STROUDSBURG (AP) — A man accused of shooting to death three people at a municipal meeting in eastern Pennsylvania following a feud over his junk-strewn property says he’s sorry that “innocent people” got hurt but also has harsh words for local officials.
Rockne Newell, 59, gave a profanity-laced half-hour interview Wednesday to The Pocono Record at Monroe County Correctional Center, where he was taken after the Aug. 5 shootings at the Ross Township supervisors meeting.
“I’m sorry innocent people got hurt, though I know ‘sorry’ doesn’t fix anything,” he told the paper.
Authorities said Newell packed a rental car with guns and ammunition before opening fire at a township meeting, killing 62-year-old township zoning officer David Fleetwood and two Saylorsburg residents, Gerard Kozic, 53, and James LaGuardia, 64.
“Unfortunately there were innocent victims, but I was an innocent victim myself 23 years ago,” Newell told the paper. “That’s what started all this.”
Newell bought the property in 1990. He was later laid off from his welding job and got into a crash that landed him on disability. He said he endured years of harassment from the township and felt hounded by neighbors who saw his property as an eyesore. He lost the property last month in a court fight over longstanding complaints that he lived in a storage shed, built an illegal culvert and used a bucket outside as a toilet.
Though the township said Newell had failed to pay thousands of dollars in fines and cited that as grounds for the sale, Newell said no one ever told him he had to pay anything.
“Had I known when I bought that property that I was going to be persecuted and there wasn’t going to be any justice for me in the end, I wouldn’t have bought it,” he said. Describing himself as a proud descendant of a family he said has been in the Poconos since the Revolutionary war, Newell said he had the right to be left alone to live as he saw fit.
“I wasn’t bothering anybody,” he said, using profanity that drew an admonishment from a prison guard. “They should have just laid the hell off. That property was all I had.”
Before the sheriff’s sale, Newell said, he had planned to sell the property once he had taken care of what the township called a stream obstruction due to the culvert driveway.
“I would have taken at least $50,000 for it and then I would’ve been gone,” he said, adding that he was tired of the situation. “But they just wouldn’t let me alone. And now, here we are.”