Paynesville man enters not guilty plea to killing his daughter in a fire

A man accused of killing his daughter by setting fire to her home in July 2019 has pleaded not guilty. John Newport is accused of deliberately setting fire to the mobile home where he lived with his daughter and her beloved kittens. The prosecution will be allowed to argue that the crime was committed with particular cruelty.

John Sean Newport

ST. CLOUD — A Paynesville man accused of killing his daughter in a fire last year has pleaded not guilty.

Jamey Newport, 22, died July 23, 2019, in a fire at her home in Paynesville.

Her father, John Sean Newport, 47, is accused of using gasoline to start the fire while his daughter was inside the home.

Newport is charged with second-degree murder — unintentional while committing a felony. He is in the Stearns County Jail, held on $2 million bail.

Newport entered his plea late last week in Stearns County District Court. No new court date is listed in court records.


A court order has disallowed some statements Newport made after his arrest and allowed others. The two sides had agreed that some of the statements were not admissible.

The order also allows the prosecution to seek a longer sentence by offering evidence that shows that Newport’s alleged actions displayed particular cruelty, made it difficult for his daughter to escape and endangered the public.

According to court records, John Newport had been living with Jamey Newport in the mobile home, and she had been paying the bills. The afternoon of the fire, he allegedly asked his daughter to drive him to a hardware store, and when she refused, he began slamming things in the house and arguing with her.

When she said she was going to move out, he allegedly decided to set the mobile home on fire.

Newport allegedly poured gasoline in the home and on her beloved kittens in front of her. Friends told law enforcement that Jamey Newport had been depressed, and she used the four kittens as comfort animals during her depression.

A few hours before she died, a co-worker visited her and watched her playing with the kittens outside the home. Jamey Newport posted photos and videos of the kittens to her Facebook page, calling them her “babies.”

In a recorded 911 call, Jamey Newport told the operator that her father had poured gasoline in the house and on her kittens. She said she had gasoline on herself, too.

In the recording, she can be heard saying her father was starting the fire. She screamed that her kittens were on fire, and she had to save them.


A Paynesville police officer arrived at about the same time the phone line went dead, according to court records. The officer reported that he could hear Jamey Newport screaming and tried to enter the home using a fire extinguisher, but he was unable to reach her through the flames.

She was found in the home’s bathtub with the shower running, but efforts to revive her were unsuccessful. She died of smoke inhalation.

The court order says Jamey Newport’s dependence on the kittens for comfort and seeing them intentionally set on fire “would inflict severe emotional psychological distress.” The prosecution will be allowed to argue the crime was committed with “particular cruelty.”

Jamey Newport’s dependence on the kittens and her concern for their welfare compromised her ability to flee the fire, according to the court order.

The prosecution will also be allowed to argue that the fire endangered others. According to court records, the fire stretched toward a nearby mobile home.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
What To Read Next
An investigation found that students used racial slurs and actions toward minority basketball players from Bismarck High School.
The need for the project dates back to 2016, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated the east side of Newfolden as lying within the 100-year floodplain
Annual giving event supports 550 charities throughout North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota; donations may be pre-scheduled.
Neil Joseph Pfeifer was released Friday, Feb. 3, on $5,000 cash bail.