Judge rules woman can stand trial in assault case | AspenTimes.com

Judge rules woman can stand trial in assault case

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A local judge ruled Monday that a woman who allegedly attempted to suffocate a young woman last winter can be tried on assault and menacing charges .

Rye Nancy Eileen Newton, 55, was arrested after allegedly covering a woman’s mouth with an ammonia-soaked towel as the woman slept at the Highlands Villas on Jan. 8, 2003. Newton was arrested later that month by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Aspen police said she fled the area just after speaking to them.

Newton was charged with second-degree assault, menacing and third-degree assault. After her arrest, Newton was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo in April for evaluation. Newton stayed at the hospital after a doctor concluded she was incompetent to stand trial on June 18.

On Nov. 3 another doctor determined that she was competent, so Newton returned to Aspen for Monday’s hearing. She was the only one to take the stand.

Judge James Boyd of the 9th Judicial District found Newton competent as well, and the case was set for a March 8 status conference.

Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills said he asked the judge to find Newton incompetent ” though he admitted that is an unusual position for a prosecutor to take.

“I thought it was in her best interest to continue with treatment in Pueblo,” Wills said. “The hospital is where she’s best placed.”

Wills said he could have charged Newton with attempted murder, but given the circumstances, he thought second-degree assault ” which comes with a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison ” was sufficient.

“It’s not only about her mental health, but the overall circumstances ” her relationship with the people involved and that she’s basically a transient,” he said. “I didn’t think the facts rose to the level of an attempted murder case.”

According to the arrest affidavit, Amber Schroeder, 21, told police she was living with her mother, Marlene, and was sleeping when she felt a wet towel suddenly cover her face and felt hands holding the towel over her mouth and nose so that she could not breathe. Schroeder said Newton had been staying at her mother’s house as well, but that her mother had asked Newton to leave after they had a “falling out.”

Schroeder told police she fought off her attacker while gasping for air and screaming for help, and said she was sure it was Newton because she caught a glimpse of her attacker just before the suspect left her room.

The affidavit says police later found an ammonia-soaked hand towel on the corner of Amber’s bed. Marlene Schroeder told police she has known Newton for 20 years, and that Newton has been paranoid and tells her about her experiences with UFO abductions and “robot people.”

Wills said ammonia is not lethal, but he does believe that Newton thought the soaked rag would kill the victim.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]