Worrell pleads guilty to sex crime

Published 11:04 pm Thursday, March 19, 2009

Facing his third trial on sex-related charges, former Holland Fire Chief Gordon Worrell pleaded guilty on Thursday to a reduced count.

Worrell’s guilty plea to a single charge of misdemeanor sexual battery constituted the first public admission he has made of sexual improprieties with teenagers and young men who were members of the volunteer fire department in the 1990s.

After trials on two other sets of charges in December and January, Worrell was found guilty of charges that could net him as much as two life sentences, plus 15 years.

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His conviction of taking indecent liberties with a child, stemming from a 1994 incident with a Holland VFD junior firefighter, could earn him up to five years. Sentencing on that count is set for April 8.

Far more serious, however, are the three felony counts for which Worrell faced trial in January. He was convicted of abduction with intent to defile, forcible sodomy and attempted forcible sodomy.

The abduction count could earn him 20 years to life; the sodomy count could net five years to life; and the attempted sodomy count could cost him up to five years in prison.

Sentencing for that set of charges, along with Thursday’s sexual battery count, is set for June 5.

Prosecutor Nicole Belote said Thursday that she expects to ask the judge for “no less than 20 years” during that hearing.

The charges in January’s hearing sprang from a 1997 encounter with a 23-year-old Smithfield Foods employee. The victim filed a police report at the time, but no charges were filed until a direct indictment was issued against Worrell last year.

The charge before the court on Thursday was actually for the first of the three incidents, which took place in 1992, when Worrell grabbed and sexually assaulted a 15-year-old junior firefighter in a car during a party, according to the victim.

Worrell gave the younger members of the department special treatment, the man said in an interview following Thursday’s trial. They would get the best equipment, along with personal attention and — at least during the party that fateful night — beer.

The two were in Worrell’s car, “talking about girls and different things,” when Worrell reached across and held the boy against the seat with his arm, while with his other hand, he grabbed the boy’s crotch.

“He said, ‘You’re going to like this, you just need to relax,’” the man, now 32, said Thursday.

When the boy resisted Worrell’s advances, the encounter was over, but the relationship cooled during the ensuing weeks, said the victim, whose identity the Suffolk News-Herald is withholding in keeping with its policy of not identifying the victims of sex crimes.

The man said he later told another fire department official what had happened, but nobody followed up on his complaint, and he didn’t want to have to share the details with anyone else at the time.

In fact, he said, he only told his wife about eight months ago, when he heard about Worrell’s indictment on the other charges and decided to go to the commonwealth’s attorney about what had happened to him in 1992.

“I just really wish that I could have been a stronger person back then,” he said. “Maybe those other two victims wouldn’t have been assaulted.”

The secret — and its exposure — “have been a real burden to me and my family,” he said.

It was even harder, though, to watch his attacker walk out of court a free man until his sentencing hearing, he said. Despite Belote’s courtroom pleas, Worrell remains free on bond.

“I believe he could be a flight risk,” his victim said Thursday. “I believe he is a danger to the people around him.”