A judge this week granted Chris Simcox, the former nativist extremist known sarcastically among those on the border as the “Little Prince” because of his arrogant bearing, the right to represent himself in his forthcoming trial in Phoenix for child molestation — charges that could put him away for life.
Simcox’s trial was rescheduled on Monday for March 16 by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jose Padilla, who stipulated several rules for Simcox’s plans to conduct a self-represented (pro se) defense on three counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor.
All this means that Simcox likely will be personally cross-examining his two young victims, who were ages 6 and 5 in 2013 at the time of their alleged abuse. According to the papers filed by prosecutors, Simcox “is alleged to have digitally penetrated his biological daughter’s [vagina] on two occasions, penetrated her vagina with an object on [one] occasion and to have fondled the genitals of his daughter’s friend on two occasions.
Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, told Hatewatch that victim advocates with backgrounds in dealing with sexual abuse cases involving children had been assigned to the two young girls.
But cases in which the victims of a sexual assault are required to face their accused attackers on the witness stand are relatively rare. Even rarer, according to legal experts consulted by Hatewatch, are pro-se cases involving child sex assault victims. In fact, allowing accused perpetrators of a sexual assault to directly cross-examine their alleged victims remains a controversial component of American jurisprudence. The practice recently came under intense scrutiny when a rape victim in Seattle, distraught with the prospect of having to face the man she said attacked her when she was a child,threatened suicide at the courthouse, after he won the right to represent himself.
“Judges can be very creative about this, but the fundamental constitutional right of somebody to represent themselves in trial is pretty strong,” said Patty Eakes, a former prosecutor now with the Seattle firm Calfo Harrigan Leyh & Eakes. “So it’s always a tricky position for a judge when someone decides they want to go pro se, and when they go pro se, then technically he has the right to examine the person.”
This often throws the courts into a balancing act between the rights of the victims and the rights of the accused. In any event, Eakes observed, Simcox was dooming his chances in court, as well as closing off at least one avenue of appeal (inadequate representation), by asking the court to represent himself.
“He may have delusions of grandeur about what a great job he’s going to do, but he’s going to have two strikes against him with that jury before he stands up, just because he chose to do this, right?” Eakes said.
Simcox had initially been offered a plea bargain that would have required him to serve 10 years in prison, but he refused and insisted on taking the case to trial. According to a report by Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times, Simcox engaged in a tense back-and-forth with Judge Padilla during the hearing to determine if Simcox would represent himself.
"In a sense, I kind of welcome the trial," Simcox said at the time. "I would relish the opportunity for the truth to come out."
The developments are the latest in a long and twisted road to trail for Simcox, who previously had suggested he would present a “grand conspiracy” defense that he had been targeted for prosecution, and the evidence against him invented, because of his prominent role as a leader and co-founder of the nativist extremism group called the Minutemen.
At the height of the border movement, Simcox was president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a nationwide, anti-immigration vigilante organization with armed "citizen border patrols" in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, along with a smattering of states on the Canadian border where Minutemen had deployed to protect America from northern invaders. Never modest, the cigar-chomping Simcox was a hyper and relentless self-aggrandizer who came across with the smug egotism that quickly earned him the nickname “The Little Prince.”
But even then, there were allegations of sexual abuse.
As the SPLC reported in 2005, Simcox was accused by his first wife of molesting another daughter when she was a teenager, though no complaint was ever made to police. His second wife also sought custody of their teenage son because, she said, Simcox had become violent and unpredictable. His third wife — the mother of his current accuser — took out a restraining order against Simcox in 2010 when she divorced him.
When Hatewatch contacted Simcox then, he refused to answer four direct questions about the allegations.
"I would never answer those questions to you. You can't ask those questions," he said. "You're on a witch hunt and you're trying to discredit our movement, which is to secure the borders. ... My personal life has nothing to do with anything that goes on here.”