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Army veteran pleads to misdemeanors in Westboro stalking case

By the CNN Wire Staff
Westboro Baptist Church has gained media attention for protesting at the funerals of military service members.
Westboro Baptist Church has gained media attention for protesting at the funerals of military service members.
  • Former Sgt. Ryan Newell pleads guilty to two counts of impersonating an officer
  • He was originally charged with stalking members of Westboro Baptist Church
  • The church is infamous for protesting at funerals of deceased soldiers
  • Newell lost both legs during his tour of duty in Afghanistan

(CNN) -- After six months of negotiations with Kansas prosecutors, a veteran accused of stalking with intent to harm members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church pleaded guilty to lesser charges, his lawyer said.

Former Army Sgt. Ryan Newell pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of false impersonation of an officer Thursday, a misdemeanor in Kansas. Newell received a six-month suspended sentence on each count and was given two years on probation, said his lawyer, Boyd McPherson.

McPherson said the negotiations were long, but his team and the district attorney's office in Wichita wanted to ensure that the charges were made "when the timing was ripe."

"Without getting into the personal details of Mr. Newell's life, the state wanted to ensure that Sgt. Newell was in a position that the behavior that got him into this original situation wouldn't be repeated," McPherson said.

Newell was charged with stalking church members and the Phelps family that runs Westboro Baptist in December. The church has garnered media attention for protesting at funerals of military servicemen who have died during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, claiming that the deaths of U.S. troops are God's punishment for America's "sin of homosexuality."

Despite the lengthy talks with prosecutors, the attorney described Thursday's outcome as unexpected.

"I'm sure his family is pleased with the outcome and that this chapter of his life is closed and they can move forward," McPherson said. "But I don't know that they realized it would be over today."

Newell, of Marion, Kansas, originally faced charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and three misdemeanor counts of criminal use of weapons. At the time of his arrest, Sedgwick County, Kansas, police recovered an M4 assault rile, a .45-caliber Glock, a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and 90 rounds of ammunition.

Newell is a retired turret gunner who lost both legs to an improvised bomb in Afghanistan in 2008. Newell entered into an unspecified treatment program as a condition of his release on bail, and his attorney said he has improved dramatically since then.

"I feel that he is doing wonderfully in every aspect of his life, whereas when he came to me, there were a number of layers that weren't functioning as well," McPherson said.