Monday morning, during the last day of ex-border vigilante Chris Simcox's trial in Phoenix on six felony counts related to child molestation and exposing minors to porn, a video of one of his alleged victims dealt serious damage to Simcox's cause when the prosecution played it in court.
Simcox, who is representing himself, previously had attempted to poke holes in the story of the little girl who has provided some of the most powerful testimony against the anti-immigrant activist. The video was made at the nonprofit child-advocacy center Childhelp not long after the girl, who was 5 years old at the time, reported that Simcox sexually abused her.
As part of the state's rebuttal of Simcox's defense, prosecutor Yigael Cohen ran the complete recording of the child's 30-minute interview for the jury. As the girl was questioned by forensic interviewer Adriana Frias, she seemed practically swallowed up by the stuffed greenish-gray chair on which she sat.
The girl had been a playmate of Simcox's two daughters, one of whom is another of the accused's alleged victims. Simcox, now 55, was arrested in June 2013 by the Phoenix Police Department after a month-long investigation prompted by the playmate's accusations, which she first reported to her mother, Michelle Lynch. Lynch subsequently contacted Phoenix police, who set up the Childhelp interview.
After asking the child general questions about what she liked to do at school (read library books) and her favorite place to play (in a neighbor's treehouse), Frias told the little girl, broadly, that she had heard that something had happened to her, and asked her to tell her about it.
The child described in graphic detail how Simcox had molested her on several occasions in the kitchen of his apartment while his two daughters were in another room. The girl, who lived in the same Phoenix apartment building as Simcox in 2013, said he "touched me where pee comes out," rubbing his hand back and forth as he did so.
Simcox did this under her clothes, she said. "It was terrible. It felt like a mosquito was on it."
She said he "kept doing it" every time she went over to play with her friends. She said, "I didn't like it," and that she'd told her mother about it. Simcox also showed her movies on his computer, she said, with "a boy and girl with their pants off" and the boy putting "his privates inside her privates."
The girl said that "Christopher" would make her tell him "secrets" as he molested her, essentially a recount of the pornography he'd shown her. She was able to recall specific details, including what she was wearing the first time Simcox abused her. Contrary to an expert witness called by Simcox who'd testified that the girl had been distracted during the interview, she sat straight up for most of the session, only beginning to fidget a bit toward the end.
Simcox claimed Frias had not explored "alternative theories" for the child's molestation, but the video contradicted that assertion. Frias asks the child whether anyone else had touched her, whether anyone had told her what to say, and whether she had seen movies elsewhere with naked people in them. The girl gave the same answer to all three questions: no.
The jury watched intently as the video played. When it ended, an uneasy hush fell on the courtroom. Frias was on the stand, having been called back after first testifying for the prosecution two weeks ago. Following the video, Simcox had no questions for her.
In his closing argument, Cohen denounced Simcox as a man who "loved little girls' genitals." Using a PowerPoint presentation, he methodically went through a timeline of what had led to Simcox's arrest: first the accusations by Lynch's daughter, then detective Christopher Scott of the Phoenix Police Department reaching out to Simcox's ex-wife Alena, once he learned of the pair's two daughters, who were about the same age as the first accuser.
When Alena Simcox told her daughters about an appointment they had to be interviewed at Childhelp, the elder girl revealed that Simcox had penetrated her vagina with his finger on two occasions and used a stick to penetrate her on another.
Throughout the trial, Simcox implied, but never fully spelled out, a conspiracy against him involving Alena and Lynch. But the two testified that they'd never met, and Simcox offered no evidence of a conspiracy. Cohen conceded that one could argue Alena might have some animus toward Simcox, because their 2011 divorce had been contentious. However, Cohen observed, before the allegations against Simcox were made, Alena had been willing to allow Simcox more time with the kids during visitations, a fact Simcox had share with the investigating detective before his arrest.
As for Lynch, she had "no reason to put her little girl through this trial," Cohen insisted. Simcox had suggested during his testimony that Lynch had "Googled" his name and knew who he was. As a result, Simcox claimed, Lynch's child had called him "a racist" because of his reputation as a border hawk.
But, Cohen observed. Lynch had said she had no idea who Simcox was until after her daughter accused him. Even if, hypothetically, Lynch did know of his reputation and disliked Simcox or his politics, the attorney posited, why wouldn't she simply forbid her child from playing with Simcox's daughters?
Similarly, Simcox's child had no motivation to testify against her own father. And if Alena had somehow hatched a plot against him, using her elder daughter, then why didn't Simcox's younger daughter also allege sexual abuse?
Then, Cohen observed, there were the other alleged victims who testified, for whom Simcox is not charged: another neighbor girl, who testified that Simcox bribed her with candy so she would pull down her pants and underwear in front of him; and Linsey Randich, Simcox's grown daughter by his first wife, who traveled cross-country to testify that Simcox molested her on three occasions during the 1990s, when she was ages 10 and 14.
Simcox never addressed any possible motivation for the second neighbor girl or her mom, who also testified. As for Randich, now 33, she had no contact with Simcox for 18 years or more. And she only came forward after she was contacted by Phoenix police. She had no motive, Cohen said, after nearly two decades, to "dredge up the ugliness of the past."
Cohen implored the jury to apply Occam's razor, the principle of logic that says the simplest answer is usually correct. One would have to labor at all sorts of assumptions to buy Simcox's story, Cohen said, and also pointed out numerous inconsistencies in Simcox's testimony.
Law schools should consider using Simcox's closing argument as an example of why defendants shouldn't represent themselves at trial. At the outset, he asked Judge Jose Padilla if he could show photographs to the jury. Because the photos had not been introduced at trial, the judge denied the request, and Simcox admitted to the jurors that he'd goofed.
Simcox continued his pattern of badmouthing his accusers. His daughter Randich had been a troubled teenager "bent on revenge," he said, and his ex-wife Alena had been angry at him to the point that she wanted to "get him out of the way," and so "coerced" his eldest daughter to falsely accuse him.
Standing at a lectern throughout his monologue, Simcox criticized Lynch's daughter for her "precociousness," knocking what he called "her flair for drama." He offered that he never liked the child, asking, "Why would I want to have a relationship, or want my children to have a relationship, with her?"
As he had in his opening argument on May 18, Simcox claimed that a "perfect storm of circumstances" had conspired against him, making it "very dangerous to be a responsible father." He mentioned that he had so far spent 1,091 days in jail, and told the jury that "I hope you never find yourself in this situation."
His statement was punctuated with objections from Cohen, as Simcox made claims that "the whole truth was not permitted" to be told at trial. Simcox also attempted to present facts not supported by the evidence. (During a break, Padilla admonished Simcox, telling him he might have to declare a mistrial if he continued in that vein and that he would not allow Simcox to represent himself on a second go-around.)
Simcox denied molesting his daughter, denied molesting Lynch's daughter, and said he did not show either girl porn. (Interestingly, he did not deny bribing the other neighbor girl with candy.)
After Simcox finished, Cohen got the last word, blasting Simcox's "self-serving statements" and telling the jury they had to stick to the testimony from the trial, rather than pay heed to anything Simcox tried to slip in before Cohen objected and the judge ordered it stricken from the record.
Cohen reminded the jury that what Simcox said during his closing argument was not evidence, and that the only evidence they could consider was that which was offered during the trial. He noted that when Simcox was on the stand, he had not specifically denied that he had molested the girls, saying he found that to be a glaring omission that Simcox had tried to compensate for in his closing statement.
With both sides having rested, Padilla drew the numbers of four jurors from the 16-person jury pool to be alternates. The 12-person jury consists of three women and nine men. The jury then left the courtroom and began its deliberations at about 4 p.m.
Simcox faces two counts of child molestation, one count of furnishing obscene material to minors, and, most serious of all, three counts of sexual conduct with a minor.
According to Arizona's "dangerous crimes against children" statute, if Simcox is found guilty of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 12, he can be sentenced to life in prison. But even short of the maximum, legal experts tell New Times, the sentencing ranges for all of the various charges could keep him in prison until he dies.
At one point in his closing argument, Simcox commented on the irony of how he had been "hypervigilant to the point of being paranoid" about protecting himself from accusations of child molestation, a vigilance that he said began when he was taught kindergarten at the prestigious Wildwood School in Los Angeles.
"Yet," he said morosely, "despite all of my precautions, here I am."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.