CONWAY — A good kid acting out in response to a tough situation is the way family friend and attorney Jay Bultz described Nicholas Newell during a bond hearing Tuesday morning at J. Reuben Long Detention Center.
Newell, 17, of Murrells Inlet is facing multiple charges related to the burning of American flags at St. James High School Monday morning and American flag thefts in the Indigo Creek subdivision in August. Newell is charged with third-degree arson, malicious damage to personal property, disturbing schools and carrying a weapon on school property related to Monday’s incident and petit larceny related to the thefts.
Regina Ward, an attorney who represented Newell Tuesday along with Bultz, requested a personal recognizance bond. She said Newell is not eligible for a driver’s license because he is blind in one eye and is not flight risk.
“We feel there’s no issue with regard to any threat to any individuals,” Ward said. “These allegations occurred evidently at 2 a.m. clearly indicating that no people would be around.”
Magistrate Judge Christopher Arakas agreed Newell wasn’t likely a flight risk, but said the arson and weapon charges caused him “to pause a bit.” He set bail at $20,500 for all the charges.
If released, Newell will be required to wear an GPS monitor and cannot contact the school. Arakas said that if the school contacts him and welcomes him back to class, the teen would be allowed and an ankle monitor would not be required.
Newell attends the Academy for Arts, Science and Technology, with St. James as his base school. Bultz said he has always been a good student.
Police arrested Newell on Monday after officers viewed surveillance footage from the flag burning incident. Police were called to St. James High School about 6:20 a.m. Monday because of a report of fire at the school’s front doors, Kegler said. Officers found the brick and door frame damaged with burn marks along with remnants of American flags on the ground.
Police said the surveillance recording showed that about 10 minutes before the fire started Newell used rope to tie door handles together at the entrance to the cafeteria, which is on the opposite side of the building from the main entrance. The suspect also was seen carrying a pistol in the recording and what appeared to be a machete on his hip, Kegler said. The pistol later was determined to be an air pistol.
Police called the Horry County Bomb Squad to search school because of the activity they saw on the recording, Kegler said. Nothing suspicious was found inside and no one was injured.
Detectives with the bomb, arson and major crimes units later received tips that led to them identifying Newell as the suspect, Kegler said.
Newell did not speak during the hearing Tuesday, except for saying “yes” and nodding his head when asked if he understood the charges and the conditions for his release.
Ward said she expects Newell will be released on bail and said his family was working on that Tuesday.
Bultz said he hasn’t kept in touch with Newell in recent years, but remains a good family friend. He said Newell was always a good kid and student and has always been respectful.
“He’s had some tough times recently,” he said. “This is certainly out of character for him and is certainly a matter of him acting out in response to some tough things that have happened to him recently.”
Neither Bultz nor Ward elaborated on those circumstances.
Ward said she wasn’t sure if bullying was a factor, but would be looking into the situation further as his attorney. Bultz is not expected to represent Newell after Tuesday.
She said she hopes people remember Newell is innocent until proven guilty and said that he is a child.
According to the State Law Enforcement Division records Newell has no prior convictions. Horry County public records indicate that he was charged in August with shoplifting $2,000 or less and has requested a jury trial.
Also in August, Ed Breslin, who lives in the Indigo Creek subdivision, said he and about 10 of his neighbors woke on Aug. 20 to find their flags had been vandalized overnight.
A 75-year-old neighbor of Breslin told police his flag was stolen between 10 p.m. Aug. 20 and 7 a.m. Aug. 21 in the 9600 block of Indigo Creek Drive, according to an incident report.
“I know some folks are upset about the alleged flag burning ... part of the reason we’re upset about these types of things is our patriotic pride,” she said. “But, we need to remember what America’s also about is one of the finest justice systems in the world and we believe the justice system will do the right thing here. This is a 17-year-old boy that’s facing many years in prison if he’s found guilty and sentenced to the maximum.”
Ward said the third-degree arson charge could lead to a 15-year sentence.
“I’m not saying that if this happened he shouldn’t be accountable, but we’re relying on the system to do what is just in this case,” she said. “Under those circumstances, you have to question is 15 years in prison a just sentence for these events?”
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.