Taking the stand Thursday during his ongoing trial in Phoenix for child molestation, former Minuteman and onetime Fox News regular Chris Simcox attempted to undermine the credibility of his accusers, calling one child "extremely precocious" with a penchant for foul language, and another, his grown daughter Linsey Randich, a troublesome child who had "difficulty with boys."
Wearing a dark suit and speaking in a measured voice, Simcox, 55, did his best to impeach the character of the little girls whose allegations led to him being arrested in June 2013 by Phoenix police and charged with six counts of child molestation and providing porn to minors, for which Simcox is being held non-bondable in the county jails run by his erstwhile political ally, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
But Simcox's testimony rarely addressed details of the underlying incidents he's accused of, and though he implied that his accusers and their mothers may have been motivated by familial hostility or some unspecified political animus, he failed to present a unified theory of why so many children, including his own daughters, have come forward to accuse the ex-nativist icon of touching them inappropriately.
Moreover, under cross-examination by deputy county attorney Yigael Cohen, Simcox made admissions that may hurt him when the jury deliberates his fate.
One such admission came as Cohen asked Simcox about Randich, his adult daughter by his first marriage. Last week, Randich testified against Simcox, telling the jury that her father molested her three times, when she was ages 10 and 14, while he had joint custody of her.
[Editor's note: Click this link to read Stephen Lemons' coverage of last week's trial proceedings.]
The last incident Randich recalled was from 1998, when she was 14. Simcox insisted on giving her a massage, she claimed, and ended up running his fingers up her thigh and to her genitals. Randich described reporting the incident to the Los Angeles police, who eventually returned her to her mother's home in Illinois. Randich said the police didn't pursue charges in that case because she didn't want to face Simcox in court.
Simcox, who is representing himself, was questioned while on the stand by his advisory counsel, defense attorney and true-crime author Kerrie Droban. Under Droban's direct examination, Simcox called Randich "a difficult child, behaviorwise" and claimed that his daughter's accusations stemmed from Simcox's catching her at his apartment with a boy, engaged in "heavy petting." (When she testified, Randich denied any such incident occurred.) Simcox said he then allowed Randich to go to a neighbor's house. Next thing he knew, the police were at his door, asking him about "allegations that I had inappropriately touched her."
On cross-examination, Cohen accused Simcox of minimizing the 1998 incident with Randich when he spoke to Phoenix police about it in 2013. Concerning Randich, Cohen inquired, "You admit to touching her legs?" Simcox said yes. Cohen then insisted, "You admit to massaging her?" Simcox again responded in the affirmative.
Several times during the hearing, Simcox spoke of being defensive around children long before he became a border hawk, including the period when he taught kindergarten through second grade at the prestigious Wildwood School in Los Angeles. There, he said, he and other teachers "learned to deal with protecting ourselves [from false molestation allegations] when dealing with young children." It's a sentiment he repeated throughout his testimony, even saying at one point that he was "paranoid" of being so accused. Droban asked about the precautions Simcox took at his apartment in 2013 before he was arrested. Simcox said he had a number of rules about interacting with his own and others' children in the apartment complex. Concerning his children, he said they didn't take showers at his apartment, only at the home of his third ex-wife. But he later contradicted himself, saying that in March and April 2013, he did allow the girls to begin showering together.
He said he made his apartment "kid friendly," and that he'd chosen the apartment in part because "it looked out into the playground area." He claimed that he didn't allow his children to go to other kids' apartments unless he knew their parents. Despite having asserted that he'd feared false allegations of child molestation, he said he was "shocked" when confronted by a Phoenix police detective about the claims against him, saying they "came out of the blue."
Simcox accused Michelle Lynch, the mother of one alleged victim, of having Googled background information about him. He said he surmised this because Lynch's daughter once called him a "racist." Simcox also claimed that Lynch's daughter, who testified at the start of the trial, "used profanity" around him, and that when he had raised this issue with Lynch, she did nothing about it. He said that in December 2012, he "steered" his children away from Lynch's daughter because of the profanity. But he also claimed that Lynch and her daughter attended a birthday party for one of his daughters in February 2013, and that he believed that Lynch and his ex-wife, Alena, had spoken with one another there, though he admitted he hadn't actually seen the two conversing.
Though Simcox never made it plain, he seemed to be suggesting that somehow Alena and Lynch conspired together to concoct the molestation allegations. Both Alena and Lynch have testified that, other than speaking once by phone after Simcox was arrested, they have never met or spoken with each other. Though he offered the acrimony from his 2011 divorce as Alena's supposed motivation, Lynch appears to have had no discernible motive to engage in an anti-Simcox conspiracy.
Nor does such a conspiracy theory account for Randich's accusations from 1998, or the allegations of yet another little girl who testified last week, a playmate of Simcox's daughters who claimed Simcox bribed her with candy to pull down her pants and expose herself to him.
Simcox testified that Alena had taken out an order of protection against him back in 2010, and that as a result, he didn't see his children for about a year. He also described another time when Alena had made a report to the police alleging physical abuse but then withdrew the complaint. Under cross-examination, Cohen got Simcox to admit that he made certain statements to Phoenix police in 2013, when approached about the molestation allegations, describing the cordial relations between himself and Alena. "We've been getting along great together," Simcox had told an officer. "She's given me more time [for child visitation] than I've asked for."
Carmen Mercer, Simcox's ex-lover, was called by the defendant as a character witness. Mercer had been a business associate of Simcox's, and had helped with the Minuteman Project. She testified that Simcox had never acted untoward around minors, and that she'd let him play with her grandkids.
Simcox also used Mercer to try to impeach Randich's testimony. Randich had testified that she'd had no contact with her father since 1998, and until Phoenix police contacted her about the old allegations, she had put him out of her memory.
Mercer said she remembered Simcox telling her that Randich had called him in 2005, around the time the Minuteman Project was ramping up, and she said he was visibly shaken by the call. Earlier, Simcox testified that Randich had called and "had threatened to make allegations" against him; Cohen quickly objected, and the statement about a threat was stricken from the record.
When she testified, Randich denied making such a call, and on cross-examination Mercer had to admit that she couldn't confirm that such a call was made. When all was said and done, the issue seemed irrelevant to the accusations Randich made against her father. Mercer conceded that she has maintained contact with Simcox while he has been in jail.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
After Mercer's testimony, the defense rested, and Cohen called Michelle Lynch as a rebuttal witness. She said her daughter does not use profanity, and she denied ever being at a birthday party for one of Simcox's daughters. She also said she hadn't known about Simcox's past border activism until after her daughter told her Simcox had molested her. Up until that time, she said, "I didn't have any reason to research him."
Earlier in the day, Simcox spoke at length about his time at the Wildwood School, claiming to have educated the children of Hollywood celebrities including Ted Danson, Steven Spielberg, and Rob Reiner. He said his border activism began after 9/11, and that he'd moved to Arizona to pursue it full time and run a newspaper, the Tombstone Tumbleweed. He told the jury that after the success of the Minuteman Project, he spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C., lobbying members of Congress on border issues, and later ran for U.S. Senate briefly in 2010 in the GOP primary against John McCain.
He did not mention that he eventually dropped out of the race, throwing his support behind right-wing talk-show host J.D. Hayworth, who later hired him to join his campaign staff. Nor did he volunteer that after Alena filed an order of protection against Simcox in 2010, alleging physical abuse and alcoholism and claiming Simcox had threatened to kill her, the children, and any police officers who came to their aid and then kill himself, he was fired from his position with the Hayworth camp.
The trial resumes Monday, when the prosecution is expected to call two rebuttal witnesses, after which both sides will present closing arguments. If convicted, Simcox faces the possibility of life in prison.