The Evergreen man accused of murdering his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son pleaded guilty by way of Alford in Flathead County District Court on Wednesday.
Brandon Walter Lee Newberry, 22, accepted a deal to plead guilty to an amended charge of mitigated deliberate homicide. The change of plea hearing came nearly a year after Newberry’s girlfriend’s son, Forrest Groshelle, died from a laceration of the small intestine as the result of injuries due to trauma.
The hearing also revealed that Newberry was suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues at the time of the incident.
An Alford plea occurs when a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence that, if presented to a jury, would likely result in a conviction.
Security at the Flathead County Justice Center was noticeably tighter during the hearing, with members of the public having to enter the courthouse through metal detectors before entering the court. When Newberry was led into the courtroom shortly before 11 a.m. – wearing a gray button down shirt and dark gray pants – there were at least a half-dozen sheriff’s deputies on security detail. Numerous threats were made against Newberry immediately following Groshelle’s death in February 2015.
During the hearing, attorneys briefly discussed Newberry’s undiagnosed mental health issues at the time of the incident, including social anxiety disorder and impulse control disorder, resulting in “severe anxiety, impulsivity, and ultimately depression.”
“Due to his mental and emotional disorders, Newberry could not fully appreciate the needs of a toddler and was ill-equipped to be (Groshelle’s) primary caregiver,” read an amended motion that was filed by prosecutors this week.
According to court documents, Newberry had been watching Groshelle on a daily basis while the mother, Takara Juntunen, was at work. In the days before Groshelle’s death he began vomiting. The boy died on Feb. 17, 2015.
When police arrived at the home, they found bruising, scratching and abrasions on the boy’s body. An autopsy revealed that Groshelle had been hit multiple times in the abdomen, causing a laceration of the small intestine that slowly poisoned the boy. During an interview with law enforcement, Newberry told them that in the days before Groshelle’s death he had been “roughhousing” with the child. He was arrested and charged with deliberate homicide soon after.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend that Judge Heidi Ulbricht sentence Newberry to 40 years in the Montana State Prison with no parole restrictions. Newberry’s attorneys will argue for a lessor punishment at the sentencing hearing, scheduled for April 19. The felony charge of mitigated deliberate homicide carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison.