Jury takes 1.5 hours to convict girl's killer
Elizabeth Byrd found in canal
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 13, 2004 12:00 AM
A jury took less than an hour and a half Thursday to return three guilty verdicts against Steven Ray Newell for the 2001 sexual assault and murder of 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd.
They will reconvene Wednesday to begin deliberating the death penalty for Newell.
Newell, 23, was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual conduct with a minor and first-degree murder.
"I'm sure the whole neighborhood is going to be ecstatic," said her neighbor, Kathay Smallwood. Elizabeth was a frequent visitor to Smallwood's home.
"I feel like going through and honking my horn, saying, 'Hip, hip, hooray, they finally did something to him so he can't do this to another kid,' " Smallwood said.
Elizabeth disappeared May 3, 2001, while on her way to school. Her body was found the next day, wrapped in a piece of indoor-outdoor carpet and discarded in an irrigation ditch that runs through a gravel pit in the dilapidated south Phoenix neighborhood near 35th and Southern avenues.
Newell was a transient who had recently dated Elizabeth's older half-sister, Lori.
He'd already served time for an incident in 2000 in which he held a knife to a woman's throat, forced her to drive and asked to fondle her breasts.
On May 3, 2001, as Deputy County Attorney Cleve Lynch said, Newell caught up to Elizabeth Byrd as she walked from her mother's trailer to the school several blocks away and convinced her that she could take a shortcut through the gravel pit.
There, he attempted to rape her, then strangled her with a strap from her backpack and tossed her in the ditch.
Newell attended Elizabeth's funeral in the days before Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detectives linked him to the murder.
Then they learned that witnesses had seen him with Elizabeth on the street, and that a workman saw him with the carpet near where her body was found. DNA evidence on Elizabeth's clothing and a footprint that matched Newell's sneakers cemented the case.
Newell confessed to sexually assaulting Elizabeth and to throwing her in the ditch, though he denied killing her.
The jury must now consider the aggravating and mitigating factors in the crime, while deciding whether to sentence Newell to death.
Under Arizona law, the jurors must reach unanimous verdicts on those factors to decide if the defendant receives a death sentence or is granted leniency.
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