It was to be an uneventful court appearance Thursday for Liberty Bell on charges of felony theft and possession of a stolen car.
But it turned into a brawl when Bell attacked her public defender, according to St. Clair County Chief Bailiff Lawrence Purcell.
At about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Bell, 35, was taken from a cell at the courthouse to a cubicle to meet with her attorney before court. During that meeting, police said, she attacked the female public defender — the lawyer assigned to represent her. At some point during that meeting, Bell attacked her lawyer, according to Purcell.
“An Illinois Department of Corrections guard was in the cubicle across and ran in and broke it up, then the other court security came in,” Purcell said.
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Bell was separated then taken back to the St. Clair County Jail after the attack, Purcell said..
The female assistant public defender suffered some abrasions and broken glasses, said St. Clair County Public Defender Rick Roustio.
“She wasn’t physically hurt too much, but she was pretty shaken up emotionally. And understandably so,” Roustio said.
In March, Bell called Shiloh police asking for help after she said she locked herself out of her car. The police arrived, ran the plates, and found the car to be stolen. Bell was then charged. She was released on bail.
But three months later, Bell was charged with stealing a donation jar for March of Dimes Children’s Miracle Network at a convenience store in the 1000 block of East Main Street. She remained in St. Clair County Jail since then in lieu of $30,000 bail.
Bell has convictions for battery in 2018, disorderly conduct in 2010 and domestic battery in 2008. But despite that history, Roustio said, no one saw this coming.
“We had no idea. And why would we?” he said.
Roustio said he wasn’t going to ask for increased security measures, because the seven full-time public defenders, who represent some 700 indigent defendants in St. Clair County, need privacy to talk with their clients about their cases.
The target of the Thursday morning attack left the courthouse at lunch, Roustio said, to compose herself and get her glasses repaired. She was back in court on Thursday afternoon.
“She’s a trooper,” Roustio said.
As of Friday, it wasn’t immediately clear whether she will continue to represent Bell.
Bell will be charged with a misdemeanor in connection with what happened Thursday, because the public defender didn’t want her charged with a felony, according to St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.