Worcester Murder Conviction Reversed

SNOW HILL — A Pocomoke man, found guilty in 2016 and sentenced to life in prison for the death of his nephew, had his conviction overturned last week on appeal and will get a new trial.

On Saturday, May 2, 2015, a Virginia couple dropped off their son at the Pocomoke home of Kevin M. Sewell, then 27, and his wife. Sewell was the child’s uncle and the couple had dropped the 3-year-old off at his house for an overnight visit. When the child was returned to the couple the following day at their home in Accomack County, he had suffered severe trauma to his head and abdomen along with other injuries and later died of injuries sustained while in his uncle’s care.

Sewell was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, first-degree child abuse-death and neglect of a minor. His wife, Amanda Sewell, was also charged with first-degree child abuse-death and neglect of a minor. In September 2016, a Worcester County jury found Kevin Sewell guilty of first-degree murder and he was later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Amanda Sewell was later sentenced to four years in jail for neglect of a minor.

Kevin Sewell appealed his conviction on the grounds prosecutors extensively used text messages between he and his wife during the trial to help present the state’s case. Indeed, copies of the transcripts of the text messages between Kevin Sewell and his wife on the day the victim was in his care outlines a pattern of alleged misbehavior and Kevin Sewell’s attempts at disciplining the child.

However, Sewell appealed the conviction on the grounds the text messages between he and his wife were protected as privileged marital communications and were not admissible at trial. Last Friday, the state’s Court of Special Appeals agreed the text messages in question were protected and reversed the conviction, setting the stage for new trial.

“We shall hold that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence communications between the appellant and his wife which were privileged marital communications,” the opinion reads.

Prior to trial in 2015, Sewell’s defense attorneys filed a motion to exclude the text messages sent to him by his wife, arguing the messages should be excluded as violative of the marital privilege, but the trial judge denied the motion. During the trial, the state introduced photographs of text messages between Sewell and his wife outlining discussions they had via cell phone leading up the child’s death.

During trial, prosecutors argued the text messages provided details of the events leading to the victim’s death and argued the text messages were admissible because of the presumption they could be viewed by anybody. However, the appeals court disagreed.

“Simply because the communications were over a cell phone in the nature of text messages do not rebut the presumption,” the opinion reads. “The state’s argument that any person could have seen the text messages is inadequate. Cell phones have mechanisms to lock access to texts. We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the text messages because they were confidential marital communications.”

The appeals court opined the prosecution’s extensive use of the text messages could have unfairly influenced the verdict.

“We cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the text messages did not contribute to the verdict,” the opinion reads. “We hold that the inadmissible marital communications were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and constitute a reversible order. The judgments of the Circuit Court for Worcester County are reversed. The case is remanded to that court for … a new trial.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.