ST. LOUIS • A disgraced former St. Louis prosecutor was sentenced Thursday to 18 months on probation and 140 hours of community service for helping cover up a city police detective’s beating of a handcuffed man.
Bliss Barber Worrell pleaded guilty in October to misprision of a felony, or helping conceal a crime. She admitted failing to tell supervisors and a judge what she knew about the attack, and also admitted helping file a bogus charge against the victim.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors recommended probation if she testified truthfully in court. On Tuesday, she testified against the former officer, Thomas A. Carroll, in a two-day hearing. He was sentenced Wednesday to 52 months in federal prison.
Worrell said she was repeatedly told by Carroll that he had beaten Michael Waller and stuck a gun in his mouth, possibly chipping his teeth. It happened at a police station in 2014, after other officers caught Waller with a credit card stolen from Carroll’s daughter’s car.
Worrell would later help file charges against Waller, including attempted escape. Those charges were dropped after other prosecutors approached supervisors with concerns that the case was bogus, according to court testimony.
On Thursday, Worrell’s lawyer, Paul D’Agrosa, urged U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey to follow the recommendation for probation, saying that she cooperated with investigators early on. Her law license was suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings by the Missouri Supreme Court’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, he pointed out.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fara Gold, one of the prosecutors on the case, also recommended probation but said that she “struggled” with it and didn’t want to condone Worrell’s conduct.
Gold said that no one in the case — including police and former prosecutors, both criminally charged and uncharged — “seemed to understand the gravity of what occurred.”
But, she said, by the time she met Worrell, in the fall of 2015, the accused lawyer was a “completely different” person, who told investigators what she knew about Carroll and other officers and “seemed to be visibly distressed” by her actions.
“We think she’s been sufficiently punished,” Gold said.
Worrell, who appeared to be wiping away tears during the hearing, declined to say anything on her own behalf.
Autrey, a former circuit attorney himself, said that the case had been “soul-wrenching” and “heart-wrenching,” and had gone against “everything we’re supposed to support and defend.”
He called the case “troubling” because it showed that there was “something wrong in the hearts, minds and souls of some people who come into the profession,” are given great power, and who are then supposed to “do battle for justice.”
“In what we do, Ms. Worrell, there is nothing more important than justice … the Constitution … and the rights of the citizens of the United States,” he later told her.
The judge said that he was not as certain of her “epiphany” as D’Agrosa and Gold, and read to her the oath she had taken when she was sworn in as a brand-new attorney.
The law license of Katie Dierdorf, another former prosecutor who, according to court testimony, lied to supervisors about what she knew, is listed as inactive in Missouri and active in Colorado, where she is a public defender.
Dierdorf’s lawyer, Jeff Jensen, said Thursday that, “Katie Dierdorf was told early on in the investigation that she was only a witness. Clearly, she did not even have enough relevant information for the government to want to call her into these hearings.”
Senior staff at the circuit attorney’s office told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday that they were planning to file disciplinary complaints against Worrell, Dierdorf and former prosecutor Ambry Schuessler at the conclusion of the criminal case. Schuessler, who now practices family law, lied to supervisors, internal affairs investigators and even the FBI about what she knew about the attack.