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
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
With Bell flanked between Whitaker and Montgomery, New's son
Jonathan approached the bench—standing on the other side of the
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
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