The case of Dwight Mitchell Bell came to a swift end Thursday, 
November 9 as he was sentenced to life in prison without the 
possibility of parole not even three months after the murder of 
Ruthie Carolyn New.
    The shock of New's body being found within the activity center of 
her church on August 24 extended well beyond this community as have 
reports of violence in churches across the country.
    Facing the likelihood that Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery 
would seek the death penalty, Bell pleaded guilty on Monday. November 
6 to murder (life without parole) and first-degree robbery (20 years) 
and had asked to be sentenced then, without the benefit of a pre-
sentence investigation (PSI) report.
    Such reports usually delay formal sentencing by a month. While 
Circuit Judge David Tapp agreed to forego the PSI, he did delay 
sentencing until Thursday so that New's family could attend and/or 
offer victim impact statements.
    A large contingent attended Thursday's hearing, which began with 
Tapp asking defense attorney Teresa Whitaker if there was any 
mitigating information to consider before he imposed sentence.
    Whitaker advised that her client's background and mental condition 
were taken into account as she and Montgomery worked out a plea 
agreement.
    Judge Tapp noted that in addition to Bell's prior criminal history, 
he had received four written victim impact statements to review. 
Montgomery added that a family representative also wished to address 
the court.
    With Bell flanked between Whitaker and Montgomery, New's son 
Jonathan approached the bench—standing on the other side of the 
Commonwealth's Attorney.
    In slow, deliberate tones, Mr. New listed his mother's grieving 
loved ones—a son, daughter, two stepsons, three grandchildren, two 
step-grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
    "Saturday would be her birthday," Jonathan New said as more than one 
member of the audience cried. "She would have been 71 on Veterans Day.
    "Why I'm standing here and not there," he continued, pointing to 
Bell, "is because of my raising."
    As Judge Tapp thanked Mr. New for his comments, Montgomery noted 
that Bell "will never walk free again" and will have to live with 
what he'd done for the rest of his life "as will the community."
    Before imposing the sentence, Judge Tapp commended both attorneys 
and all involved for resolving the case quickly—adding it is 
difficult to know the toll taken as victims and their loved ones have 
to relive crimes over the course of a trial.
    "Murder is the most heinous offense that exists in the consciousness 
of our society," Judge Tapp continued. "By all accounts, Ruthie New 
was a godly woman, sustained in her faith."
    The judge became emotional as he spoke of his hope that, despite 
whatever pain she faced in her last moments, New "took some measure 
of solace in her faith" and knew she would soon be in the arms of the 
Lord.
    Tapp continued that he had no hesitation in imposing Bell's 
sentence. Noting that Bell is not eligible for a probated sentence, 
he added, "Even if you were, I would not grant it."
    Reading excerpts from the victim impact statements regarding the 
impact on New's siblings and how family members no longer felt safe, 
the judge called Bell a thief.
    "Your acts did far more than take the life of this beloved woman…You 
stole the innocence from this community. You stole the comfort that 
Ruthie New brought to her family and friends," Judge Tapp said.
    He concluded with his personal condolences to the family and his 
belief that New would encourage those left behind to "take care of 
each other and have faith."
    As court was adjourned and Bell was led away, several in the 
audience stopped to thank Montgomery and his staff as they filed from 

the courtroom.

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