Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Timeline of District Attorney Newman case

July 5, 2013: Gov. Pat McCrory appoints Newman, an attorney in private practice and former mayor of Hendersonville, as district attorney.


June 12, 2014: Valerie Marie Owenby, who was then 12 years old, and her mother, Carol Lynn Owenby, report to the Henderson County sheriff’s office that James Franklin Sapp, a next door neighbor, had sexually assaulted her from the time she was 5 years old to the present.

Aug. 6, 2014: Sheriff’s Detective Tonya Reeves submits a search warrant application detailing Valerie’s accusations of sexual assault by Sapp from the time she was 5 until she was 12 and her accusations that Sapp “told her she would kill her dad if she told anyone” and when he stopped the abuse threatened to kill her family if she told anyone. The search warrant, granted by Superior Court Judge Mark Powell, compels Sapp to pose for photos from the waist down to corroborate Valerie’s statement that he had identifying marks around his penis area.

Sept. 3, 2014: Deputies charge Sapp, then 60, with rape of a child, a felony. He is jailed under a $150,000 bond.

Sept. 5, 2014: An employee of Newman’s office contacts Valerie’s mother to explain the court process and provide Sapp’s court date of Sept. 23. Carol Owenby confirms she plans to attend.

May 18, 2015: A Henderson County grand jury charges Sapp with five felonies — one count of rape of a child by an adult, one count of sex offense with a child by an adult and three counts of indecent liberties with a child. During a subsequent meeting with Valerie, Newman shows the victim the photos of Sapp’s groin area and describes them as “good evidence for the case.” Sometime before Oct. 13, 2015, Newman’s office informs Valerie and her parents that Sapp’s trial would be scheduled for Nov. 2, 2015.

Oct. 13, 2015: Newman signs a statement charging Sapp with a misdemeanor count of assault on a female, identifying the victim as Valerie Owenby. Neither Newman nor anyone in the D.A.’s office consulted with or notified the Owenby family that Newman had reduced the case to one misdemeanor charge, in violation, the state Bar said, of state law requiring prosecutors to notify a victim “of the date, time and place of all trial court proceedings … that the victim has elected to receive notice,” the state Bar says. During Sapp’s plea proceeding, Judge Athena Brooks asks the prosecutor’s office whether the victim and her family had been notified of the plea and offered a chance to be heard. Newman tells the judge that the victim had been advised of the plea and did not wish to be heard.

April 3, 2017: State Bar opens an investigation into a grievance filed about Newman’s actions in the Sapp case.

May 30, 2017: Responding to the Bar, Newman says:

  • “I had my victim/witness staff person prepare a bill of information and contact the mother of the victim.”
  • “I handled the plea in District Court instead of Superior Court, where a trial jury was under way.”
  • “I explained this situation to (Owenby) on the day the plea occurred.”
  • “Our file shows that the mother never returned the call.”

July 29, 2019: In a North Carolina State Bar complaint against Newman, two deputy counsels and the Bar chair say that neither Newman nor a victim advocate notified the Owenby family of the Oct. 13 District Court plea; there was no jury trial in Superior Court on that date; Newman did not speak with Carol Owenby on that day; on Oct. 13, the victim and her family still believed that Sapp’s trial was scheduled for Nov. 2; the prosecutors’ office file on the case contained no notes showing that Newman’s office called Carol Owenby about the Oct. 13 court date, nor any reference to Carol Owenby failing to return a phone call.

Nov. 12-13, 2020: A three-member panel of the state Bar’s Judiciary Hearing Commission hears the grievance case against Newman.

Jan. 4, 2021: In an Order of Discipline, the Commission found that Newman: 

  • “Knowingly made a false statement of material fact” when he told Judge Brooks that the victim had been notified of Sapp plea in District Court and that the victim and her family “did not wish to be heard.”
  • Engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of the state Bar rule against misconduct when he failed to inform Valerie Owenby of the Sapp proceeding.
  • Engaged in misconduct and violated a state Bar rule requiring attorneys to demonstrate “candor toward the tribunal” by failing to correct his false statement that his office had notified the Owenby family of Sapp’s scheduled appearance in District Court and that the victim and that her family “did not wish to be heard.”
  • Engaged in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness” as an attorney, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice” when he made false statements to the state Bar during its grievance investigation and violated three different Bar rules pertaining to knowingly making false statements.

The hearing panel suspended Newman’s law license for three years but stayed the suspension provided he pay costs of the grievance proceeding, comply with state Bar continuing education requirements and not violate Rules of Professional Conduct, including the North Carolina Crime Victims’ Act.

Feb. 11, 2021: Peggy McDowell files a four-page affidavit with the Henderson County Clerk of Superior Court purporting to show grounds for Newman’s removal as district attorney.

March 3, 2021: Finding that the filing complied with state law governing an attempt to remove a district attorney, senior resident Superior Court Judge Peter Knight refers the matter to Robert C. Ervin, senior resident Superior Court judge for the judicial district made up of Burke and Caldwell counties.

March 17, 2021: Judge Ervin finds that four areas in the request for Newman’s removal warrant a hearing: Conduct resulting in his stayed suspension; potential “willful misconduct in office” that would bring “the office in disrepute”; the “probable cause” that charges of willful misconduct resulting in the state Bar order may be true; and allegations that Newman engaged in the “vindictive prosecution” of Leonard Schalow, who was charged with a domestic violence felonies. Ervin appoints James P. Cooney III of Charlotte as independent counsel to present evidence at a hearing on April 12.

SOURCES: Henderson County sheriff’s detective’s application for search warrant, arrest records, grand jury indictment, state Bar complaint, state Bar  order of discipline, court records of complaint seeking Newman’s removal from office.