Wesley Bell, who took over as St. Louis County prosecutor this month, told The Associated Press in a statement that although he won't seek capital punishment for Thomas Bruce in the Nov. 19 attack, he will work to ensure that the one-time minister spends the rest of his days behind bars.
"These are horrific crimes," Bell said. "I will use all the resources of the State of Missouri and my office to see to it that the person who killed Jamie Schmidt and violently sexually assaulted two other victims at the Catholic Supply Store will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole."
Bruce, 53, is charged with first-degree murder, sodomy, kidnapping and other crimes. Authorities say Bruce, who was armed with a gun, forced Schmidt and the other two women who were in the store near the suburb of Ballwin into a back room and that he shot Schmidt in the head when she refused his sexual demands. Schmidt, who had been shopping at the store, was a 53-year-old married mother of three.
James G'Sell, a deacon at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church who was speaking on behalf of Schmidt's family, said her husband, Greg Schmidt, supports Bell's decision.
"Greg thinks in many ways that the death penalty is easier, too generous on Thomas Bruce, because he needs to suffer the consequences of his actions, think about what he did every day for the rest of his life," G'Sell said.
Bell, who expressed his opposition to capital punishment while campaigning, ran unopposed in November after defeating longtime incumbent Bob McCulloch in the Democratic primary. Although the attack happened while McCulloch was still in office, the hardline law-and-order prosecutor said it would up to Bell to determine whether to seek the death penalty against Bruce.
Bruce, who was from another St. Louis suburb, Imperial, had no criminal record at the time of his arrest, but police are looking into whether he could be connected to unsolved sexual assaults. Investigators said they don't think he knew Schmidt or the other victims in the November attack, which terrified the area before his arrest two days later.
Bruce claimed to be a Navy veteran on his LinkedIn page. The Missouri secretary of state's office identifies him as the operator of a nonprofit church formed in 2003 and dissolved in 2007. David Fitzgerald, a Missouri pastor, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Bruce was a pastor at Calvary Chapel of Cape Girardeau during that time.
Authorities do not believe there was a religious motive for the attack.
Missouri has executed 88 men since the death penalty was reinstated three decades ago. But the state's last execution was in January 2017 and just one person was sentenced to death in Missouri last year.
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