The trial of ex-Minuteman leader Chris Simcox on allegations that he molested two young girls in 2013 was put on hold Thursday by an Arizona Supreme Court Justice, at least till the end of this month.
At issue is whether the 54 year-old Simcox, who is representing himself, will be able to personally cross-examine two alleged child victims, ages 7 and 8, as well as another child, age 7, who will testify as a witness for the prosecution and who claims Simcox bribed her with candy to see her genitals.
Responding to an emergency petition filed on behalf of the mother of one of the victims, Justice John Pelander held a telephonic hearing Thursday afternoon with the involved parties, and summarily granted a stay.
Earlier this week, an Arizona Appeals Court panel acceded to a request from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and scheduled a hearing in the matter for April 29.
But the panel refused to halt the trial, conceding that it might be over by the time the hearing rolled around.
Jury selection began Tuesday in the case, and it seemed as if nothing would stop Simcox from grilling his alleged child victims in open court, till Phoenix attorney Jack Wilenchik filed an emergency petition with the state supreme court.
See also: -Arizona Appeals Court Denies Stay of Trial in Alleged Minuteman Child Molester Case -Judge Will Allow Alleged Child Molester Chris Simcox to Cross-Examine Victim Children -Prosecutor Seeks to Prevent Alleged Child Molester Chris Simcox from Personally Cross-Examining Victims
Wilenchik represents Michelle Lynch, the mother of one of Simcox's accusers. In his filing, Wilenchik argued that Lynch's little girl could be testifying within a matter of days, if the high court did not intervene.
"If the court allows the child victim to be subject to cross-examination by her abuser," Wilenchik wrote, "then the victim's constitutional right [under the Arizona Constitution] to be free from harassment and intimidation will be permanently violated."
The supreme court need not decide whether Simcox himself should be allowed to perform the cross-examination of victims, argued Wilenchik.
It merely needed to delay the proceedings until the appeals court could hear both sides and make a decision.
Rejecting that delay would mean "irreparable harm" for the victims, Wilenchik noted in his pleading.
"A trauma of this kind can never be undone," he wrote, "whereas trials can be continued and cases retried. The defendant's only arguable right at interest here -- the right to a speedy trial -- does not outweigh irreparable harm to the victim."
Wilenchik, who is representing Lynch pro bono, told me that the emergency petition was a "Hail Mary pass," but one he felt was necessary, after he learned that Simcox might actually get to cross-examine his client's child.
"Simcox caused this all himself," he told me, when I called him for comment. "It was him who decided after two years of pending charges to make the decision to represent himself a month and a-half before trial. I think the prosecution moved pretty quickly to ask for this accommodation that [Simcox] not cross-examine his own molestation victims."
Last week, superior court Judge Jose Padilla, who is overseeing Simcox's case, denied the prosecutor's request for special accommodation, telling the prosecution that he believed there would have to be an evidentiary hearing, or evidence beyond letters from the mothers of the victims, to demonstrate that the cross-examination would be harmful to the children.
Padilla also stated that the use of advisory counsel to question the children could prejudice the jury against Simcox.
The prosecution and Wilenchik both insist that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary in this case.
They say Simcox will be in the courtroom during the children's testimony, still able to confront his accusers as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Only, Simcox's questions would be asked by a third party.
The court could simply, at the proper time, advise the jury that Simcox still is representing himself and still is in control of the questions being asked.
"That's all you've got to do," Wilenchik told me.
In his order, Pelander said that "the stay shall take effect either immediately or upon completion of the ongoing jury selection process in superior court." He left it up to the trial court to make that decision.
Jury selection had been proceeding at a glacial pace in Padilla's courtroom.
I stopped by Wednesday for about an hour to watch prospective jurors being questioned by Simcox and the prosecution.
In that time, out of five jurors questioned, four were struck from the jury pool.
Some admitted they would be biased against Simcox because of the nature of the charges.
One man actually objected to Simcox's defending himself, aghast that Simcox would be questioning his own victims.
"That's what we have lawyers for," the man stated.
Needless to say, he didn't make the cut.
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