ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Thomas Bruce pleaded guilty to 16 charges related to the sexual assault of two women and the murder of a third at a Catholic Supply store – one week before he was supposed to go to trial.
Bruce pleaded guilty to the following counts Friday:
- 1 count first-degree murder
- 8 counts armed criminal action
- 2 counts first-degree sodomy
- 1 count attempted first-degree sodomy
- 3 counts first-degree kidnapping
- 1 count burglary
“The defendant will never get out,” St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said during a news conference.
Bell also spoke during the plea hearing to describe the evidence he said his office had in the case against Bruce.
Bell said on Nov. 19, 2018, Bruce brought items up to Catholic Supply cash register and told the employee he forgot his credit card. He returned to the register with a 9 mm gun and ordered the victims to the bathroom. Bell said Schmidt was killed after she refused to comply with Bruce's sexual demands.
Sources said the victims involved in the case were consulted before the plea hearing Friday.
The two women assaulted in the store that day stood before the court and read victim impact statements, describing in detail what they went through that day and in the years that have followed.
Schmidt's husband and family members also spoke before the court describing the pain they've felt since losing their loved one.
"In a way my kids lost two parents that day. I haven't been same since," Schmidt's husband said during his statement.
“The reason we do this job is to bring justice to families like these," Bell said during a news conference. "And we can never bring the victim who died back, but the two living victims and all of their families, our hearts go out to them, our prayers and hope that they can have some closure and feel some semblance of justice."
The President of Catholic Supply, Dan Stutte, released a statement shortly after hearing, saying:
Today a plea hearing was held in the Catholic Supply case. We are grateful justice was served.
While these tragic events have been devastating to the Catholic Supply family, we pray that this outcome will bring closure for the surviving victims and the families and friends of all the victims.
Please join us as we pray for all who were affected by this senseless tragedy.
Bruce had walked into the courtroom Friday afternoon with a piece of paper in his hand. Before the hearing started, it appeared as if he was practicing reading what was written on the paper.
After the victims read their impact statements, Bruce and his attorney approached the judge's bench. Bruce said he had nothing to say and started to weep.
Bruce previously pleaded not guilty to the charges in February 2019. His trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 1. Bell said he didn't want to speculate on why Bruce decided to change his mind and his plea.
Just weeks ago, his attorneys filed motions to try and get some of the evidence against Bruce thrown out.
As part of the plea, prosecutors in Jefferson County have agreed to drop sexual assault charges against Bruce related to the home invasion and sexual assault of a then-77-year-old woman just weeks before the Catholic Supply attack.
According to court documents, Bruce arrived at the woman’s door on Sept. 27, 2018 telling her he was with AMVETS and wanted to ask a few questions. He then forced open the door, which knocked her to the floor. He then sexually assaulted her, and while dragging her to a spare bedroom, her phone rang, according to court documents.
The victim told Bruce her husband was calling to say he was on his way home. According to court documents, Bruce threatened to kill him when he got home, and then put the victim in her bedroom and left with her cell phone. Her elbows and knees were injured.
On Nov. 21, 2018, while watching a news report about the Catholic Supply attack, the victim saw Bruce’s mugshot and identified him as the man who assaulted her, police said.
Bruce has been in jail for nearly three years. His trial has been delayed several times due to COVID-19 restrictions.
His defense attorney tried in early September to get his statements to police thrown out, claiming police failed to obtain an arrest or search warrant before taking him into custody.
They also claim Bruce wasn't read his rights and was denied an attorney and his PTSD medications. The filings sought to have Bruce's statements and all evidence seized from his home and vehicles thrown out of court.
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