Former Minuteman and alleged child molester Chris Simcox can cross-examine one of his child victims face-to-face as he represents himself in Maricopa County Superior Court, but he will have to cross-examine the other child victim, his daughter, via closed-circuit Television.
That's the ruling of Judge Jose Padilla, the jurist overseeing the case, whose decision was filed Friday morning. The trial remains on hold pending another matter, however.
Simcox, 54, has been held non-bondable in county jail since he was arrested June 2013 on multiple charges related to molesting three young girls, ages 6 and 5, one of them his daughter.
Charges have been dropped related to one girl, whom Simcox allegedly bribed with candy to see her genitals. Nevertheless, this child is expected to testify against Simcox during trial.
Simcox still faces charges that he molested his own daughter and a neighbor girl, while he was living in an apartment in North Phoenix.
In February, with the case going badly against him, Simcox announced that he wanted to represent himself, which he is allowed to do under the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Prosecutors objected to Simcox's questioning his alleged child victims, asking that Simcox's "advisory counsel" — the two public defenders who had been representing him until he decided to go pro per — be allowed to ask questions of the children on Simcox's behalf.
Padilla initially rejected the request from the prosecution, but both the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and Jack Wilenchik, the attorney for the neighbor girl and her mother, sought a review by a higher court.
The Arizona Appeals Court later backed Padilla, but it also ruled that an evidentiary hearing could be held to determine what damage there might be to the children involved. As a result, the trial court could decide to restrict the defendant's cross-examination.
That hearing was held in early July before Padilla, with the prosecution offering an expert witness, child psychologist Dr. Gail Goodman, who reviewed the cases of both children.
Goodman testified that Simcox's child, because she may have witnessed domestic violence between Simcox and her mother, Alena, had a "high" chance of experiencing further trauma if she was cross-examined directly by her dad.
Regarding the neighbor child, Goodman testified that the possibility of her being further traumatized by Simcox's questioning of her was within the "middle range."
"According to Dr. Goodman," writes Padilla in his recent decision, "the fact the child has a supportive parent and is not related to the defendant mitigates against potential harm."
So Padilla will allow Simcox to interrogate the child, even though her mother, Michelle Lynch, has testified that her daughter is terrified of being questioned by Simcox.
As for Simcox's daughter, she will be allowed to testify in another room via closed-circuit TV, "in such a way that the Court, the jury and the respective counsel will be able to see the child...but the child will not be able to see any individual in the courtroom."
Apparently, she will be able to hear her father's voice, however, as the judge says the equipment should be set up so the girl can hear just the court, the jury and counsel. The last covers Simcox, who is his own counsel.
Wilenchik, who already has a petition for review before the Arizona Supreme Court in the case, was not pleased with Padilla's ruling.
"I'm going to fight this like hell," Wilenchik said, "all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if I have to."
To his credit, Wilenchik has been representing Lynch pro bono, and has previously won a stay in the case.
In response to a request for comment, Maricopa County Attorney's spokesman Jerry Cobb e-mailed me the following statement:
"The case is in an unusual procedural posture. We do have a matter pending in front of the State Supreme Court that might review this most recent decision. We might seek appellate review of this decision independently.
"Either way, we’re currently evaluating our options in order to protect the victims’ rights to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect and to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse throughout the criminal justice process."
Padilla's decision did not address the third child, who will be testifying as a witness. Presumably Simcox will be able to cross-examine that child himself.
Simcox's grown daughter from another marriage also is scheduled to testify during the trial. She alleges that Simcox molested her when she was a teenager.
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