Prosecutors in the child molestation trial of erstwhile Minuteman leader Chris Simcox were rebuffed by a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals in their attempt to appeal the trial judge’s ruling allowing Simcox to cross-examine his alleged victims on the witness stand.
The ruling, following a teleconference between three appeals-court jurists, means that Simcox’s trial will get under way this week. It also means that Simcox, who has insisted on representing himself in this trial, will certainly be permitted to directly cross-examine the two young girls he is accused of molesting – ages 8 and 7, now, and one of them his daughter.
Maricopa County deputy prosecutor Keli Luther argued strenuously against forcing the girls to face cross-examination from their alleged molester, insisting that they could be potentially victimized a second time. Luther requested the judges issue a stay until a full hearing could be held on whether permitting Simcox to engage his alleged victims would be psychologically traumatizing. Padilla had previously dismissed assertions by the girls’ mothers that such a situation would be traumatic for them, but Luther warned of a "very real risk of irreparable harm" by forcing the girls to "endure the defendant's cross-examination without the buffer of defense counsel."
She noted that:
Children who are victims of sexual abuse already re-experience that abuse when they are forced to testify in a courtroom in the presence of the accused. The trial court's order inappropriately subjects the victims in this case to additional trauma by allowing the very man who victimized them to question them on the stand. This issue undoubtedly raises a question of public importance. The harm to the victims and society can only be stopped by preventing Defendant from personally cross-examining the victims and allowing advisory counsel to conduct the cross-examinations - a remedy recognized by several jurisdictions including the United States Court of Appeals in Fields v. Murray. Fields v. Murray, 49 F.3d 1024, 1035 (4th Cir. 1995).
The judges overruled her request, but set a hearing for oral arguments on the underlying issues for April 29. They conceded that the trial may well have concluded by then, making the argument moot.
Simcox was arrested in July 2013 and charged with molesting three young girls at his home earlier that year, when the girls were ages 6 and 5. After a grand jury declined to indict him for any crime involving the third girl, who he allegedly enticed to expose her genitals in exchange for candy, those charges were dropped. However, that girl is expected to testify as a witness for the prosecution.
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.
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. Eventually, after months of disputes with his court-appointed attorneys, Simcox decided to assert his constitutional right to defend himself in court. Padilla granted him that.
However, prosecutors then sought to require Simcox to relay questions to the alleged victims through his associate attorneys, but Simcox fought them, insisting he be given the right to directly confront the girls. Judge Padilla sided with Simcox.
Judge Padilla is no stranger to controversy. In 2009, he came under harsh criticism for having refused to allow a Phoenix woman named Dawn Axsom to move herself and her son out of state to avoid violence she feared would come at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, who a short while later shot and killed both Axsom and her mother before killing himself.
Simcox was warned by a previous judge in the case (the trial has been delayed nine times) not to mount a “grand conspiracy” defense predicated on fanciful claims of a nefarious plot to persecute him for his long history of anti-immigrant activism on the Arizona border.
That long history, as the SPLC reported in 2005, includes previous allegations of sexual misbehavior with another daughter, not to mention a well-established record of erratic behavior as the leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps prior to its demise in 2010, as well as allegations of abuse by his third ex-wife, the mother of his current accuser.