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'Dead' Manassas man returns to life -- and to jail

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; A01

Rodney Newsome's life as a dead man lasted about seven months, until he got arrested again.

He might have been better off "dead." On Wednesday, he got tossed back in the Fairfax County jail.

After a guilty plea for attempted fraud in 2007, Newsome's attorney submitted documents to the Fairfax court saying his client was in a coma after unsuccessful brain surgery. He was "in a vegetative state," a Manassas doctor allegedly wrote, "while being assisted by ventilation means." On May 23, 2009, at 19:23 hours, Rodney T. Newsome Sr. died at age 37, leaving behind a wife and two children, according to a report allegedly prepared by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

That prompted Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. White to dismiss the charges.

Newsome, of Manassas, had been looking at jail time because of nine prior convictions in state and federal court for various fraud and drug charges dating back to 1995.

After his apparent death, Fairfax police allege, Newsome somehow returned to illegal activity, including taking a stolen check from a Culpeper County check-cashing store, opening a bank account in Oakton and trying to withdraw funds from the account. That was Dec. 17, almost seven months after his alleged death. Newsome was arrested in February, and again charged with attempted fraud.

(Read how another man faked death to avoid jail)

Newsome was released on bond, made several court appearances on the new charge and was scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday. His tragic demise and resurrection had escaped the notice of police and prosecutors.

But a sharp-eyed Circuit Court clerk named Mary McGaffic spotted Newsome's case last week in the stack of monthly indictments. As White's clerk, she remembered Newsome's death and the repeated sentencing postponements that preceded it.

She informed Fairfax prosecutors that Newsome had sprung back to life.

Fairfax Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Ian M. Rodway wrote a letter to White last week that Newsome "has arisen from the dead" and asked for a bench warrant for his failure to appear for court last year.

There was no need. Newsome showed up Wednesday morning, prepared to plead guilty to his latest fraud charge. His new attorney, Lavonda Graham Williams, was shocked when Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Oberndorf told her of Newsome's alleged death. Newsome also expressed surprise and confusion, but Williams did not allow him to be interviewed.

Rodway told Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Devine that in 2008 and 2009, Newsome's attorney at the time, George Freeman, had filed doctor's notes, and then a report from the Maryland health department, that "indicated Mr. Newsome had gone to the big courthouse in the sky."

Rodway acknowledged he did not catch any possible forgeries in the doctor's notes informing the court of Newsome's comatose condition at George Washington University Hospital or the Maryland death notice. Freeman did not return a call for comment.

For an alleged dead man, Newsome was diligent about keeping his court dates.

Williams told the judge that her client "knows nothing about this death certificate. He has been to every proceeding in this case." She said that he was in federal custody in 2008 and that "he did not submit the certificate to anyone."

"Of course not," Judge Devine responded. "He was dead."

Williams said Newsome did have a medical procedure in 2007 but emerged alive and well. She asked Devine to postpone the plea while she investigated the false documents. The judge said he would postpone the plea, but "I'm going to revoke his bond."

And so Newsome was trundled off to jail, alive if not totally well.

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