and headed south toward Hattiesburg.

    Choctaw County authorities, and later the Meridian Police Department, issued a nationwide BOLO "be on the lookout” alert for Newman and the stolen vehicles through the FBI's National Crime Information Computer system.

    Abate said that law enforcement officers in Purvis, acting on information that a suspicious person was spotted at a car dealership in that Lamar County town, took him into custody without incident.

    Newman has been charged by Choctaw County authorities with escape (second degree), and by the Butler Police Department with theft of property (first degree).

    As of Tuesday, Newman was incarcerated at the Choctaw County Jail where he is awaiting a return to the Baldwin Co. Detention Center pending his Federal trial.

    That trial — which has already been postponed once — could possibly be delayed again if federal authorities choose to add additional charges of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines, and felon in possession of a weapon, among other possible charges, to his list of alleged offenses over the weekend.

    A Writ of Habeas Corpus was filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 26, 2013, ordering that Newman be held in jail pending trial.

    Arraignment was held on Aug. 28th before Magistrate Judge Sonja F. Bivins, who agreed with U.S. Attorney Kenyen R. Brown’s contention that, if released, there was a “serious risk” that Newman would flee, and that he could obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, or threaten, injure, or intimidate a prospective witness or juror.

    If released, Brown successfully argued, there were no guarantees that Newman would be present for trial, or that could reasonably assure the safety of any other persons and the community.

    Judge Bivins ordered that Newman remain in custody pending a Nov. 4 trial date for himself and two co-defendants, Ray Gene Middleton and Donald Eugene Wilson.

    Waivers for a “speedy trial” agreement were to be turned in by each defendant to the U.S. Clerk’s Office by Monday of this week. However, on that date, Newman’s court-appointed attorney, Raymond L. Bell, filed with the court a motion to allow an “enlargement of time” to file that waiver on behalf of his client.

In that motion, the attorney said he travelled to the Baldwin County Detention Facility last week to meet with Newman and found out that his client had been moved to another facility on Friday without the lawyer’s knowledge.

    Bell requested additional time to locate his client to have the “speedy trial” waiver signed. According to that motion, filed on Sept. 16, the Assistant U.S. Attorney Gloria Bedwell had no objection to the motion at the time.

    As of Tuesday, however, it was unclear if authorities in the federal court system were aware of Newman’s escape over the weekend and if that would have any bearing on the pending trial, and no ruling had been made on Bell’s request for additional time.

    After Newman was returned to Choctaw County on Sunday, he took authorities to the place where he had abandoned the stolen Blazer.

    “He told me he knew he was going to be in more trouble by escaping but that he wanted to get to Hattiesburg to see his daughter and a new grandchild,” Huckeba said.

    Phone calls to authorities in Meridian, Purvis, and Lamar County, Miss., were not returned.

    It was unknown what charges, if any, would be filed against Newman by the Meridian Police Department regarding the second stolen vehicle.

    Sheriff Abate and Chief Huckeba thanked all of the different departments that assisted during the incident, including all local police departments in Choctaw County, Choctaw E-911, Purvis (Miss.) Police Department, Meridian (Miss.) Police Department, Lauderdale Co. (Miss.) Sheriff’s Department, Lauderdale Co. (Miss.) E-911 Dispatch, and the Lamar Co. (Miss.) Sheriff’s Department.

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