Lawyer for SWFL man arrested in connection with US Capitol riot reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19
The status of the attorney for an East Naples man suspected of participating in the U.S. Capitol riot in January is unclear, even as the defense team continues filing motions to revoke the suspect’s detention pending trial.
Christopher Worrell, 50, was arrested after FBI agents executed a search and arrest warrant at his home on March 12.
The prosecution claims Worrell assaulted a line of law enforcement officers with pepper spray gel outside the U.S. Capitol building during the riot in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6.
Although Worrell did not enter the U.S. Capitol building to the government’s knowledge, he lied to law enforcement officers about his conduct at the riot, refused to turn himself in for arrest where directed and issued a vague threat about a potential witness, according to prosecution.
Worrell’s defense attorney John M. Pierce is representing 17 of the more than 500 people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Pierce is possibly ill with COVID-19, on a ventilator and unresponsive, according to a notice filed by the prosecution in Worrell’s case on Monday.
For roughly the past week, an associate from Pierce’s law firm who is not a licensed attorney has been appearing in Pierce’s place at court hearings and meetings with the government, according to the notice.
“Because Mr. Pierce is unavailable and Mr. Marshall cannot ethically or legally represent Mr. Pierce’s clients, the government is making the Court aware of Mr. Pierce’s reported illness so that it can take any steps it believes necessary to ensure the defendant’s rights are adequately protected while Mr. Pierce remains hospitalized,” the notice from the prosecution reads.
Fighting COVID in jail:East Naples man arrested in connection to US Capitol riot contracts COVID-19 in jail
Missing since August
The prosecution notes the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington has had no contact with Pierce since Aug. 23, when he last appeared for a hearing for one of his clients. The person appearing since then in Pierce's place has been Ryan J. Marshall, 30, referred to as an associate from Pierce's law firm, Pierce Banbridge.
Marshall is not a licensed attorney in the district, and unlikely to be so any time soon; Marshall was charged in August in a corruption scheme in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where he had worked as a law clerk, according to USA Today.
At one of his last appearances for a Jan. 6 defendant, Marshall told a prosecutor that he actually had not had direct contact with Pierce, and that he was getting conflicting information from other friends of Pierce's about whether or not he was suffering from COVID-19.
Pierce usually is a frequent user of Twitter but hasn't tweeted anything since Aug. 20.
“The United States thus finds itself in a position where this defendant and 16 other defendants charged in connection with the Capitol Riot appear to be effectively without counsel,” the notice from the prosecution reads. “Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce may be hospitalized and unable to communicate, and it is unclear when Mr. Pierce will recover.”
From the prosecution's perspective, Worrell’s case is at a standstill, according to the notice.
Despite the notice from the prosecution, Worrell’s defense team filed four documents with the court on Wednesday. Each document states they were submitted by Pierce and bear an identical signature from him.
Worrell’s defense team is continuing with its efforts to revoke the man’s detention pending trial, citing a lack of proper medical care for Worrell’s health conditions.
Worrell was extradited from Southwest Florida and has been housed at the Central Detention Facility in Washington, D.C. since April 13, according to court documents.
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, denied bond for Worrell on March 19 and ruled he must remain in custody until his trial, according to court documents.
The prosecution has filed motions in opposition to revoking Worrell’s pretrial detention. The motion filed by Worrell’s defense team on Wednesday was a reply to the prosecution's opposition to revoking Worrell's detention order.
The motion from Worrell’s defense team states he should released pending his trial because he is not getting proper treatment for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or broken hand while at the men’s correctional treatment facility.
Worrell has not received the proper medication for his lymphoma treatment or surgery for his hand, according to the motion from his defense team.
It’s not clear when the judge will rule on Worrell’s defense team’s latest motion or how the notice regarding Pierce from prosecutors will impact progress of the case.
The Naples Daily News could not reach Pierce for comment. A cellphone number listed for Pierce had a voicemail box that was not yet set up.
A phone number listed on the website for his Los Angeles law firm, Pierce Bainbridge, has been disconnected. James Kelly, also of Pierce Bainbridge and a defense attorney for Worrell, did not return a request for comment.
A third defense attorney for Worrell, Robert Lee Jenkins, Jr., of Bynum & Jenkins Law in Virginia, did not return a request for comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Dreher, the prosecutor in Worrell’s case, also did not return a request for comment.