Nfld. & Labrador

How a juice box took down a thief and linked him to 8 crime scenes

Robert Newell might have got away with it if he hadn't put down his apple juice before going in to rob the eucharist.

Apple juice container was the only piece of solid evidence, judge says

Robert Newell argued it wasn't him who left a carton of juice with his DNA on it at the scene of a break-in at a St. John's church. (RNC, Graves Canada)

Robert Newell might have got away clean if he hadn't put down his apple juice before stealing the body of Christ on a Sunday morning.

Instead, he was found guilty last week for the September 2016 break and enter at St. Pius X Roman Catholic church in St. John's.

Newell was a wanted man with nearly a dozen warrants for his arrest when he broke into the church that morning.

He carried a duffel bag and a one-litre container of Grave's apple juice. But he put it down before rifling through the cupboards and drawers.

Caught by the priest

After about 40 minutes inside, a parish priest — Father Wayne Bolton — showed up.

He spotted the juice container just inside the front doors, and, thinking it was strange, picked it up and walked farther into the church.

St. Pius X Roman Catholic church was the scene of a September break-in. (Google Maps)

The priest heard a noise inside the sacristy — the room where a priest prepares for a service, and where the communion supplies are kept.

As Bolton flipped on the lights in the foyer, the sacristy door flung open and a man emerged. The priest asked what he was doing there and the man said he was using the washroom.

He picked up the duffel bag and fled the church without his carton of apple juice. He left with the pyx — a rounded container used to hold the consecrated bread, known as the body of Christ during Holy Communion.

DNA evidence comes through

Despite their face-to-face encounter, Bolton was unable to identify the intruder as Robert Newell.

But where the priest's memory had failed him, the juice box did not disappoint.

After it was swabbed for DNA, investigators found it matched the same DNA profile as eight other crime scenes — one in Ontario, one in Clarenville and six in St. John's.

Newell was wanted on 10 separate arrest warrants in September 2016. (RNC)

All eight were a match for Robert Newell.

"The probability that it was someone else with the same DNA was expressed as being 1 in 1.5 quintillion," Judge Vikas Khaladkar wrote in his written decision released Wednesday.

Newell represented himself in court, arguing the container of juice was either planted at the scene or his DNA was planted on it.

Khaladkar did not buy it.

"To suggest that the thief transported an empty carton of apple juice to the church with Mr. Newell's DNA on it, and left it there with the result that Mr. Newell would be wrongfully charged and convicted is illogical."

Wait … this happened before?

In either a strange coincidence or bizarre modus operandi, this is not the first time a discarded drink container has led to Newell's arrest.

On Sept. 7, 2006, there was a break-in at the Pottle Centre in St. John's. Investigators tied the crime to Newell by matching his DNA to multiple drink containers found at the scene.

In his latest conviction, the judge said while the evidence was all circumstantial, it was all too much to ignore.

"Unfortunately for Mr. Newell, the circumstantial evidence in this case is so overwhelming that I cannot entertain any reasonable doubt about his complicity in the break and enter," Khaladkar wrote.

At the time of his arrest in September of 2016, Newell was facing more than 100 charges.

He was in Supreme Court in St. John's last week for another trial related to a break and enter in July 2016. A decision is expected to be rendered on that case on Thursday.