The Collegian
Saturday, December 10, 2022

Campus gunman suspect to face grand jury

The suspect charged in connection with the May 6 campus lockdown will appear before a grand jury Aug. 4 on felony charges of wearing a mask in public.

Seth A. Newman, the 19-year-old who confessed to entering Boatwright Memorial Library disguised as a sheriff's officer, is charged with wearing a mask in public, a class 6 felony that carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The jury, composed of five to seven people, will determine whether there is enough evidence suggesting Newman has committed the felony and should stand trial.

The law states that a person older than 16 years cannot wear any mask, hood or other device that hides a substantial portion of the face and conceals his or her identity. Exceptions to the law include wearing masks for holiday costumes, employment-related jobs or medical reasons.

Two other misdemeanor charges -- one for impersonating a law enforcement office and one for acting like a law enforcement officer -- were dropped after a July 3 hearing in Richmond General District Court.

David Whaley, Newman's attorney, said that Newman's actions should have been taken seriously following recent campus shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, but asked that they not judge too harshly.

"In the this day and age, any unusual behavior on college campuses should be taken seriously," Whaley said. "I know that there are people in the Richmond community who want Seth to be convicted of a felony, but I would hope they could temper their desires with a bit of mercy."

Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin, who is prosecuting the case, said that she would "present the basic facts of the case" to the grand jury. She declined to comment on whether Newman had faced any prior convictions, but noted that he had not been a problem for the university before.

McEachin said that Newman, who had worked for three years as a part-time dishwasher at a nursing home, did not seem inherently dangerous but that he could have been, and was, seen as such. "I don't think Mr. Newman had a criminal mens rea [criminal intent], but his actions went beyond a mere stunt or prank, and were definitely perceived as threatening," she said.

Officers from the University of Richmond Police Department assisting with the investigation were out of the office and could not immediately be reached by The Collegian for comment.

On the afternoon of May 6, police say Newman entered Boatwright Memorial Library, where employees said they observed him wearing a fake beard, a bucket hat, glasses, a brown jacket with the word "Sheriff" emblazoned on the back, and carrying a duffel bag hiding a pellet gun.

Whaley said Newman approached the library's information desk, told employees he was investigating fornication in the bathrooms, and asked to be locked in all night. He then asked for staff to leave the lights on because he was afraid of the dark, Whaley said.

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Newman was arrested May 7 at his home on Chadwick Drive in Henrico County.

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