A Maricopa County Superior Court Judge will allow former Minuteman leader Chris Simcox to represent himself during his upcoming trial on allegations that he molested two young girls, one his own daughter, in 2013.
During a pretrial hearing Monday morning in Phoenix, Judge Jose Padilla summarily granted Simcox's request, which had been filed February 12.
This offers the disturbing possibility that Simcox will be able to cross-examine his alleged victims, who were 6 and 5 at the time of the incidents.
Additionally, Simcox will be able to cross-examine other witnesses, such as a little girl whom he allegedly bribed with candy to see her panties, and his grown daughter by another marriage, who alleges Simcox touched her inappropriately when she was a teenager.
Oddly, none of these issues was discussed at Monday's status conference.
Following the hearing, I asked MCAO spokesman Jerry Cobb what the county attorney could do to protect these children from being cross-examined by the man who allegedly violated them.
"While I can't share specific trial strategy in advance of the proceedings," Cobb wrote via e-mail. "I can tell you we will do whatever is necessary to honor the victims' right to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse throughout the process."
Most local ex-prosecutors I've spoken with were unaware of any case in Arizona in which an accused child molester has represented himself or herself.
One suggested that a child might be shielded from the defendant by a curtain or asked questions via closed-circuit TV or from someone else.
But Phoenix defense attorney Tracey Westerhausen, whose expertise in dealing with sex crime cases is such that she's instructed police detectives on the topic, tells me that any attempt to shield the victim could violate the defendant's right to face his or her accuser in court.
"Under the federal and state constitutions, a defendant has the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him," she explained.
Also, a judge is supposed to be impartial and not comment on the evidence. Allowing the children to be shielded in some way would suggest that the court finds the children more credible than the defendant.
Westerhausen pointed out that Ricky Wassenar, one of the inmates who took two guards hostage in 2004 at an Arizona prison, represented himself in court and cross-examined a female guard whom he had raped during the standoff.
Ultimately, Wassenar was convicted on 19 separate counts, and was sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences.
But in that case, at least the victim was an adult.
"I am not aware of any cases where a child molestation case has gone to trial, and the defendant represents himself or herself," Westerhausen said.
After nearly two years, the Simcox case is barreling toward trial.
Recently, Padilla set a hard trial date of March 2, rejecting a prosecution motion for a continuance.
But during Monday's hearing, Deputy County Attorney Yigael Cohen asked for another delay, stating that he was in trial currently and was "the only one in my office" who had been in contact with the mothers of the victims.
(Red flag: I know that both mothers learned of Simcox's going pro per only after my blog post on it was published last week. This leads me to wonder how proactive the MCAO has been in consulting with the victims' parents.)
So over Simcox's objection, Padilla extended the trial start date till March 16, when Cohen said he would be available.
Padilla will allow Simcox to retain at least one public defender as "advisory counsel," but Padilla admonished Simcox that he would have to do all the work himself, and that by playing his own attorney, the onetime GOP primary candidate for U.S. Senate would eliminate a possible avenue of appeal if convicted: i.e., claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.
Shackled and dressed in worn jail stripes nearly as gray as his hair, Simcox, 54, told Padilla that he understood and that he was ready to go to trial.
Padilla also assigned an investigator to Simcox, who is deemed indigent and has been held nonbondable in county jail for about 20 months since his arrest in June 2013.
But Padilla denied Simcox's request to be transferred to protective custody at the Fourth Avenue Jail.
Simcox supposedly had requested the move to be closer to the downtown court, where his hearings are held, instead of Lower Buckeye Jail, where he currently is being held.
Annoyed, Simcox told Padilla that he wanted to assert his right to to ask for a new judge, citing rule 10.2 of Arizona criminal procedure.
Padilla shot back that Simcox could not do that, as Padilla has been on the case for about six months, and according to the rule, Simcox has 10 days from being notified of the assignment of a judge to object.
However, if a new judge is assigned by the court before trial, Simcox could object to that judge within the 10 day time frame.
The man his detractors call "The Little Prince" was indignant.
"I protest that," Simcox replied. "I feel the court is biased for the prosecution . . . and you've shown no deference to the defense."
"Why would I show deference to either side?" the judge wondered aloud.
Simcox's public defenders rushed to the jury box where he was standing, whispering intently in his ear.
Still, Simcox asserted that Padilla had favored the prosecution by granting its requests for delays.
In reality, Padilla has been hard-nosed about pushing the case along.
Simcox then demanded that his objection be made part of the record. The judge responded that this had been done. Simcox sat down and Padilla moved to the next defendant on his docket.
Consider Simcox's jousting with the judge as a prelude of things to come.
Not many people seem very interested in Simcox these days, and Republican politicians who once curried his favor when he headed the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, have selective amnesia when it comes to the ex-Minuteman honcho..
By acting as his own counsel, Simcox may garner himself more press coverage than he otherwise would.
Which may be part of his calculation.
Certainly, by representing himself, Simcox will be able to intimidate his alleged victims and scar them even more than he already has.
He will also further antagonize a jury, which likely will be made up of men and women not kindly disposed toward accused child molesters.
That is, unless prosecutors revive a sweetheart plea deal for Simcox, which only recently has been rescinded: plead guilty to attempted molestation and do about seven or eight years, after time served is deducted.
Simcox has spurned the deal all along, expressing his desire to go to trial and risk being sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Could Simcox be looking for another deal, sweeter yet, by threatening the MCAO with a legal circus sure to make national news?
Wouldn't surprise me.
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Sheesh. Where's Nancy Grace when you need her?
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